Yarshagumba or Yarcha-gumba is known as caterpillar fungus in English. Its scientific name is Ophiocordyceps sinensis and is also known by other names such as yartsa gunbu (Tibetan), dōng chóng xià cǎo (Chinese). Yartsa gunbu translates to “summer grass, winter worm”.Yarshagumba – The most expensive biological resource ever!
Yarshagumba(Ophiocordyceps sinensis ) is found in the meadows that are located between 3,500 to 5,000 meters in Nepal, Bhutan, India, and China.
Actually, Yarshagumba is a fungus that grows on insects. Fungi (plural of Fungus) are organisms that live by decomposing and absorbing organic materials on which they grow.
Yarshagumba actually grows on insects. The life cycle of Yarshagumba starts with spores of Ophiocordyceps sinensis settling on the heads of caterpillars, which live underground. As these parasite spores grow they dissolve the body of their host caterpillars eventually killing them.
This fungus then shoots above the soil. Its length varies from 2 centimeters to six centimeters. This is exactly what the harvesters look for. Harvesters identify it from its finger-shaped growth above the soil. It looks like shriveled brown chile pepper.
China is the number one producer of Yarsh Gumba. It accounts for 95 percent of the world’s demand. Nepal is the second-largest producer, followed by India. Bhutan is the fourth-largest producer.
Yarshagumba is the most popular herb found in Nepal. It is also the world’s most expensive biological resource. In fact, it is even more expensive than gold. Mostly, Asian men buy this herb to enhance their virility. A single Yarsagumba in 2016 cost Rs 800.
Tibetans discovered Yarsagumba more than 1500 years ago.
As the story goes, during springtime, Tibetan and Nepali herders observed their yaks and goats chasing each other in a lustful way. These herders wondered why this happened. Soon enough, they found the main reason – the inclusion of Yarshagumba in their diets.
The first Yarsagumba in Nepal was collected in 1952 at Chakure Lek in Jumla. However, the trading began from Dolpa in the 1980s. At that time one kilo of Yarsagumba cost Rs 700.
In 2051 BS, the Nepali Government introduced Forest Regulation banning the collection of Yarsagumba. The government lifted this ban in 2058 BS but they placed a tariff of Rs 20,000 per kg of Yarshagumba.
This herb was not as expensive as it is now. In the 1993 World Athletics Championship, the Chinese athletes, who broke the old records, stated that they used Yarsa Gumba as a tonic. This skyrocketed the price of Yarsha Gumba.
In China, Yarsagumba acts as a status symbol at dinner parties or as gifts.
Uses and advantages of Yarsa Gumba
Even 15th-century Tibetan Texts describe the importance of Yarsagumba.
People believe that Yarshagumba cures headache, toothache or other diseases. In fact, they also believe that Yarsagumba cures sexual impotency. Hence, Yarsagumba is also called “Himalayan Viagra”.
Salon magazine cites Stanford University study that shows Yarsa Gumba to increase“17-ketosteroids in the urine of men taking daily doses of Yarsagumba, which indicates increased production of androgen and other sex hormones in the adrenal gland and testicles.”
Animal tests conducted show that Yarsagumba decreases recovery time between orgasms. It also raises the volume of semen production in males.
Several studies have been done on Yarsagumba. These studies state that you can treat several conditions such as hyposexuality, night sweats, the high glucose level in the blood, high lipids on blood, respiratory, renal, liver and heart diseases with Yarsa gumba.
Yarsagumba also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It also contains anti-tumor, anti-aging, and anti-diabetic chemicals.
Moreover, scientists say you can also use Yarsagumba as an anti-depressant. Yarshagumba – The most expensive biological resource ever!
You can use Yarshagumba to
- strengthen lungs, kidney, stop haemorrhage and decrease phlegm
- Increase blood and semen production
- lower tiredness, impotence, chronic cough, anemia, impotence, asthma
- strengthen the immune system
- improve blood circulation
- regulate blood pressure
- increase stamina and vitality
- reduce loin and knee pains
- counteract the effects of chemo and radiotherapy.
Effects in the Community
Right now, the Yarsagumba is selling for INR. 2 million or NPR. 3.2 million per kg on the net.
Every year, in the months of May and June, thousands of Nepalis move to the high mountains aiming to collect as much yarsagumba as they can. Some of them make as much as $35 a day, which is a huge amount. As the GDP per capita of Nepali is only $918.9 (2018 estimates).
The schools in rural mountains close by mid-April for three months and students, parents, and teachers aim for the mountains to harvest Yarsagumba.
People collect Yarsagumba commercially from Bajang, Darchula, Dolpa, Gorkha, Jumla, Manang, Mugu, Myagdi, Rasuwa, Rukum, Sindhupalchowk, and Sankhuwasabha.
This herb has helped transform the poor mountain villages in Nepal.
The annual worldwide production of Yarsagumba is between 83 to 180 tonnes. This amount of Yarsa can fetch anywhere between $5 billion to $11 billion per year. Altogether, there are 500 different species of Yarsa gumba.
The main consumers of Yarsagumba are Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Myanmar, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, the UK, and the US.
Conflict and Yarsa Gumba
There are some documented heinous crimes related to the collection of Yarsagumba.
In Manag, local men and boys killed seven Yarsagumba “poachers” from Gorkha using sticks and stones, as a result, these locals were sentenced to life in 2009.
Collecting Yarsagumba is not easy as well. On May 2012, six Yarsagumba pickers died in an avalanche at Bajhang. Some have fallen to death from mountain cliffs.
In the 1990s the Maoists relied on Yarsagumba trade to bankroll their insurgency. Yarshagumba – The most expensive biological resource ever!
Yarsagumba (ophiocordyceps sinensis) is very expensive. Hence countries like China and Korea are researching on cultivating this fungus.
USA is already cultivating Yarsagumba by growing this strain on soybeans for medical uses.
Because of the difficulty in cultivating Yarsagumba, it is perhaps the world’s most expensive medical substance.
Yarsagumba (ophiocordyceps sinensis ) is an expensive herb with several medicinal uses. Nepal Government needs to properly manage this resource so that the locals can get the maximum benefit.
Over-collection also seems to be a problem. Several reports show that the collection from Tibetan Plateau has started shrinking. Government and local authorities need to come up with a plan for the sustainable collection of the Yarsagumba.
If Yarsagumba disappears, the larvae and moth, will eventually change the fragile mountain ecosystem.
Similarly, clashes between the collectors need to be addressed as well. Local goons, corrupt officials and several middlemen are directly stealing from hard-working collectors. This has to stop as well.
As noted earlier, countries like the US are already cultivating Yarsagumba. If Nepal does not invest in research and management of Yarsa production, Nepali collectors will soon lose a significant amount of revenue that they are getting right now.