The use of cockroach to treat diseases has long been documented way back in the first century. The earliest writings suggest that cockroaches, when ground with oil or when boiled can be used as medicines. No wonder cockroaches nowadays have become secret ingredients used in Asian medicines and in cosmetics.
Research on the use of pulverized cockroaches are on going in China and Korea, specifically on treating baldness, cancer and AIDS, as well as it’s use as a vitamin supplement.
South Korea’s Jeonnam Province Agricultural Research Institute and China’s Dali University College of Pharmacy have published papers on the anti-carcinogenic properties of the cockroach.
Li Shunan, a 78-year-old professor of traditional medicine from the southwestern province of Yunnan who is considered the godfather of cockroach research, said he discovered in the 1960s that ethnic minorities near the Vietnamese border were using a cockroach paste to treat bone tuberculosis.
“Cockroaches are survivors,” Li said. “We want to know what makes them so strong — why they can even resist nuclear effects.”
Li reels off an impressive, if implausible, list of health claims: “I lost my hair years ago. I made a spray of cockroaches, applied it on my scalp and it grew back. I’ve used it as a facial mask and people say I haven’t changed at all over the years.
With the sudden popularity of cockroaches as secret ingredients in Asian medicine and in cosmetics, cockroach farms have grown quickly in China.
One hundred documented cockroach farms are operating in China at present, and new ones are opening almost as fast as the prolific critters breed.
Price per kilo of dried cockroach has also increased tenfold, from about 2 US dollars per pound in 2010 to as much as 20 US dollars per pound this year, as producers of traditional medicine stockpile pulverized cockroach powder.
The popularity of cockroach farming has also grown because it is considered an easy business with big return. The start-up cost is also very minimal. Farmers only need to buy eggs, and stock them in a dark room with roofing tile.
As for feeding them, cockroaches are omnivores, though they favor rotten vegetables. Wang feeds his brood with potato and pumpkin peelings discarded from nearby restaurants.
Killing them is easy too. Cockroaches are being scooped or vacuum out of their nests, and then put them in the boiling water. Then they’re dried in the sun like chile peppers.
The dried cockroaches are sold to producers of Asian medicines and to cosmetic companies that uses their protein and cellulose-like substance on their wings as secret ingredients.
The favored breed for this purpose is the Periplaneta americana, or American cockroach, a reddish-brown insect that grows to about 1.6 inches long and, when mature, can fly, as opposed to the smaller, darker, wingless German cockroach.
At present, at least five pharmaceutical companies are using cockroaches for traditional medicine.