Deer antler was primarily used in antiquity by Daoists (Taoists) and Chinese herbalists to promote vitality, sexual vigour, build Blood, and to improve circulation. Deer antler is considered in these traditions to be highly effective in the treatment of cardiovascular dysfunction, overall failure to thrive, osteoporosis, bone fractures, impotence, arthritis, general fatigue and cold and weakened constitutions.
We love Ron and all he has contributed to tonic herbalism, and we totally agree that deer antler is a kick-ass herb, but never forget that tonic herbs are only a part of the complete health picture. Make sure you've dialed in your sleep, nutrition, mind, and movement practices to support whole-body vitality!
Interested in hearing more about the powerfully regenerative deer antler? Read on!
The herb deer antler (also referred to as deer antler 'velvet' as seen in the image just below) is the harvested young horn as it is undergoing the formation of new mammalian bone (thus why deer antler extract is said to be so beneficial for strengthening bones). SuperFeast Deer Antler extract is derived from the growing tips of the deer's antlers; this process takes place before the antlers have become ossified (hardened and become bone), roughly 60 days into the growth cycle when the antler tips are gooey and full of bioactive medicinals. This process begins at the commencement of Springtime. Once ossified, the deer's antlers will fall off naturally, however their nutritive and medicinal properties will not be as potent or active, hence why the Daoists (Taoists) harvested during the Springtime.
Antler velvetHere's a good 'Did You Know?': Deer antler velvet is the only mammalian organ to continuously regenerate itself. Yep, you read that right. Researchers affirm the presence of stem cells for this magic.
You Zong-shi, a master herbalist of the Song Dynasty (906-1279 CE) commented on deer antler velvet:
“Among all the things that contain Blood, flesh grows the fastest, tendons come second, and bones grow the slowest; that’s why it takes a human being 20 years to have his bones fully formed. But, the deer’s horn is an exception. The horns can grow to over 20 lbs within 2 months, which is 2 oz a day. No other bones can grow as fast. Grass and trees cannot even grow that fast. The deer’s horn is able to tonify Blood in the bones, strengthen Yang, and nourish marrow. All the Yang channels converge at the head and then flow up to the angle. How can any other Blood compare to that in the horns?”
Many researchers globally have become excited by the regenerative properties of deer antler (remember, the antlers regenerate and grow back every single year!), which are comprised of a complex blood vessel, neurological, cartilage, bone and connective tissue union. Clinical research has shown that the tips of the antlers are biologically active. Deer antler is technically classified as a tonic herb - although it *is* of animal origin (Deer Antler and Beauty Blend, are the two non-vegan products we sell). Tonic herbs comprise of not only plants, but also animals and minerals.
If you want to learn more about the harvesting and living conditions of the deer, skip to the bottom, where I'll cover more details of the processing :) but don't worry, it is ethical, humane, and all done under the watchful eye of veterinarians.
Mason (founder of SuperFeast) didn't make the decision to include deer antler velvet, an animal herb that requires human intervention, into the SuperFeast apothecary lightly. We understand that working with animal herbs can be confronting or new for some people, especially vegans, and that is why we share as much as possible about our methods and intention, and also invite questions and conversation for those of you who are interested in deer antler while wanting to ensure we are sourcing respectfully and responsibly.
In practicing true tonic herbalism and serving the health intentions of our community, it became evident years ago that it was the correct path for SuperFeast. Many people think deer antler is a superficial herb and therefore can't justify using it (e.g. thinking it's used purely for jacking up muscles, gainzzzz and testosterone) however this is a reductionist (and very misled) perception of what this extraordinary herb offers and is used for.
SuperFeasters use it when their sex hormones are completely wiped out and when their Jing is completely spent, so much so, that plant herbs just can't get them back to their foundation of health. Likewise, we use deer antler to support deep intentions of skeletal/tendon and endocrine longevity, as well as when we're maintaining herbs in our diet that will continuously build Blood and therefore stabilise our Shen/Spirit/mind; yep, deer antler is a wonderful herb for supporting the Shen and bringing focus to one's meditative practice (according to Daoist lore and our personal experience). Jing and Blood are the anchor of Spirit (Shen) in the Daoist worldview; if our Jing and Blood are weak, or exhausted, our Spirit becomes disturbed. This can result in psychological issues like depression, and can also cause one to become overly attached to ideology. Strong Shen will lead to a happy, balanced human, clear thought processes and strong intuition.
