Nutritional benefits of eating winged termites (“aku”) are known to the Igbo as Aku; to the Hausa as Khiyea; Esusun in Yoruba; and Ebu in Annang.
One of the main health benefits behind edible insects are the large amounts of protein found in these small creatures.
But can termites be the next therapeutic resource for the treatment of asthma, hoarseness and sinusitis, wounds, malnutrition, nutrient deficiency, sickness of pregnant women and as a charm for spiritual protection?
Recent studies suggest that, in addition to their ecological importance, termites are a source of medicinal and food resources to various human populations in various locations of the world, showing their potential for being used as an alternative protein source in human or livestock diets, as well as a source for new medicines.
Queen, soldiers and workers of termites (Macrotermes bellicosus) were
analyzed for proximate composition, vitamin, mineral elements and anti-nutrient content.
Proximate composition showed that crude protein content of the soldiers was higher than those of workers and Queen. The highest mineral element was sodium in queen, while the least mineral was manganese in the soldiers. The termites were rich in vitamins A and C. Workers termites had the highest vitamin C content, while Queen had the highest vitamin A content. Anti-nutrient compositions in Macrotermes bellicosus were considerably low.
Macortermes bellicosus constitute a significant component of diet among the people of the Niger-Delta region in Nigeria.
Insects including termites are good sources of protein with high fat content (and thus energy) and many important minerals and vitamins.
In assessing the nutritive value or food value of termites, its anti-nutrient content, mineral element and lipids characteristics are considered to assess whether termites are nutritive or not. Phytic acid is one of the important parameter that makes-up anti-nutrients in living organism and it interfere with utilization of manganese, iron and calcium. It inhibits the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium, and the deficiencies of these elements cause Anamia osteomalacia and even rickets.
Phytic acid content of termite (adult) winged stands out as the only nutritional factor that would contradict our recommendation for heavy consumption and food fortification of insects. This is general for most tropical insects including termites and has been implicated for growth inhibition in day old chicks. In man the surplus consumption of the inorganic mineral (magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) which are sequestered by phytic acid would circumvent the deficiency anticipated.
Lethal dose of oxalic acid has been reported as 2.5 g, and a person in western Nigeria may consume 11.6 g of oxalate, it therefore means that without detoxication, it would not be safe to consume them due to oxalate toxication.
In India termites and even its termitaria have medicinal usages as termites based medicinal companies are established. In East Africa, termite mounds are considered so important that they are owned by individual and form part of his inheritance when he dies.
Also, a recent review has shown that termites are commonly used insects in traditional popular medicine. They are used in the treatment of various diseases that affect humans, such as influenza, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, sinusitis, tonsillitis and hoarsenes
For medicinal purposes, the use of ten species of termites was recorded. These species are used as an alternative treatment for physiological and spiritual problems. The species Nasutitermes macrocephalus was the most frequently recorded, and it is widely used in Brazil as a therapeutic resource for the treatment of asthma, hoarseness and sinusitis, among other diseases. Another example is Macrotermes nigeriensis, which is used in Nigeria in the treatment of wounds, sickness of pregnant women and as a charm for spiritual protection.
The use of termites as a therapeutic resource also revealed an important mode of use of these animals. Evidence of antimicrobial activity of products isolated from these animals has been reported, such as peptides like espinigerine and termicine, isolated from Pseudocanthotermes spiniger, which showed antifungal and antibacterial activities.
Certain termite species, for example, the flying termites, flying Alates or Macrotermes bellicosus, queen termites, reproductive soldier termites etc are edible and remain a major source of food especially in the developing and underdeveloped parts of the world.
Flying alates are known by different names by different people for example, the Igbo people refer to it as aku mkpu, Akwa-ibom people refer to it as ebu, Yorubas call it esusun while the Hausa people call it khiyea.
The flying termites are usually collected while flying or after their wings have fallen off. During collection, these termites are added in bucket or bowl of water after which they are properly cleaned.
Afterwards, the ants are either fried in their fat or in oil before consumption. Fried termites are also used for preparing uma leaves moi moi, plantain moi moi (ukpo ogede), beans etc dishes. Termites can also be steamed, roasted or boiled before consumption.
The use of termites for medicinal purposes is common especially in the rural parts of d world.Their findings showed that approximately 45 species of termites from four families are used all over the world, with 43 species being part of human diet and livestock feeds.
Nine termite species were recorded to be used for therapeutic purposes. Africa is the continent with the highest number of usage, The results show that termites are useful for medicinal and food purposes to humanity.
contains antiviral properties and as such effective for treating cold, cough, hoarseness, asthma, catarrh, bronchitis, influenza, flu, whooping cough, sore throat, sinusitis and tonsillitis. Furthermore, Padilla et al., (2015) evaluated some extracts from termite-associated bacteria in vitro antiviral activity against bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV). They identified 2 bacterial strains as active, with 98% of inhibition (IP).
They also identified that a 100% methanol fraction contain the compound(s) responsible for antiviral activity. The study present new information for antiviral research of Streptomyces chartreusis compounds isolated from termite mounds against BVDV and for the treatment of HCV infection.
Termites are detritivores because they feed on dead organic materials. They support the ecosystem by recycling waste matters such as faeces, dead animals, dead wood, plants and cellulose etc. Studies reveal that termites produce up to 11% of atmospheric methane, which is among the prime greenhouse gases, formed during the breakdown of cellulose.
Termites break down complex molecules that plants could not use by feeding, decomposing and defecating into the soil. This equally helps to recycle and increase the soil nutrient contents. Termites also help to aerate the soil while building their mounds that contain a high amount of phosphorous and nitrogen to support plant growth.
Treatment of Gastric Disorders
Some countries use termites for treating gastric disorders. Kaolin, which is a medicinal clay substance found in mounds is used in folk medicine for treating gastric disorders
Treatment of Gastrointestinal Diseases
Termite mounds are used in preparing herbal medicines for treating gastrointestinal diseases due to the kaolin clay substance found in it. It can be used for treating cholera, dysentery, swelling of large intestine, indigestion, stomach ache and diarrhoea
study showed that Odontotermes formosanus can be used for treating ulcer.
Essential for Pregnant Women
Termite mounds are used for preparing herbal concoctions applied on the stomach of pregnant women. Studies reveal that the mounds contain high amount of calcium and iron that are helpful for pregnant women.
Odontotermes formosanus contains analgesic properties and as such can be effective for treating pain, rheumatism.
products isolated from termites, such as peptides, espinigerine, termicine showed antifungal properties.
Termites are not only a source of food to man but also to animals, birds etc.
Side Effects of Termites Always be careful with termites as they can sting and bite, however, they do not release toxic substances to the wounds. Studies reveal that termites do not transmit harmful diseases to humans, howbeit, individuals living in termites infested vicinities may experience some allergic reactions including asthma attacks.
Most people are also allergic to termite dung and saliva and as a result, such people should refrain from having close contacts with termites.