Thursday, December 15, 2016

Yarchagumba - Himalaya Viagra on the Rise

Every summer, Himalayan villages empty as locals rush to the mountains of northern Nepal to harvest yarchagumba, a high-altitude wild fungus that is prized for its aphrodisiac qualities.

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.

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

Ophiocordyceps sinensis
There are over 680 documented species of the sac fungus genus Ophiocordyceps, and one of the best known of these is Ophiocordyceps sinensis, colloquially known as caterpillar fungus. The fungus is known in Tibetan 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 genus Thitarodes, several species of which live on the Tibetan Plateau. The fungus germinates in living organisms (in some cases larvae), kills and mummifies the insect, and then the fungus grows from the body of the insect.
Yarchagumba (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), a caterpillar fungus prized for its alleged aphrodisiac properties, is under severe threat in its natural habitat due to excessive and premature harvesting to meet growing Chinese demand and prices, warns a study.

The species is found in the high mountains of China, Nepal, India and Bhutan.
There has been a significant decline in annual harvest of Yarchagumba due to unsustainable harvesting practices. Reports suggest 2015 was the poorest harvest ever, despite high and ever rising prices.
While Yarchagumba harvesting is contributing to improving the lives of rural people with income during summer season, excessive harvesting to meet the increasing demand in the international market is threatening the livelihood of dependent families, owing to rapid habitat degradation.

The harvesting pressure is so intense that there is virtually no habitat left untouched by the harvesters by the end of the harvesting season.