Excrement’s Exciting and Extraordinary Acceptance

In traditional therapies

I think the custom of hiding Easter eggs and letting the children find them is fun for both parents and children. However, how the Easter Bunny became part of it, I do not know, but the Easter egg-laying bunny certainly fooled one of my sons. I had hidden chocolate eggs the night before and to make the whole thing more realistic had scattered near the open window some rabbit dung pellets. When the Easter egg search was over, I asked my son if he’d seen the Easter Bunny’s droppings. He hadn’t and was surprised. But I was most surprised when he explained that he’d eaten them thinking they were nuts!

Actually, rabbits habitually eat their own faeces, because the latter still contain nutrients, being only partially digested and representing fermented products of the rabbit’s hind gut (the cecum). Rabbits are not the only animals that consume their faeces. There are numerous reports that traditionally also some humans in different parts of the world added animal faeces to some of their dishes and even today the world’s most expensive coffee uses beans that have passed through the gut of a Viverra sp., a civet cat, which isn’t really a cat, but despite its omnivorous diet a carnivore that eats and poops out coffee beans.

In my field work as an ethnobiologist I collect information from tribal traditional healers on therapeutic animals and animal products and very often I am told that the faeces, excrement, dung (whatever you wish to call the digestive end product of the food eaten) are an important ingredient in potions and medicines given to the sick. Among  the Tangsa of North-East India, goat droppings are applied to cuts and burns; to treat infections of umbilical cord and naval of a newborn child goat excreta are also used. In Rajasthan, tribal Garasiya apparently use droppings of crows to cure blisters and in parts of East Africa monkey faeces may be used as a remedy for the sleeping sickness. In western medicine sometimes stool (yet another term for ‘faeces’) from a healthy donor is introduced to the gastrointestinal tract of a patient having suffered from severe diarrhoea or colitis (but there are more discreet methods than feeding the material directly to the patient!).  Actually, poop (yet another term) consists mostly of water, but it depends on the species of course. There are likely to be some undigested fibres, fats and proteins as well as blood cell breakdown-products and traces of bile. Therapeutically interesting is the excretal bacterial biomass, which can be very substantial and makeup 25% or more of the dry weight.

Owing to the metabolism of these bacteria excreta can contain a multitude of bioactive compounds, acting as analgesics and antibiotics with anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic (fever) properties. In Kunming (China), researchers identified useful species of Actinobacteria from the faeces of 31 species of animals and suggested that many of them could be potential new drug sources. Khan and co-workers in Guangzhou showed that Adélie penguin excrements contained compounds that potently inhibited the growth of various pathogenic bacteria. But in many countries (and not just India: former Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai comes to mind) urine has also widely been used therapeutically and Gahukar, a few years ago, even suggested that cow urine be used as an alternative bio-inspired pesticide.

Looking at my watch ad noticing it’s time for a break, being a bit thirsty (it’s afternoon), I am actually rather happy not  having to choose between civet poo coffee and medicinal teas based on the excreta of a phasmid stick insect and Bombyx mori caterpillars (both used in parts of Asia for asthma, stomach upsets and body pain). I stick to my golden Assam Orange Pekoe tea and certainly don’t want to be reminded of the time when my son not only ate rabbit dung, but as a toddler even chewed on dry dog poo, believing it was dried banana. And if you haven’t had enough of this topic: look up “urumiit”.


© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2021.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to V.B Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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