Turtle and Tortoise Medicinal Facts

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Turtles and tortoises have long been used in traditional medicine. While certain species of turtles and tortoises have become endangered, threatened and extinct, testudines like the Chinese soft-shelled turtle and the Reeve’s tortoise are being raised

Although, the term turtle is generic to reptiles under the order testudines, tortoise is usually referred to land dwelling and semi-aquatic reptiles. While the amphibious turtles like the sea turtle and Florida Box turtle has a webbed feet for swimming, tortoises have ordinary feet only made for walking. Turtles have flatter shells; tortoises on the other hand, have a more domed shell.

Aquatic and land turtles (tortoises) may have recognizable differences. Some turtles like the red-eared slider maybe popular for pets and the Chinese soft-shelled turtles, notable as a delicious cuisine. However, both turtle and tortoise species have been known for medicinal uses.

Tortoise and turtle use in traditional medicine

Like their reptile relatives as the lizards, the crocodiles and the snakes, the body fat of a tortoise (Red foot tortoise) is also obtained for cure. It is used for treating all types of pain, tumors and furuncle or boil. The fat is either mixed with plants to form a cataplasm or rubbed as an ointment to the affected area.

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The shell of the tortoise and turtle is the most important for medicinal purposes. Depending on the animal, it can be the upper shell (carapace) or the lower shell (plastron) that is used. For the tortoise (e.g. Reeve’s tortoise) it is the plastron that is usually selected. The plastron of the tortoise can be indicated as vinegar-treated or raw. While raw shells are used for convulsion, headache, vertigo and ear problem as deafness, vinegar-treated shells are indicated for leg weakness, night sweats, heart palpitations and disorders due to liver and kidney problems.

Included with other herbs and gelatins from other animals such as antler gelatin, donkey hide gelatin etc., the decocted gelatin of a tortoise can be indicated for aplastic anemia and Parkinson’s disease.

More to this, the tortoise shell gelatin is used for impotence, uterine bleeding and low-back pain.

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A soft-shelled turtle as the Chinese soft-shelled turtle is a popular type of aquatic turtles used in medicine. Not only that it is an excellent food, the gelatin obtained from its shell is indicated for fever, night sweats, hemorrhoids and amenorrhea. It is also used for the health maintenance of the abdomen.

The active or chemical constituent

The turtle and tortoise shells possess small portions of keratin, magnesium, vitamin D and trace minerals of zinc. However, collagen and calcium are the two main chemical constituents in the turtle or tortoise shell. While the collagen usually makes up the 7% of the turtle plastron, calcium makes up half of the tortoise plastron and carapace.

Calcium has been known for strong teeth and bones but it is also associated with nervous and neuromuscular disorders. Calcium deficiency usually lead to nervousness, hyperactivity, irritability, insomnia, muscle cramps, limb numbness etc.

Considering the bones, while calcium contributes to its rigidity, collagen determines it’s over all structure - its flexibility. And as a protein similar to keratin, collagen is also associated with nails, bones, hair and skin problems. Lack of collagen which is a component of cartilage can result to osteoarthritis, brittle fingernails, bleeding gums, mouth ulcers, dry or dull hair and wrinkles.

Turtle shells in patented traditional Chinese medicines

The shell of the amyda sinensis (wiegmann) or Trionyx sinensis (Wiegmann) presently known as Pelodiscus sinensis (Chinese soft-shelled turtle) is usually used in patented traditional Chinese medicine. While it can be a single ingredient in its decocted form, in tablet or pills, the shell of the soft-shelled Chinese turtle can also be incorporated with other herbs for treatment. Combined with other herbs, the shell of the amyda sinensis (wiegmann) can be indicated for cure in AIDS and cancer.

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Tortoise shells in herbal supplements

While the product Seven Forests Tortoise Shell in a bottle of 100 tablets is known as aid for chronic cough, fever, menopausal symptoms, night sweats and weakness associated with fever, Backbone is a popular Chinese traditional formula generally for low back pain. It comprises of several herbs with the shell of the Chinemys reevesii or Reeve’s tortoise as the most important ingredient.


This article is for information only.

© Phoenix Montoya @ October 26, 2011


  1. http://www.itmonline.org/arts/turtles.htm
  2. http://www.menopauseindia.com/collagen.htm
  3. http://www.itmonline.org/arts/tortois2.htm#figure%201
  4. http://www.naturopathydigest.com/nutrition_herbs/herbs/turtle_shell.php
  5. http://patents.jiehe.org/drug/0513/5463/01128808.htm
  6. http://www.holisticchineseherbs.com/conditions/back-pain/backbone/
  7. http://www.acuatlanta.net/seven-forests-tortoise-shell-100-tablets-p-17641.html
  8. http://www.torontozoo.com/ExploretheZoo/AnimalDetails.asp?pg=690


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