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'Himalayan Viagra' declining, warn biologists

Posted on Jan 31, 08:24PM | IANS

Kathmandu, Jan 31 : Yarsagumba, commonly known as the "Himalayan Viagra", is declining in Nepal, biological conservationists warned.

The Caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis), which is considered as the most expensive medicinal fungus in the world, has witnessed a serious decline in Nepal owing to overharvesting, microbiologists Sudip Dhakal told Xinhua in an interview Thursday.

According to Dhakal, high-price and good demand of Yarsagumba around the globe has resulted in over-harvesting of the fungus in Nepal and other countries along the Himalayas like China, India and Bhutan, reducing its yield in the following year.

"This is a very expensive medicinal fungus, which is only found between the altitudes of 3,000 to 5,000 metres above sea level. But still, its unbeatable demand and high price have tempted harvesters even in harsh weather conditions," Dhakal said.

"Overharvesting has already witnessed a decline in its population, raising serious concern of biologists."

The exotic fungus, which can be priced as high as USD 150 per gram in Nepal, is often exported to western and European countries for its "libido-boosting power" and for medicinal purpose to cure villainous health condition like cancer, asthma and impotence.

Nepal's Dolpa district is home to the almost half of Yarsagumba investors of Nepal.

According to a research by biologist Uttam Shrestha of the University of Massachusetts, Dolpa's Yarsagumba trade in the year 2011 fell by 50 percent compared to the year with highest yield in 2009.

Shrestha has put the global market of the precious fungi at between USD 5 billion to USD 11 billion every year.

"More than half of the collected Yarsagumba from the district are not fully matured," Dhakal told Xinhua.

He was of the view that people harvest the fungi before it reaches the stage of reproductive maturity, thereby giving no chance to disperse its spores.

Dhakal warned that lack of serious regulations in Yarsagumba harvesting could see an end to the precious and unique fungus species.