Deer’s antlers – a potent drug

The antlers of deer were long used as a source for
drugs, but today they have lost their importance.
Photo: Creative Common.

Different parts of deer have had a long and important history in medicine, but the most used was hartshorn, which was mentioned in many editions of the Swedish pharmacopoeias. The term hartshorn was used for the antlers of red deer, elk or reindeer. The antlers were mainly burnt or “refined”, i.e., finely pulverised, but even hartshorn prepared without fire found use. This was made by scraping the antlers, then boiling in water until soft, drying and grinding. It was a drug that was considered efficacious against poisons as well as measles and other infectious diseases.

Swedish pharmacies even made a hartshorn jelly. The scraped hartshorn was boiled in water for a long time thus forming a gluelike solution that was strained off. Sugar, lemon and white wine were then added. The product was used up until the end of the 19th century and was considered invigorating for the sick and an aid for recovery.

Researchers have found carbohydrates in hartshorn that are effective against stomach ulcers and proteins that inhibit inflammation and stimulate the body’s immune system.
Hartshorn still appears in, among others, Chinese pharmacopoeias and modern experiments have shown that horns from other animals, e.g., rhinoceros and water buffalo have effect against fevers. However, they could not find any difference in the effects between horns from rhinoceros and horns from water buffalo.

Last modified: 2021-11-08