Chickens in Chinese Medicine

With black skin and meat, Silkies are special in curative powers.

Chickens in Chinese Medicine

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Silkies have been venerated in Chinese traditional medicine for more than 1,000 years. Culturally, soups and stews made from Silkies have been used to restore health in those who are weakened and for ailments related to balancing the Five Elements of Chinese medicine. Scientific researchers are looking for a basis for their nutritional value. 

Silkies, with their black skin, meat, and bones, are singled out for special value. They are good for what ails you. 

Modern and traditional 

“As a kind of folk invigorant and a source of traditional Chinese medicine, it [the chicken] is used to reinforce body immunity and protect from emaciation and feebleness,” added co-researcher at the Key Laboratory of Food Science of the Ministry of Education at Nanchang University in Nanchang Ying-gang Tian in an interview in 2006. It also treats diabetes, anemia, menstrual cramps, and postpartum disorders, according to Tian. 

These 21st-century research scientists hypothesized that the naturally occurring peptide carnosine might be giving chicken soup medicinal value. Carnosine is an anti-glycating agent, preventing the chemical process of glycation and formation of advanced glycation end-products, which are compared to rust in a car. Those AGEs may play a role in aging, so people take carnosine pills to get those effects.  

Carnosine is an anti-glycating agent and is available as a food supplement. People take it to slow down aging and progressive disorders such as diabetes. When the Chinese researchers compared the meat of White Plymouth Rocks and Black Silkies, they found the Silkie meat had twice as much carnosine as that of the Rocks.

Carnosine is available as a food supplement. People take it to slow down aging and progressive disorders such as diabetes. Its value for those purposes isn’t supported by solid research as yet.  

When the Chinese researchers compared the meat of White Plymouth Rocks and Black Silkies, they found the Silkie meat had twice as much carnosine as that of the Rocks. If carnosine can help restore health, Silkie chicken soup is a good way to get it. 

Silkie medicine 

Chinese medicine practitioner William Ceurvels spoke to me from Virginia before returning to Taiwan to continue his studies. He holds a Dipl. Ac. (Diplomate of Acupuncture) degree. He cites traditional sources from as long ago as the 10th century for using Silkies as dietetic therapy.  

Chickens, in general, are associated with the warming aspects of life forces. Silkies, with their black skin, meat, and bones, are also associated with water and cooling aspects.  

“They keep fire in check,” he said. “They are more balanced than normal chicken.” 

The water association brings down the heat of inflammation and fever. Its astringent quality draws moisture inward. It helps reduce sweating. 

“It’s connected to the idea of increasing water and decreasing heat,” he said. 

Those attributes make Silkie foods helpful in treating insomnia, lung deficiencies, and diseases such as tuberculosis. 

Silkie foods are used to build up strength in those who are in some way depleted. It’s recommended especially for women’s disorders, such as menstrual problems, menopause discomforts, and hot flashes. 

“If you don’t have enough water element, then fire becomes too prominent,” he said.  

Building strength 

Supporting the mother with Silkie chicken soup in the month after childbirth can help build up her strength. Similarly, any patient after surgery, or a serious illness, would benefit from Silkie soup. 

“As a folk remedy, it’s helpful after an illness, when the patient is still groggy and tired, when the body’s defenses are weakened,” he said. 

His wife ate chicken soup as she recovered from a recent bout of bronchitis.  

Chicken medicinals can also be prepared as a concentrate, boiling down the essence of 30-40 chickens along with herbs into a hyperconcentrated chicken broth. It can also be mixed with honey or dried and powdered into capsules. 

For Chinese healers and mothers, the proof was in the chicken soup. With my Black Silkie, Poof, on display at a recent local history event, on two occasions young Chinese American mothers came by with their young children in hand. As I told them about the power of Silkie chicken soup, one told me, “Oh, now I know why my mother fed me chicken soup when I was sick as a little girl!”  

Black Silkie hen. Photo by Paige Kleckner.

Silkies in history 

Silkies have been a unique Chinese breed since at least the 10th century. Marco Polo, traveling from Italy in the 13th century, wrote in his Travels, Chapter LXXX, Concerning the Kingdom of Fuju:  

And there is a strange thing there which I needs must tell you. You must know they have a kind of fowls which have no feathers, but hair only, like a cat’s fur. They are black all over; they lay eggs just like our fowls and are very good to eat.  

The other obvious characteristic that distinguishes Silkies from all other chickens is their hair-like feathers, although they aren’t part of the food. Their feathers lack the barbs that hold ordinary feathers together. Silkies are crested, with a bony knob on their skull. The skull may be vaulted, actually open on top, giving the crest a double appearance. They have five toes, where most chickens have only four. Their earlobes are turquoise.  

Silkie feathers lack the barbs that hold ordinary feathers together. In the 18th century in America, Silkies were said to result from a rabbit bred to a hen.

In the 18th century in America, Silkies were said to result from a rabbit bred to a hen. 

Chickens continue to hold a place of importance in Chinese culture. The Rooster is the tenth sign in the Chinese zodiac, with yin energy. They protect against evil spirits. The next year of the Rooster will be 2029.  

Further information 

Although many restaurants advertise their Black Chicken Soup, no chef was willing to talk with me for this article. I am grateful to Will Cuervils for his work and his willingness to share it. I continue to seek additional sources for Silkies and their value in traditional medicine. Please contact me at Christine.heinrichs@gmail.com with any additional information or sources.  

Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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