All about Cordyceps, a genus of fungi costlier than gold
Also called caterpillar fungus or Himalayan gold, Cordyceps fungus is a herbal drug that is believed to be more expensive than gold in China. According to Indo-Pacific Center for Strategic Communications (IPCSC), recently, the Chinese Army intruded on Indian territory to collect this valuable fungus. As a supplement, it is loaded with health benefits and scientists said that it has great therapeutic potential.
What is Cordyceps?
According to a paper published in the National Library of Medicine, Cordyceps is a rare combination of fungus and caterpillar. Traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine have described it as an exotic medicinal mushroom. Brown in color, it is parasitic in nature and can be up to two inches in length. The fungus is said to consume over 90% of the infected insect.
Where can it be found?
Weighing around 300-500 mg, the fungus is mainly found in the higher altitudes of the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau in southwestern China as well as the Indian Himalayas. It can also be found at altitudes above 4,500 meters in Sikkim, as per the National Library of Medicine. Cordyceps can also be found in Nepal and Bhutan. It is known as Yartsa Gunbu in Nepal and Tibet.
What makes it so valuable
The health benefits of the fungus make it extremely valuable. The benefits of Cordyceps were first described in the 15th Century Tibetan medicinal text An Ocean of Aphrodisiacal Qualities. Cordyceps can be used to treat fatigue, kidney disease, sickness, and low sex drive. It can also improve athletic performance and liver disorders, boost immunity, promote heart health, lower blood sugar, and reduce inflammation.
Why are the Chinese are looking for it?
Cordyceps is in high demand as one kilogram of it on the international market can fetch Rs. 65 lakh! China has been the largest exporter and producer of Cordyceps. However, in the past two years, its annual harvest declined in Qinghai as the fungus grew scarce. Therefore, the Chinese army is looking for the fungus in India.
Many Himalayan towns collect and sell Cordyceps for a living
High demand and limited resources also led to the overharvesting of the fungus which declined the annual harvest in the country. "Some towns in the Himalayas rely on collecting and selling this fungus for a living. In fact, experts say that up to 80 percent of household income in the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas can come from selling caterpillar fungus," IPCSC said.
Scientists to grow Cordyceps in a controlled environment
Professor Mi Kyeong Lee of Chungbuk National University and her team, including Dr. Ayman Turk, has found a way to grow these fungi in a controlled environment without losing their potency. Their findings have been published in Frontiers in Microbiology.