Worth the sting: Cuba’s scorpion pain remedy

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Farmer Pepe Casanas is stung by a scorpion in Los Palacios, Cuba, December 5, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A worker extracts venom from a scorpion to produce homeopathic medicine Vidatox at LABIOFAM, the Cuban state manufacturer of medicinal and personal hygienic products, in Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A worker prepares bottles of homeopathic medicine Vidatox at LABIOFAM, the Cuban state manufacturer of medicinal and personal hygienic products in Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A worker shows a scorpion used for venom extraction at LABIOFAM, the Cuban state manufacturer of medicinal and personal hygienic products in Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Workers prepare boxes with bottles of homeopathic medicine Vidatox at LABIOFAM, the Cuban state manufacturer of medicinal and personal hygienic products, in Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A worker removes a scorpion from a plastic container for venom extraction to produce homeopathic medicine Vidatox at LABIOFAM, the Cuban state manufacturer of medicinal and personal hygienic products in Cienfuegos, Cuba, December 3, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Farmer Pepe Casanas poses with a scorpion in Los Palacios, Cuba, December 5, 2018. Picture taken December 5, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 December 2018

Worth the sting: Cuba’s scorpion pain remedy

  • In Cuba, where tens of thousands of patients have been treated with Vidatox, each vial costs under a dollar
  • The scorpions are caught in the wild as Labiofam workers believe their venom — which is not dangerous — is not as potent when raised in captivity

HAVANA: Once a month for the last decade, Pepe Casanas, a 78-year-old Cuban farmer, has hunted down a scorpion to sting himself with, vowing that the venom wards off his rheumatism pains.
His natural remedy is no longer seen as very unusual here.
Researchers in Cuba have found that the venom of the blue scorpion, whose scientific name is Rhopalurus junceus, endemic to the Caribbean island, appears to have anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties, and may be able to delay tumor growth in some cancer patients.
While some oncologists abroad say more research is needed to be able to properly back up such a claim, Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam has been using scorpion venom since 2011 to manufacture the homeopathic medicine Vidatox.
The remedy has proven popular.
Labiofam Business Director Carlos Alberto Delgado told Reuters sales were climbing 10 percent annually. Vidatox already sells in around 15 countries worldwide and is currently in talks with China to sell the remedy there.
In Cuba, where tens of thousands of patients have been treated with Vidatox, each vial costs under a dollar. On the black market abroad it can cost hundred times that — retailers on Amazon.com are seen selling them for up to $140.
“I put the scorpion where I feel pain,” Casanas said while demonstrating his homemade pain relief with a scorpion that he found under a pile of debris on the patch of land he cultivates in Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio.
After squeezing it long enough, it stung him and he winced.
“It hurts for a while, but then it calms and goes and I don’t have any more pain,” he said.
Casanas, a leathery-skinned former tobacco farmer who now primarily grows beans for his own consumption, said he sometimes keeps a scorpion under his straw hat like a lucky charm.
It likes the shade and humidity, he says, so just curls up and sleeps.

FROM FARM TO LAB
In a Labiofam laboratory in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, workers dressed in scrubs and hairnets tend to nearly 6,000 scorpions housed in plastic containers lined up on rows of metal racks.
Every few days they feed and water the arachnids that sit on a bed of small stones. Once a month, they apply an 18V electrical jolt to their tails using a handcrafted machine in order to trigger the release of a few drops of venom.
The venom is then diluted with distilled water and shaken vigorously, which homeopathic practitioners believe activates its “vital energy.”
The scorpions are caught in the wild as Labiofam workers believe their venom — which is not dangerous — is not as potent when raised in captivity.
After two years of exploitation in the “escorpionario,” they are released back into the wild.
Dr. Fabio Linares, the head of Labiofam’s homeopathic medicine laboratory who developed the medicine, said Vidatox stimulates the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
“After four to five years (of taking it), the doctor whose care I was in told me that my cancer hadn’t advanced,” said Cuban patient Jose Manuel Alvarez Acosta, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008.
Still, Labiofam recommends Vidatox as a supplemental treatment and says it should not replace conventional ones.


Discover Bahrain's Indigo Restaurant’s rooftop riches

Enjoy Asian-Mediterranean flavors at Bahrain’s five-star boutique hotel. (Supplied)
Updated 23 August 2019

Discover Bahrain's Indigo Restaurant’s rooftop riches

MANAMA: You wouldn’t expect to find a palatial and tranquil rooftop restaurant smack in the middle of Bahrain’s oldest and busiest commercial center, the Manama Souq. Yet just a few meters from the iconic 70-year old Bab Al Bahrain lies Indigo Restaurant, the in-house eatery of five-star boutique hotel The Merchant House.

From the moment you step into the restaurant foyer, this fine-dining establishment promises respite from the summer heat, traffic snarls and mayhem of the capital city down below. Once seated, take a moment to appreciate the stately décor. With plenty of floral furnishing, flora, and foliage in aureate lighting, it’s like sitting in a greenhouse (without the heat). Add in the rustic wood furniture and striking artwork (by local Bahraini artists) and Indigo Restaurant is an ideal venue for both a casual evening sipping mocktails with friends or a celebratory three-course meal with that special someone.

Large French doors open onto an expansive terrace with mist machines, a trickling pool, backyard lighting, and no-fuss seating. It’s a fairytale setting worthy of staging a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The menu is a fusion of Asian and Mediterranean food, so patrons can expect a lot of fresh, seasonal ingredients paired with piquant Asian flavors. Take, for example, the restaurant’s best-selling appetizer, the Beef Rib Samjang — cherry wood-smoked beef rib served with Korean-style sweet-chili sauce atop crisp, Belgian endive. The appetizer comes with a side of the pipirrana salad — a Spanish classic. A simple goat-cheese salad is elevated with marinated figs, lavash crisps, and a Japanese-style yuzu hazelnut dressing.

To create such distinctive flavors, executive chef Robert Shipman draws on his two decades of experience in southern Europe and, later, with chef Nobu Matsuhisa (of the acclaimed Nobu Restaurant in Dubai and the more recent Nobu Jeddah pop-up). Shipman specializes in Asian cuisine and is renowned for his Greek-Japanese fusion meals in Cyprus. He also brings flavors from the Maldives, Ibiza, and Morocco to Indigo’s menu. Alongside cured and raw meats and sushi, the menu also features a small selection of burgers, including classics like mushroom and Wagyu burgers. The pasta and risotto offerings — tagliatelle Napolitana, risotto funghi, and prawn tagiatelle — are kept strictly Italian.

Shipman says he defers to restaurant patrons for a winning menu. A main that has won the popular vote is the sesame and nigella seed crusted and sautéed hammour. The crunch of the outer crust compliments the soft meat of the fillet and the accompanying bok choy and Moroccan chermoula sauce lend bitter and sweet flavors.

Although the flavor pairings remain more or less the same — meat slow-cooked with balsamic sauce, garlic, and thyme — Shipman’s 18-hour lamb shank stands out from those on other menus in the region. The lamb comes apart effortlessly, giving you a mouthful of meat soaked in balsamic sauces, buttery-soft herb polenta, and dry cherry. It is an ambrosial main.

A summer night calls for a light desert, and the frutti di bosco hits the right spot with assorted forest berries, airy honeycomb crisp, crème de Violette marshmallows, and a dollop of passion cream to offset the tartness of the berries. The Kaffir lime panna cotta with fresh mango sauce, and the yuzu white chocolate cheesecake with walnut halva also come highly recommended, but there is only so much one can devour in an evening. Still, the fresh flavors and the summer garden are enough incentive to come back for more.