Velvet antler is a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine, probably second only to ginseng in importance. Velvet antler does not refer to the velvety "skin" on growing antlers, but rather the whole cartilagious antler in a pre-calcified stage. Typically the antler is cut off near the base after it is about two-thirds of its potential full size, and before any significant calcification occurs.
The antler is dried and is used powdered or in tea form for a wide variety of health remedy and health maintenance purposes. Velvet antler is said to be effective as an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, immune stimulant, and pro-growth agent. Western scientific studies have supported some of the claims, particularly the anti-inflammatory effects and athletic performance enhancement. One Canadian study on young males found higher testosterone levels after taking velvet antler supplements for several weeks.
Moose, as all members of the deer family, will produce new antlers yearly . The bulls are not harmed by antler removal, which is generally done around June in the northern hemisphere. After the antlers are cut off the bull may grow a small antler pair to replace them or perhaps no regrowth, but the antler base is left, and that "button" will be shed early the following year, at the same time the whole antler would have been shed, when the new antlers start to grow.
Exceptionally large elk antlers can weigh 50 lb for a pair. These grow rapidly from about March or April till July . Antlers are said to be the fastest growing membrane known, and it is this rapidly growing tissue that contains the micronutrients needed to improve some human health deficiencies.
Most of the world's supply of velvet antler comes from and , including a large deer farming industry in New Zealand. A smaller percent is produced in America, mostly from elk. Due to the size and quality of Canadian and American elk antlers, they have been a preferred source of velvet. It is most often available in capsule form, containing 250 mg or 500 mg of dried velvet antler powder. The velvet antler is processed under USDA supervision, with routine bacteria testing. It is bottled for commercial use and is available in some health food stores.