Cicada is an animal-derived substance used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is extracted from or prepared by grinding the empty shell shed every seven years by the cicada, (Cryptotympana atrata or Cryptotympana pustulata ), which is a winged insect that makes a distinctive chirping sound, and belongs to the Cicadidae family.
Cicadas are commonly found in mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan. They had religious significance in ancient China, and symbolized reincarnation or immortality, as the Chinese compared the cicada's periodic molting of its shell with a person's leaving the physical body behind at the time of death. Bronze vessels as old as 1500 b.c. ornamented with cicadas have been found in Chinese tombs, along with white pottery and jewelry featuring cicada designs. During the Han dynasty (202 b.c. to a.d.) 220, the Chinese carved small cicadas out of precious jade and placed them in the mouths of the dead.
The pharmaceutical name of the substance made from this insect is Periostracum cicadae, or chan tui in Chinese. It is prepared from the exuvium, or cast-off shell of the nymph form of the insect. The empty shell is shiny, translucent, and yellow-brown in color. As it would appear in a living cicada, the shell has three portions: head (with two eyes), chest (with wings and a crossed gap), and abdomen (with three pairs of feet).
The medicinal uses of cicada include treatment of fever and associated seizures; skin rashes ; and such eye disorders as conjunctivitis, cataracts , and blurred vision.
Due to its antipyretic effect, cicada-containing preparations are often used to treat high fevers, such as those associated with the common cold or influenza . Western news media reported in April 2003 that the Chinese were using combinations of cicada and silkworm droppings to treat the fever associated with SARS. In addition to reducing fever, cicada is also used in TCM to treat other symptoms of colds and flu, including laryngitis, headache , restless sleep, or nightmares.
Cicada is said to be effective in relieving itchy rashes and eczema . Its special use is for the treatment of rashes or skin eruptions that occur in the early stages of measles or chicken pox. According to traditional Chinese medicine, the sooner the rashes appear, the shorter and less severe these diseases will be. Therefore, a Chinese herbalist may suggest cicada preparations to hasten the eruption of the rash.
Cicada is said to prevent or reduce muscle spasms by reducing the tension of the striated muscles. It may also delay transmission of nerve signals at the neuromuscular junction, thereby reducing muscle spasms. Its actions may be similar to those of Western barbiturates, sedatives, and anticonvulsants (antiseizure medications).
Cicada has also been used in TCM to treat eye diseases associated with wind and heat, including blurred vision and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane that lines the eyelids). It is usually mixed with chrysanthemum flowers (Chrysanthemum morifolium, or ju hua in Chinese) when used to treat cataracts.
The usual dosage of cicada when taken alone is 3–9 grams per day. As of 2004, whole cicadas cost about 10 cents per gram when purchased in bulk from suppliers of Chinese medicinal herbs. Cicada may be prepared as a decoction, which means that the insect shells are boiled down to a concentrated broth or tea to be taken internally. Other forms of cicada preparations include ground powder and water and alcohol extracts.
A general precaution when using herbs or other alternative medicines is to purchase them only from reputable sources. In the case of traditional Chinese remedies, this precaution is particularly important because many of them are imported from countries without strict production or labeling standards. In the case of cicada, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported in June 2003 that a shipment described as "Cicada Molting Herbal Food Supplement" from Taiwan was refused entry into the United States and considered dangerous. In this instance, the FDA defined "dangerous" in these terms: "The article appears to be dangerous to health when used in the dosage or manner, or with the frequency or duration, prescribed, recommended, or suggested in the labeling thereof."
Practitioners of TCM state that pregnant women should not use cicada because of the risk of miscarriage.
No side effects from cicada preparations have been reported in the United States as of early 2004.
As of 2004, cicada decoctions have not been reported to interact with any Western prescription medications.
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American Foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 505 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94133. (415) 776-0502.
American Herbal Products Association. 8484 Georgia Ave., Suite 370, Silver Spring, MD 20910. (301) 588-1174. <http://www.ahpa.org>.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. NCCAM Clearinghouse, National Institute of Health, P.O. Box 8218, Silver Spring, MD 20907-8218. (888) 644-6226. Fax: (301) 495-4957. <http://nccam.nih.gov>.
National Oriental Medicine Accreditation Agency (NOMAA). 3445 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 300, Torrance, CA 90505. (213) 820-2045. <http://www.nomaaa.org>.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "Refusal Actions by FDA as Recorded in OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), Taiwan, Republic of China." Rockville, MD: FDA, June 2003. <http://www.fda.gov/ora/oasis/6/ora_oasis_c_tw.html>.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
cicada (sĬkā´də), large, noise-producing insect of the order Homoptera, with a stout body, a wide, blunt head, protruding eyes, and two pairs of membranous wings. The front wings, which are longer than the rear pair, extend beyond the insect's abdomen. Male cicadas have platelike membranes on the thorax, which they vibrate like drum heads, producing a loud, shrill sound. Females of most species are mute. Characteristic songs are produced by members of different species; each also produces a noise indicating irritation, and some have special courtship songs.
There are about 2,000 cicada species distributed throughout the tropical and temperate regions of the world; they are most numerous in Asia and Australia. There are about 180 species in North America; adults of these species range from approximately 1 to 2 in. (2.5–5 cm) in length. The periodical cicadas (Magicicada species), found in the eastern half of the continent, have the longest known life cycles of any insect. Because of their periodic appearance they are often called locusts, although they are not related to true locusts.
Their life cycle takes 17 years in northern species (the so-called 17-year locusts) and 13 years in southern species; the two types overlap in parts of the United States. The female deposits her eggs in slits that she cuts in young twigs. In about six weeks the wingless, scaly larvae, or nymphs, drop from the tree and burrow into the ground, where they remain for 13 or 17 years, feeding on juices sucked from roots. The nymphs molt periodically as they grow; finally the full-grown nymphs emerge at night, climb tree trunks and fences, and shed their last larval skin. The winged adults, which generally emerge together in large numbers, live for about one week. Different broods mature at regular intervals, so that at least one colony is conspicuous in some part of the United States each year, and even in a given locality a brood may appear every few years.
Other North American cicadas (Tibicen species and others) are known as dog-day cicadas, or harvest flies, because the adults appear in late summer. Their life cycle is thought to be similar to that of the periodical cicadas, but in most species it is completed in two years.
Cicada larvae do little damage, but when adults appear in large numbers their egg-laying may damage young trees. Cicadas are sometimes kept for their song in Asia, as they were in ancient Greece. They are classified in the phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, order Homoptera, family Cicadidae.
ci·ca·da / səˈkādə; səˈkädə/ • n. a large homopterous insect (family Cicadidae, suborder Homoptera) with long transparent wings, occurring chiefly in warm countries. The male cicada makes a loud shrill droning noise after dark by vibrating two membranes on its abdomen.