We love deer antler as a super potent libido-supporting herb (it's a powerful Yang tonic) and for its ability to restore and nourish both female and male sex hormones. We had our great mate Dr Ralph Esposito on to chat about men's health with Mason and they discuss the benefits of deer antler. Check out the podcast episode here. Within the body, it acts as an adaptogen, by adapting to an individual's deficiencies, and provides the qualities and nutritives to allow the body gain optimal health.
While we are traditional tonic herbalists at SuperFeast, we also understand the power of a good quality study in verifiying ancient wisdom. Deer antler is not well researched, yet. Clinical data on humans is still developing, highlighting the need for research funding to allow the continued exploration of deer antler's medicinal action in humans. Currently, according to the scientific community, there's not quite enough studies completed on humans to say anything conclusive about deer antler's benefits, often due to the small samples sizes and study design (much of the research has been completed on rats with varied results). As researchers learn how to study deer antler, the results are getting more relevant and conclusive and we are looking forward to seeing how the data expands over the next few years.
We encourage you to take your own research into deer antler further, by jumping onto Google Scholar - there's plenty of juicy information out there. Once on there, you will come across both in vitro and in vivo pharmacological studies which have demonstrated the immunomodulatory, anti-fatigue, anti-inflammatory and osteoporosis-fighting effects of deer antler, to name a few!
In one study, 38 active males (this is an example of a small sample size!) were split into two groups. One received deer antler extract, the other received a placebo. A 10 week strength-training program ensued and results demonstrated that those who received the deer antler saw a greater increase in knee strength and overall endurance than the placebo group.
There has been much research completed on mice, demonstrating the strength benefits of deer antler, just like this one: the proposed anti-fatigue effects of deer antler was tested on mice, during their participation in 'swimming times to exhaustion.' Not only did the mice show anti-fatigue signs, results suggested that it was changes in genes, which allowed those mice who had been supplemented with deer antler to perform better.
As I've mentioned, the antlers have a host of potent constituents, including those gelatinous types. These elements (we're talking collagen, glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate) have been shown to support the health of our joints. Issues like osteoarthritis may be benefited by deer antler, providing support to the regeneration of connective tissues within the joints. Secondarily, there may be anti-inflammatory effects of deer antler, also very useful when experiencing inflammatory conditions like arthritis. In fact, the FDA have supported the use of deer antler for arthritis.
A study on 38 osteoarthritic dogs was completed, using a placebo and control group, and those dogs on the antler velvet supplementation for the longer time period experienced a decrease in arthritic symptoms. Plenty of other animal studies have further shown the impressive ability of deer antler to regenerate, strengthen and maintain bone health; researchers used human, rabbit and chick cells to test the effects of deer antler on bone cell growth. Results showed there was an accelerated fracture healing across the board (due to the stimulation of chondrocytes and osteoblast precursors).
For centuries, deer antler has been known to nourish the bone marrow and Blood and excitingly, research has validated these benefits. The active constituents (monoacetyldiglycerides) have been identified as the magic makers; these molecules stimulate stem cells that produce blood cells. These results demonstrate the immune-boosting effects deer antler may have.
Our SuperFeast Deer Antler is collected from the antlers of Cervus nippon deer, who roam freely in their native environment where they can sustain themselves on wild oak leaves alongside an organic diet. Modern research has shown that the vast majority of the bioactive substances, nutritional elements and growth factors are found in the tips of the antlers and our powder is derived from this very area - it is made from the tips of deer antler that have not been ossified. Deer antler is collected from stags when their soft antlers are rich with amino acids, minerals, enzymes and vitamins.
For quality and effectiveness, the tip of the antlers is what must be used where it is tender, oily and moist. This is what we use at SuperFeast. Be aware that many suppliers will use the part lower from the tip where it is less oily, tougher and more whitish in colour. This is not as effective, and often what cheaper deer antler products are made from.
