Cantharides (also known as Spanish flies or blister beetles) refer to the broken dried remains of the bodies of the insect Cantharis vesicatoria. The dried insect itself is oblong and is usually around 1.5 to 2.5cm wide. It features a sagging head and mouthparts, a pair of sizable compound eyes and an antenna – most of its antennas are dropped. Medically, it has been used in the past to induce blisters (which was used as a common remedy for the treatment of many ailments). It is now commonly used as a herbal remedy to treat warts and regenerate hair.
Cantharides have most commonly been known for their use as an aphrodisiac due to the physical effects mimicking sexual arousal, but Cantharidin powder has a long history in both folk and traditional medicine. In Asia, it was used topically to treat piles, ulcers, venomous worms and tuberculous scrofuloderma. Orally, it was believed to help with abdominal masses, treat rabies and protect against cancer. It has also been used traditionally to cure gout, carbuncles, rheumatism and various other medical disorders.
In Chinese herbal remedies, cantharides are believed to drastically remove blood stasis and resolve static blood, disperse clumps, vesiculate and conduct redness. In Western cultures, it is used as a herbal remedy to treat warts, eliminate toxins and regenerate hair, which in turn acts as a treatment for alopecia.
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