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Chinese medicinal brachiopods


Fossils have long been used for medicinal purposes. The basis for their use is often to be found in the principle of sympathetic medicine, the notion of like curing like. The efficacy of fossils to treat medical problems must be highly doubtful in most instances, although the consumption of the calcium carbonate from fossil shells or calcium phosphate from fossil bones may perhaps have been beneficial for some ailments.

Fossils are still a component of Chinese medicine. For example, the so-called dragon bones and teeth used in Chinese medicine are often fossil mammals (Kennedy 1976).

The fossil collections in The Natural History Museum contain a wooden tablet with two Devonian brachiopod shells purchased from a Chinese apothecary's shop in Singapore during the early 20th century. These are accompanied by a leaflet explaining their use. Crushed and dissolved in water, the shells are said to make a sweet and cooling drink to treat rheumatism, skin diseases and eye disorders.