My father was diagnosed as having
cancer and a relative insisted we try a
very expensive Chinese medicine called
‘porcupine date’. For a toothpick-sized
heap of powder, it will cost over RM1,000!
What exactly is it and does it work?
The porcupine stone or ‘date’ is actually
a bezoar – solid mass formed by tightly
packed collection (or concretion) of partially
digested or undigested material stuck in
the stomach or other parts of the digestive
tract. Bezoars may consist of partially
digested hair (trichobezoars), i bre from
fruits or vegetables (phytobezoars), or even
hardened blocks of drugs e.g. antacids
Your Questions Answered
Porcupine date for
cancer – How “bezoar”?
The word “bezoar” comes from the Persian pâdzahr,
which means, “expelling poison.”
In the region of South and South-east Asia, the
bezoars of animal are usually taken from
either monkeys or porcupines. Among the
Chinese population, the porcupine bezoar is
called hao zhu zao 豪猪枣 (or 箭猪枣) – literally
“porcupine date” – and the Malays term it
The porcupine is an herbivore and it is believed
that when the animal is wounded or sick, it will look
for herbs in the forest to heal itself. As the healing
progresses, the phytobezoar stone may form in
its stomach (and when it does, only one bezoar is
formed in each porcupine). Thus, a ‘porcupine date’
is extremely expensive.
The porcupine phytobezoar (lapis histricinus or
lapis Malaccensis) is found in the gall bladder
of mainly the Malayan porcupine or Himalayan
porcupine (Hystrix brachyura). Porcupine bezoar
is usually roundish in shape with colour between
pale or purplish, and green and white. It is soft
or brittle, smooth and slippery to the touch.
When steeped in water, the taste is intensely bitter.
A porcupine is a rodent – similar to the capybara
and beaver – with many long, thin, and sharp
spikes (called quills) on its back that stick out
as protection when it is attacked. The quills are
released by contact with them, or shaken of by
the porcupine. (This animal is not to be confused
with the unrelated smaller species of hedgehog
– with similar outward appearance of protective
spines that do not come of , but it will roll into a ball
when in danger).
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