Deer must be over 3 years old. In the springtime, antlers naturally grow at an epic rate of 2cm a day as the Blood is rushing through the antlers. At approximately day 60 of the growing cycle, the antlers are harvested under the guidance and supervision of licensed and trained veterinarians. Tourniquets and anaesthetics are used to ensure the deer are carefully cared for during the process of collecting the antler velvet. After a few days, when it has been determined that the animals are all in good health, the deer are returned to roam free for the remainder of the year. The revered velvet will grow back again. After the velvet has been collected, it is freeze dried, and then sliced into thin wafers before being prepared. It is these pieces of herb that are processed into our potent and full spectrum extract.
We only work with family farms who are independent and treat their deer with respect. This includes having acreage where the deer can roam regularly, having strict guidelines for how many deer per stall are allowed when the deer aren't roaming, and top quality hygiene practices are followed to ensure very healthy deer.
Mason visiting the deer stalls
Like the entire range of our herbal apothecary, we only do full spectrum extractions of the deer antler (no standardisation here!), because we know nature creates in her full, perfect glory; to a state of perfection in relation to active ingredients. Read more about our take on standardisation and holism here. When you take a naturally occurring element like deer antler, and try to boost the levels of the ‘active ingredients’, you *may* be getting the intelligence of the product, but are you getting the full wisdom? The full energetics?
And as a final note, these SuperFeast deer are NOT raised for meat, they are deeply revered in China by our farmers and live out their natural lives on these farms.
SuperFeast Mason Taylor at the SuperFeast Deer Antler Farm
Pairing your herbs with a lifestyle filled with intent, is going to open up a whole new depth of benefits for you. We find SuperFeast Deer Antler pairs well with:
Traditional use of deer antler involved consuming the tips of the antlers - this is where the Yang Jing (the energy of the Kidneys) essence was thought to be concentrated. And like they often were, our Daoist friends were bang on. As I've mentioned, research has shown the tips are where the goodness is. Deer antler was traditionally prepared by decoction, where the antler velvet was cut into thin slices and placed in boiling water and decocted several times, resulting in a glue-type solution. This glue solution was filtered and combined over a slow fire with sugar, soybean oil and rice wine to form a thick paste for ingestion (sounds a lot like a deer antler marshmallow!)
The discovery of the potency of deer antler came via observations made in nature (like many of the great discoveries made)! Daoist monks centuries ago lived among wild deer. The monks noticed through their behavioural observations that with full maturity of the deer, nodes would appear on the antler tips. And during this time, the deer were visibly eager for mating, they showed great strength and virility and the combative battles they held to impress their female counterparts were extraordinary. Observing these great feats of strength, the wise Daoists tried consuming the antler tips and noticed their own personal increases in recovery, energy, virility and strength.
There is another story of how the herb was discovered, and although we tend to believe the "observational Daoist" theory, this folklore tale is worth considering as herbs do get discovered in some weird and wonderful ways:
Three brothers were out hunting one day. The eldest brother was mean, the middle sly, and the youngest was kind and brave. The youngest walked in front, the second in the middle and eldest followed. Suddenly, a strange sound came from the forest. The eldest and second brother frighted and fled as fast as they could to hide behind a tree. The youngest brother kept moving forward and came upon a deer in the high grass. He took out his bow and took the deer. The second eldest suggested "Our eldest brother is the head of our family and should get the head of the deer, our little brother came last to our family and should get the tail. I came in the middle so I should get the body." After the eldest and middle argued, they finally divided the deer's body and left only the head for the youngest. According to the village law, the goods had to be shared with neighbours, so the young brother made a soup with the deer's head and horns. He had not removed the horns as was typically done because the head was so small, and the young horns were so short. He offered the soup to all his neighbours, and after drinking everyone felt revitalised and energised. With many repeat testings, they confirmed that the tender horns of the deer did have tonifying medicinal effects. Since the horns were covered by a velvet/coat that was dense and fluffy (Rong), they called it the herb Ru (deer) Rong.
The Materia Medica by Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (penned more than 2,000 thousand years ago and a huge favourite text of Mason's), wrote about the potent benefits of deer antler, and its ability to nourish the Yin (albeit in small amounts), and greatly tonify the Yang, tonify the Kidney Essence, invigorate the spleen, strengthen bones and muscles, and promote blood flow.
