No Blue Pill Please: Caterpillar Fungus Viagra In The Himalayas
By IRIN News | Editorials
June 25, 2012
The seasonal influx of migrant harvesters into Nepal’s Himalaya Mountains seeking a caterpillar fungus aphrodisiac is damaging the rural border with Tibet.
AsianScientist (Jun. 25, 2012) – The seasonal influx of migrant harvesters into Nepal’s Himalaya Mountains seeking a caterpillar fungus used as a traditional medicine and believed to have aphrodisiac properties is causing environmental damage along the rural border with Tibet.
When a parasitic fungus infects and kills caterpillars, the high value of the fungus drives tens of thousands of harvesters to hunt for the insect corpses on treks at altitudes of 4,000 meters from May to June each year in the Himalayan springtime.
Known in Tibetan and Nepali as “yartsa gunbu” (winter worm, summer grass) and prized in traditional medicine in China and Tibet for centuries, the fungus – some pieces measuring no more than 4 centimeters – retails at up to US$800 for around 28 grams.
Research conducted on the Tibetan Plateau – which encompasses the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province in China – showed a 350 percent increase in the price paid to some harvesters between 1997 and 2004.
“I came because people in my village were talking about how much money people can make during the harvest,” said a 34-year-old mother of two who gave her name only as Lakshmi.
Police in Dolpa, a rural Himalayan district on Nepal’s western border with Tibet, traditionally rich in yartsa gunbu, told IRIN they estimated that 40,000 people would enter the mountains by the time the harvest ended.