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January 07, 2020
Way back when my son was in kindergarten, he was a member of the school garden club. While self-sufficient in the activity of flinging dirt, there’s a reason we don’t put small children in charge of our food supply. They need a lot of adult supervision. So I was also a member of the school garden club.
At one point the faculty sponsor, with complete disregard for cliché, floated the idea of having a bake sale to raise money for the end of the year field trip. While handing me a shiny gray bag and piece of paper, he asked, “You bake right?”
Wary, I mumbled, “Uh, yeah.”
“Great! I bought this cricket flour and it came with a cookie recipe. You make them.”
“OK,” I replied, realizing I had just been volun-told to make bug cookies.
When he said cricket flour, he literally meant edible powder made from crickets. The crickets are farm raised, fed special diets to achieve a desired taste profile, and then, in a shockingly violent turn of events, dehydrated and ground into a fine flour. What’s the appeal? Cricket flour is about 60% protein. Compare that to roast chicken, which is only about 30% protein.
I yammer on about cricket flour because it turns out my willingness to undertake this bug cookie experiment was at least in part due to my Chinese herbal experience. While exotic portrayals of Chinese herb dispensaries often show snake skins, scorpions and dried geckos, these herbs are almost never used. But what is often used is cicada molting. The first time I ever cringed at their shells, a fellow acupuncture student held one up and, in a mocking-voice, said, “We want to help you. We want to make you better.”
Beloved for their natural antihistamine properties, cicada shells are part of the Herbalogic Easy Breather formulas.
In the early days of Herbalogic, I often stood behind a folding table at natural food stores, answering questions about Chinese herbs and passing out samples. Most of the year people wanted to try our formulas for stress or energy. But in Central Texas in late December, people start complaining about something the locals call, “Cedar Fever.” From then until about Valentine’s Day, the mountain cedar trees, technically called ashei juniper, dump their pollen whenever the wind blows.
Videos of trees exploding in puffs of yellow dust are favorites of local weather forecasters. Pollen monitoring stations post their counts in grains per cubic meter of air, with categories like Low, Medium, High and Just-Move-to-Mars. People who are allergic to cedar pollen are obvious by their sneezing, red, itchy eyes, and terrible disposition. Before Herbalogic, my father annually suffered through New Year’s Eve celebrations, and then stayed in bed until mid-February.
One January morning, I was doing an Herbalogic demo at Wheatsville Coop, a local Austin store. A woman with a red, irritated nose and watery eyes, spotted my sign for Easy Breather. She made a bee-line for my table and said, “I need that.” Trailing behind her was a bright-eyed man who was annoyingly free from any cedar allergy symptoms. While she gulped down the Easy Breather, he examined the bottle.
He looked up from the bottle and said to me, “Cicada molting?”
“Yes, cicada molting.”
“Like the bug?”
“Yes. Easy Breather is made with 10 different herbs, including the shed exoskeleton of the cicada. In traditional Chinese herbal medicine, it’s used for ear, nose, and throat problems marked by itching. What we would think of as seasonal plant allergies. Recent research has shown that one of the active ingredients in the cicada shell has natural antihistamine properties.”
Reading the horror in his eyes, I added, “Easy Breather also has mint.”
The man turned to the woman and said in a panic-stricken voice, “It’s not vegetarian!”
And she replied, “I DON’T CARE! This is the first time in 3 weeks that I haven’t wanted to die.”
Funny thing about Chinese herbs- sometimes they are sticks and leaves and flowers. Other times they are less comfortable in their form, like insect shells. But when Team Herbalogic formulates products, ingredients aren’t chosen to appease dietary preferences or aesthetic sensibilities; their selection is based on tradition and efficacy.
The Oatmeal Cricket cookies were a hit. The children agreed they were the best-est tasting cookies ever. The parents agreed that they liked the high protein content. Everyone agreed, cricket flour is a little weird.3
My recommendation, just eat the bugs and don’t think about it too much.
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