Traditionally this herb has been considered an intensely invigorating tonic for the Kidneys and Liver that embodies the youthful male growth of the stag. This growth potential in the young antler means that the antler is not yet fully expressed, and with it being very well supplied with blood, the herb can also benefit the Yin (accumulative, physical essence), as well as the Yang (expressive, functional, genetically expressing Essence). For this reason it can not only fortify the primal Yang, but also generate Essence, along with supporting healing of wounds and degenerating flesh, and augmenting the marrow. Hence it is seen as one of the most treasured longevity substances in existence by the Daoists.
It was said in the Grand Materia Medica that it "generates Essence, tonifies the Marrow, nourishes the Blood, augments the Yang, strengthens the sinew and bones. Treats all Deficiency damage."
In China, this herb has been extensively used to treat a variety of diseases and in terms of tonifying Yang Jing, deer antler (alongside eucommia bark) has been considered one of the most precious and revered substances. For centuries, deer antler has been very widely utilised to increase Qi flow via building of Blood and support of the kidneys Essence, thus positively affecting the adrenals and helping restore overall vitality and healing. Used as an aphrodisiac, to aid Kidney Deficiencies, to strengthen the adrenal glands, to improve virility and support reproductive function were all commonly employed by the Daoists.
Other names: Lu Rong, Cervus nippon (zoological), Cornu Parvi
Text in which first appeared: Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shen Nong's Materia Medica)
Channels: Kidney and Liver
Treasures Nourished: Yang Jing, Qi, Blood, Shen
Taste: sweet, salty
General clinical signs of Deficiency where deer antler may help: weak body, cold extremities, infertility, impotence, sore lower back, knees or limbs, loss of hearing, frequent urination, poor growth/development in young. There are many more intricate symptoms, developmental issues and dis-ease that deer antler is indicated for, however we recommend working with a trained Classical Chinese doctor or naturopath in this instance.
Like all our tonic herbs, we encourage you to experiment with your deer antler. However, unlike the rest of our herbal apothecary, deer antler *does* have a slightly grainy feel on the tongue. Just a head's up! Due to its overly savoury notes, we find it goes best with coffee, cacao, and deeply savoury, umami flavoured meals like miso, bolognaise etc. Take it straight off the spoon if you're game! And remember, it is not heat sensitive. Here is a ripper to get you started:
While deer antler can be beneficial for balancing the sex hormones, we suggest avoid using this herb for those experiencing hormone-sensitive diseases, like prostrate or ovarian cancers. Furthermore, those suffering from a severe Yin Deficiency and Heat patterns may also be contraindicated. Check in with a Classically trained Chinese medicine practitioner to be sure.
Other clinical contraindications are excess Heat, Stomach Fire, Blood Heat, Lung Phlegm Heat and/or fever. When starting with deer antler it is important to begin slowly, especially if you are sensitive. Too much too soon can cause Yang to rise excessively and damage the Yin, leading to dizziness and red eyes.
Some people may have an allergy to deer antler velvet. Although this is rare, if you suspect this to be the case do not take this herb. You can test by rubbing some of the product on your lip and waiting for an hour or so. If ok, put some in mouth before spitting out, then move to taking very small amounts if you are not experiencing a reaction.
Remember, all the herbs we work with at SuperFeast HQ are always tonic in nature. You can read our article on What Are Tonic Herbs here. Tonic herbs are known to be safe, gentle, well-tolerated and effective. Tonic herbs do not force the body to change (when taken in responsible doses), but rather work with it to adapt, allowing a measured, nourishing and normalising effect to unfold within the body and its systems. Traditionally, tonic herbs have been consumed daily to promote longevity and prevent illness, to create an environment in the body where dis-ease is more unlikely to occur. Tonic herbs offer nourishment to the vital organs, strengthen the body’s essential physiological functions and improve quality of life, without heightened chances of negative side effects as the herbs work over time when brought into the diet.
As always, folks, we encourage you to do your own 'down the rabbit-hole' research on deer antler to see if this herb is for you. You can trust we only source and process herbs as close to nature as possible, in all their potent, nutrient rich, non-toxic, full-spectrum glory.
ResourcesTeeguarden, R 1998, The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs, Warner Books, NY
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