Greetings from Mindoro Occidental!
Earlier this week, with a friend, I checked out a dealer of marine products in the town of San Jose. The dealer is a trader who buys non-fish marine animals such as sea dragons and sea cucumbers from fishermen and sells them to wholesalers and exporters. (Sea dragons, by the way, are actually a type of fish — they’re pipe fish — although they don’t resemble the shape of a typical fish.)
At the time of our visit, the dealer’s inventory consisted of sea cucumbers.
Sea cucumbers (or holutharians) look like large, lumpy and fat worms. Certain species resemble the cucumber vegetable — hence the nickname.
Sea cucumbers are edible delicacies in Chinese cuisine and also have medicinal value in Chinese medicine.
Chinese medicine is preventive rather than remedial (i.e., it promotes good health instead of trying to reverse bad health). One of Chinese medicine’s cornerstones is the principle of Yin and Yang and how these two forces should always be kept in balance. When the two forces are unbalanced (e.g., there is more Yang than Yin or vice versa), that person gets sick.
Chinese medicine puts a lot of emphasis on this concept of staying balanced. Tonics and potions are drank regularly as a preventive or prophylactic measure to ensure good health.
Let me show you how sea cucumbers are processed from the sea and made suitable for the pantry. And let me describe how a typical tonic looks and tastes. Yuck.
Excerpt from Wikipedia:
Sea cucumbers are echinoderms from the class Holothuroidea. They are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body containing a single, branched gonad. Sea cucumbers are found on the sea floor worldwide. There are 1,700 species of holothurians worldwide with the greatest number being in the Asia-Pacific region.
Many of these are gathered for human consumption and some species are cultivated in aquaculture systems. The harvested product is variously referred to as trepang, bêche-de-mer or balate. In the Philippines, they’re called “balatan,” this is a reference to their leathery skin.
Sea cucumbers serve a useful role in the marine ecosystem as they help recycle nutrients, breaking down detritus and other organic matter after which bacteria can continue the degradation process.
PROCESSING SEA CUCUMBERS
Unfortunately, I forgot to ask how much he paid for these holutharians (sea cucumbers). I also forgot to ask how much he sold them. 😉
The boiling process smelled fishy but it wasn’t an obnoxious smell.
And third step. After the holutharians have been baked, they are dried in the sun.
Notice the white thread-like filament at the top of the sea cucumber on the right. Those were organs ejected from the animal’s anus in self-defense! According to Wikipedia again:
Some species of coral-reef sea cucumbers within the order Aspidochirotida can defend themselves by expelling their sticky cuvierian tubules (enlargements of the respiratory tree that float freely in the coelom) to entangle potential predators. When startled, these cucumbers may expel some of them through a tear in the wall of the cloaca in an autotomic process known as evisceration. Replacement tubules grow back in 1.5 to 5 weeks, depending on the species. The release of these tubules can also be accompanied by the discharge of a toxic chemical known as holothurin, which has similar properties to soap. This chemical can kill animals in the vicinity and is one more way in which these sedentary animals can defend themselves.
The following excerpt came from here.
I broke into a smile when I read the last section on Contraindications. 😉
Qualities: This variety of fish is a close relative of the Sea Dragon. It is an extremely yang and powerful Kidney tonic, reputed in China to have “aphrodisiac” qualities. Large wild Sea Horses are highly prized. The larger the Sea Horse, the more potent its energy. Sea Horse is considered to be a powerful sex tonic. It is very similar to Sea Dragon, but is slightly weaker. It is used in a wide variety of men’s tonic formulations to build sexual strength. It is quite effective.
Preparation and Utilization: Sea Horse may be used with any other tonic herbs, but it is most commonly combined with Kidney tonics, both Yin and Yang. You can make a tea of it, or you can grind it into powder and add it to capsules. Also, Sea Horse is commonly extracted, with other tonics, in alcohol to make a tonic.
Primary Combinations: Combine with Deer Antler, Sea Dragon, Gecko, Ginseng, Goji, Schizandra, Cuscuta, Cynomorium, Morinda, etc. as a Kidney yang tonic and to tonify the sexual functions.
Varieties and Grading: Larger Sea Horses are better. Sometimes very large Sea Horses are available and these tend to have strong aphrodisiac power. If they still smell like the sea, they are fresh. That is usually better so long as they are well dried and in good condition.
Contraindications: Men, do not use if you are mateless. Women should use this herb only in very small quantities and only for short periods of time. Do not use when experiencing pathogenic fire (e.g., the flu, a herpes outbreak, etcetera). It is best not to use Sea Horse during pregnancy.