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Nepalis scale mountainous pastures for pricey rare fungus

posted 30 Jul 2012, 05:16 by Mpelembe   [ updated 30 Jul 2012, 05:16 ]

A type of fungus found in the Himalayas, believed to be an aphrodisiac and immune booster, fetches high prices for traders in Nepal.

RUKUM DISTRICT, NEPAL   (DIPENDRA BHANDARI HANDOUT) - Dozens of Nepali fungus collectors scale up mountainous pastures in the Himalayas, in search of rare caterpillar cordyceps called yarsagumba, believed to be immune boosters and aphrodisiacs.

The cordycep grows when a fungus spore attacks a caterpillar and kills it. The fungus grows out of the body of the caterpillar, forming the yarsagumba.

Cordyceps research student Uttam Babu said people buy yarsagumba because of the many benefits associated with it.

"It is an aphrodisiac, it is used as a tonic, for vitality. Recent research also showed that it is useful for anti-tumour, and anti-aging drug," he said.

This fungus is popular in traditional Chinese medicine, fetching prices of more than $100 US dollars per kilogram.

Dipendra Bhandari, a film director who made a movie on the collecting of yarsagumba, said the cordycep is more popular in China.

"There is no use of it in Nepal. It's known to be used in Chinese traditional medicines since 1500 to 2000 ago. Speaking with various people during my research, I am told they use it mainly for the sexual powers," he said.

After the collecting and exporting of yarsagumba was legalised in 2001, demand skyrocketed, pushing prices up as the supply of the cordyceps remained steady.

"Actually, before 2001, this species was regarded as illegal to collect and export, and when government legalised it, the price of this fungus increased dramatically," said Babu.

"While I was up on the hill of Chhayanat of Mugu district, it happened to be the season of collecting yarsagumba. That was when I first saw the yarsagumba, that time, the price per kilo was around 10,000 ($110 USD) to 12000 rupees ($140 USD)," Bhandari added.

Fungus picking season begins in May and ends in July every year.