Chinese ground beetles, also known as wingless cockroach or Tu Bie Chong in mandarin, are an important insect-type traditional medicine that has been used clinically for more than two thousand years. First of all, it’s important to note that they are not something in the cosmopolitan family, Carabidae. Instead, they come from the genus Eupolyphaga of family Corydiidae. Its medicinal uses have been clearly documented by almost all popular pharmacopeia, including Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic) in the Han Dynasty, Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer) in the Eastern Han Dynasty, Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica) in the Ming Dynasty, and so on.
What are ground beetles?
From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, it refers to the dried whole body of female Eupolyphaga sinensis Walk. or Steleophaga plancyi (Bol.). Both of them are animal in the family Corydiidae. Other common names of it are Eupolyphaga seu Steleophaga, Wingless Cockroach, Zhe Chong, Tu Yuan, and the like. It is produced in all over China and the one with higher medicinal value is from Hu Nan, Hu Bei, Jiangsu, Henan, and Jiangsu. The wild species can be captured in summer and the raised all year round. The steps are to kill them by dropping the living ones into a pot of boiling water and then dry in the sun or by the oven. By the way, clinically the Opisthoplatia orientalis Burmister (Jin Bian Tu Bie) is also used the same herb since it is believed with the same healing power. Besides, pay attention to tell it from Cybister tripunctatus orientalis Gschwendtner since is it is also called “Shui Bie Chong” but with different healing properties.
It is fond of humus-riched, dark, damp, slightly alkaline, loose soil. Since it shies away from both natural lights, it behaves, feeds, and mates in the evening and lies low in moist loose soil in day. As a species of seeming feeble, it will immediately flee once sound or light has been detected. Another trick it often employed to protect itself is playing dead if it fails escaping. The temperature does matter with its growth and development. Generally the optimum temperature for it is from 26 to 32 ℃. When it is more than 38 ℃ it becomes restless; when it is less than 17 ℃ its activities will be reduced and its growth will be slowed down; once it is below minus 5 ℃ it will be frozen to death.
Main chemical constituents 17 kinds of amino acids like glutamate, 28 kinds of trace elements such as arsenic, sterols, and straight-chain aliphatic compounds.
Ground beetle benefits
As a traditional precious Chinese herb of regulating blood condition and trauma, it is widely used for bruises, swelling, pain, injury, and so on. Thanks to its high medicinal value on dredging collaterals, treating injury, fixing injured tendon, and curing bone fracture, it is also known as “bonesetting beetle.” In fact, it is an integral part of hundred kinds of proprietary Chinese medicines, including Dieda Wan, Zhishang powder, swelling paste, dark tanning oil, and more. In recent years, many upscale restaurants are also used it to make haute cuisine called “fried silver beetle” and “braised beetle” since it is delicious and with very high nutritional value.
1) Its extract reduces thrombus formation and its solution with traditional technique of water extraction and alcohol precipitation dissolves an intravascular thrombus;
2) Its extract inhibits platelet aggregation and adherence rate and reduces the aggregation number;
3) Its total alkaloids may improve myocardial and cerebral ischemic tolerance, reduce the oxygen consumption of the heart and brain tissue;
4) Its decoction is with lipid-lowering effect, which can delay the formation of atherosclerosis;
5) Its extract has hepatoprotective effect by inhibiting D-galactose-induced liver damage.
Sample recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia concludes that it is salty in flavor and cold, slightly toxic in nature. It covers liver meridian. Essential functions are breaking the blood stasis, setting a broken bone, and repairing injured muscle. Primary ground beetle uses and indications include broken bone, injury of tendon and muscle, absence of menstruation caused by blood stasis, and abdominal mass. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoctions.
1) Jie Gu Zi Jin Dan from Za Bing Yuan Liu Xi Zhu (Incisive light on the source of miscellaneous diseases). It is combined with native copper, Gu Sui Bu (Drynaria), Ru Xiang (Frankincense), etc. to treat fracture, injury of tendons, bruise, swelling, and pain;
2) Zhuang Jin Xu Gu Wan from Shang Ke Da Cheng (The Epitomization of Traumatology). It is formulated with Xu Duan (Japanese Teasel Root), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), etc. to cure injured sinews or bones of late period and weak bones;
3) Xia Yu Xue Tang from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is joined with Da Huang (rhubarb), Tao Ren (Peach Seed), etc. to heal amenorrhea and postpartum abdominal pain due to blood stasis;
4) Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan from Jin Gui Yao Lue. It is matched with rhubarb, Shui Zhi (Leech), etc. to treat blood stasis induced consumptive diseases, lower abdominal distension and fullness due to amenorrhea, and squamous and dry skin;
5) Bie Jia Jian Wan from “Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer.” It works with Chai Hu (Bupleurum), peach seeds, Bie Jia (Soft Turtle Shell), etc. to heal accumulating lumps.
Clinically ground beetles are used alone or in the form of compound prescription for the treatment of many different diseases, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, fractures, acute lumbar sprain, sciatica, overstrain-induced chest pain, advanced cancer, and so on.
The capsules containing the same amount of leech and ground beetle, 0.25g crude drug each, can treat high blood pressure by taking 4 pieces each time, 3 times a day. And the effective rate was 90.63%, according to Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine (Zhong Guo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi), 1992; 12: 38.
Ground beetle’s side effects and contraindications
Almost of all ancient Chinese materia medica or pharmacy books claim that ground beetles are poisonous. But according to my clinical application of three decades, there are no toxic responses found. But more than ten cases of systemic allergic itching did occur. Main clinical manifestation was bright red skin lesions or dense papules, which might be caused by the heterogeneous protein contained. The above-mentioned anaphylactic reaction tends to disappear automatically within 1 to 2 days. A large dose, 30 g or more, can cause nausea, dizziness, abdominal pain and other symptoms. Besides, it has a certain irritation to digestive tract and it was ever reported that it ever resulted in sinus bradycardia. Finally, it shouldn’t be used in pregnant women.