Society

Demand For 'Himalayan Viagra' Fungus Increases

| by Nicholas Roberts
Cordyceps sinensis or "Himalayan viagra"Cordyceps sinensis or "Himalayan viagra"

Over the past few decades, a multibillion dollar industry has grown around the international sale of caterpillar fungus -- known as yarsagumba in Nepali -- in China, Singapore and the U.S. The fungus has been used as an herbal aphrodisiac for around a millennium.

This picking season has seen the fungus, known scientifically as Cordyceps sinensis, become increasingly scarce, which has run up against the greater demand for the fungus, according to The New York Times.

The harvest of the fungus is an economic boon to remote villages in the Himalayas, with prices reaching around $50,000 a pound in China's huge coastal cities. The harvest and sale of yarsagumba is the primary source of income for many living in these small Nepali, Bhutanese, Indian, Tibetan and Chinese villages.

Researchers are wondering what could be driving the lower supply this season. Mycologists point to overharvesting as a potential reason, while others believe that the Himalayas may be adapting to a warmer ecosystem driven by climate change.

A 60-year-old beekeeper living in one of the villages said that lower precipitation may be the cause for the smaller harvest of yarsagumba.

The economies of these villages have suffered as a result of the lower yield, with many farmers and harvesters bringing in much less this year than in previous years.

On June 17, an official from the Nepali government said that a villager was shot to death and three others injured in a clash over the fungus, reports Agence France-Presse.

"One person was killed while three others were injured when a gang of 10-12 looters shot indiscriminately in the area on Wednesday night," the official said of the June 15 incident.

The violence that broke out over the harvest underscores yarsagumba's vital importance to the village economy.

Sources: The New York Times, AFP via NDTV / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Did overharvesting cause the smaller harvest this year?
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