My first memory of traditional folk medicine involves drinking a pleasant-tasting soup, then peeking in the pot and recoiling in shock -- the soup was made from dried seahorses.


China has thankfully started regulating the TCM market to better control the use of certain ingredients, such as endangered animals and illegal substances. Though, unusual ingredients such as animal genitalia, baby mice, insects, and fungi are still found in a some traditional folk remedies. Here are a few with impressive staying power over the years.


Korea: Baby mice wine


To make baby mice wine, stuff rodents no more than three days old into a bottle of rice wine and let stew for a year. The tonic is believed to be an all-purpose cure for everything from asthma to liver disease.


China: Deer penis


The Chinese in Guangzhou eat tiger penis to boost sexual performance and stamina. Tiger penis has been banned for obvious reasons, so the equally impressive (in terms of heft) deer penis is more often consumed. Although the alcohol-soaked substance is legal, consumption is on the wane: Chinese athletes were banned from consuming it during the Beijing Olympics.


Tibet: Caterpillar fungus


The caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis) is highly coveted because it grows only in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. The fungus kills and mummifies a caterpillar, then sprouts a grass-like reproductive body -- hence its worm-like appearance. Tibetans have used it for centuries to treat cancer, fatigue, and other ailments. According to legend, locals once successfully resisted a Mongol attack because they ate copious amounts of the fungus.


Thailand and Vietnam: White ant soup


A soup made from ant parts -- eggs, larvae, bodies -- sounds like stomachache in the making. But according to, it’s delicious: “The eggs are soft and pop gently in your mouth with a wee bit of sour taste.” The high amino acid content also keeps muscle, hair, glands, and organs in top condition.


Indonesia: Bat hearts


In Jakarta, fruit bats are sold to passersby, not as exotic pets, but as a cure for asthma. The custom is to remove the heart while the mammal is alive, then cook and eat it.