Monday, March 28, 2016

Yarchagumba - Himalaya Viagra on the Rise to Extinction

Yarchagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), a caterpillar fungus popular for its alleged aphrodisiac properties, is under severe threat in its natural habitat due to excessive and premature harvesting to meet growing demand and prices. The species is found in the high mountains of China, Nepal, India and Bhutan.

Ophiocordyceps sinensis
There are over 680 documented species of the sac fungus genus Ophiocordyceps. The best known is Ophiocordyceps sinensis, or caterpillar fungus. The fungus is known in Tibet as yartsa gunbu or yatsa gunbu.

Caterpillar fungi are the result of a parasitic relationship between the fungus and the larva of the ghost moth, several species of which live on the Tibetan Plateau. The fungus germinates in larvae, kills and mummifies the insect, and then the fungus grows from the body of the insect.
Every summer, Himalayan villages empty as locals rush to the mountains of northern Nepal to harvest yarchagumba.

In recent years, however, the yield has been severely depleted by over-picking and the probable effects of climate change prompting fears about the future of the "Himalayan Viagra" harvest. The harvesting pressure is intense.
There has been a significant decline in annual harvest of Yarchagumba due to unsustainable harvesting practices. Reports suggest 2016 will be the poorest harvest ever, despite the ever rising prices.

The 2015 season's crop was particularly poor, say villagers who rely on the rare, parasitic fungus to earn money to feed their families.

China has a huge appetite for the fungus, pushing prices well above $16,500 per pound.