4 Things to Know About Himalayan Viagra

JUNE 27, 2016
Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor
The Ophiocordyceps sinensis fungus is one of the most expensive and sought-after biological resources, but it’s better known around the world as yartsa gunbu, yarsagumba, or Himalayan Viagra.

Some also refer to it as the caterpillar fungus because it grows out of the head of ghost moth larvae. The parasitic fungus resembles a brown stick or root that develops above ground out of the corpse of the larvae.

The fungus is found in the Tibetan Plateau and in regions like Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Bhutan, India, and Nepal, as well as across the southern flank of the Himalayas.

Here are 4 things to know about the fungus, which can cost around $50,000 per pound.

1. It has many purported benefits.

As the name suggests, Himalayan Viagra has been used for at least 1000 years as an aphrodisiac or as a treatment for hyposexuality.

An article published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine noted that the caterpillar fungus can also treat night sweats, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, asthenia, arrhythmias, and other heart, respiratory, renal, and liver diseases. The review of the mysterious fungus stated that it holds more than 30 bioactivities, such as antitumor, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities.

Other bioactivities suggest that the caterpillar fungus has antidepression, antiarteriosclerosis, and antiosteoporosis elements, and it may prevent and treat bowel injury, promote endurance, and improve learning-memory.  

The most common uses for the fungus by traditional healers include:

·         Erectile dysfunction
·         Female aphrodisia
·         Malignant tumors
·         Bronchial asthma
·         Bronchitis
·         Diabetes
·         Cough and cold
·         Jaundice
·         Alcoholic hepatitis

2. Its supply is on the decline.

The caterpillar fungus trade was legalized in Nepal in 2001, which led to a sharp rise in demand.

A study published in Biological Conservation noted that the local market price jumped by up to 2300% in about a decade. Meanwhile, the annual harvest saw decreases between 2006 to 2010.

“Our analysis of harvesters’ perceptions of resource abundance and sustainability shows that virtually all harvesters (95.1%) believe the availability of the caterpillar fungus in the pastures to be declining, and 67% consider current harvesting practices to be unsustainable,” the researchers concluded.

Some speculate that the increased demand led harvesters to pluck the fungi before it had time to reproduce.

Climate change may have also had an effect on the growth of the mild-weather-loving fungi, The New York Times reported. It prefers temperatures below 69 degrees Fahrenheit, and it ceases its growth at 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Harvesting it nets a pretty good salary.

Harvesting the caterpillar fungus can net a salary of around $1500, which is higher than the average per capita income from other activities, The Kathmandu Post reported.

More than 150,000 individuals set out to harvest the fungus in the May to June season. Often, however, traders make more money than collectors.

China has the largest market, and some of its traders sell the fungus to the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, The Kathmandu Post reported.

4. It may have caused Chinese athletes to drop out of the Olympics

In 2000, a Chinese coach and 6 of his athletes, as well as 27 total Chinese athletes, were removed from the Olympic team. Some of the players showed high levels of EPO, which aids endurance.

However, the Chinese team maintained that they were breaking records because of their diet of turtle soup and “worm fungus.” 

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