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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cordyceps sinensis or the Himalayan Viagra : The wonderful medicinal fungus

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Cordyceps sinensis is the botanical name of the wonderful medicinal fungus that grows on Himalyas. After infecting a caterpillar, it passes through a stage of good mycelial growth leading to the development of fruiting bodies. The fungus is harvested on large scales for its medicinal uses. It is in a great demand in the international trade.

The cordyceps sinensis, a fungus nicknamed as Himalyan Viagra is vanishing fast due to international trade practices. The heavy exploitation of the fungus by traders along with Tibetan Nomads much before the time of its reproductive stage is pushing the fungus towards extinction.

The specific fungus which is also known as the "Caterpillar fungus" is traditionally added to soups or tea to improve vigor and vitality since long. They believe that the soup of the fungus improves stamina, endurance, lung capacity, kidney functions, and sexual performance. The medicinal importance of the fungus, especially that it improves sexual performance was already documented in 14th century. However, its importance as a sex- boosting medicine could not find popularity up to some times back. As the fungus was cheap and abundant, it was fed to yaks and horses for enhancing their working capacity.

The fungus Cordyceps sinensis became especially popular after the World Championship in Athletics during 1993, when Chinese lady athletics broke records in nine tracks and field events, and their couch disclosed that it was due to the consumption of an elixir made of Cordyceps sinensis. Most of the trade of this fungus is centered at the Quinghai Province of China. The season of fungus hunting runs for about 40 days from the onset of the early spring.

It has been found that the fungus grows on a caterpillar as a fungal parasite. It infects the caterpillar as it moves along the leaves of grass growing on the hill, kills it by its poisonous secretion and grows its hyphae to form a dense and compact mycelium. As the mycelium gets maturation, it develops fruiting bodies that too require some time for their maturation. It is due to the commercial stress on the fungus that it is exploited much before the time of the development and dispersal of spores inside fruiting bodies. This is the main reason behind the reducing population of the fungus along Himalyan slopes. The maximum development of the fungus has been recorded at an elevation of 4,267 m, especially around Heitushan.


Under today's conditions it is very hard for even nomads to collect few pieces of the Caterpillar Fungus to earn their living who used to earn money sufficient enough to live happily for the whole year merely on the collection of a single season. The demand of the fungus is currently very high in countries like China, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. The value of the fungal herb by the year 2007 has been US $ 3000 per kg for the lowest quality and over US $ 15,000 per kg for the best quality. Besides increasing sexual performance, the consumption of the fungal extract is reported to improve energy levels, to improve Cholesterol and Lipid Metabolism, to correct cardiovascular and circulatory disorders, to improve liver health, to correct lung disorders, and even to help fight cancer.( Pictures- The Fruiting Body of Cordyceps sinensis, and the Fruiting Body).


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