When you think about your favorite fungus-based produce, it is highly likely that button mushrooms will spring to mind. Perhaps you have a little Shiitake in your basket, or maybe even Chaga. We’d be willing to bet that there’s no Himalayan Caterpillar Fungus on your shopping list, and if there is, we envy your bank balance! While your good old button mushrooms go for a few dollars per pound, Himalayan Caterpillar Fungi sells for a savings-busting $50,000 per pound! Needless to say, this isn’t your average fungus.
As the name suggests, this fungus is typically found in the Himalayan mountains, but you may be wondering how the “caterpillar” part comes in. There are plenty of examples of fungi that are named for specific attributes, such as Chicken of the Wood, named for its remarkably chicken-like taste, or Turkey Tail, named for its appearance. You may think that Caterpillar Fungus merely looks or tastes like a caterpillar, then.
The truth is the Caterpillar Fungus is so named because it grows inside caterpillars, eventually killing their host and sprouting a fruiting body that goes on to repeat the cycle, infecting other caterpillars with its spores.
These fungi are extremely rare, getting rarer by the day. They are desirable for many reasons—mostly medicinal in nature—which, coupled with the limited space in which they can grow, makes for a high-demand fungus.
Why is the World’s Most Expensive Fungus Disappearing?
Demand for this unique fungus is such that a whole economy has risen around it, with tens—possibly hundreds—of thousands of Tibetans relying on the money earned from picking the fungus to pay their bills. Of course, such a demand puts additional stress on the ecosystem that nurtures the fungus.
The problem with harvesting anything living, be it plants, animals, or fungi, is that they need time to grow, and they need to be able to reproduce. If an area is picked clean of Caterpillar Fungi, there won’t be any future picking there because there will be no fungi to spread its spores and grow more.
A combination of the demand for the fungus and climate change are causing the population of Caterpillar Fungi to decline significantly. Given that the demand is still the same, this results in the diminished number of fungi available being reduced at an exponential rate. Naturally, this is a problem, and not just in terms of supplying a desirable product, but in terms of the potential extinction of a species.
Himalayan Caterpillar Fungus
As we have touched on already, the Caterpillar Fungus is a type of fungus that grows inside a caterpillar, using its body for the nutrients it needs to develop and eventually spreading its spores to more caterpillars. This parasitic relationship results in a mature fungus that has been sought after by people in regions in Asia for as much as a thousand years for its purported health benefits. The fungi are almost exclusively found on the Tibetan Plateau—an elevated region in Central and East Asia.
What is the Caterpillar Fungus Lifecycle?
The caterpillars that are affected by this fungus live underground, only five or six inches below the surface. Spores from a fruiting fungus infect the caterpillar, which is typically most vulnerable after shedding its skin.
The infected caterpillar will eventually die, typically a little below the surface, with its body vertical and it’s head facing upwards. When the timing is right—usually after seeing the winter out—the fungi will sprout its rooting body up through the mouth of the dead caterpillar, where it will release spores and begin the process over.
The fungi grow at relatively low temperatures, which is one reason climate change is being attributed as a reason why the fungi are dying out.
How do you Eat Caterpillar Fungus?
Though there are many ways you can consume Caterpillar Fungus, there is nothing wrong with merely popping it into your mouth and chewing. Of course, you will want to make sure it has been given a thorough cleaning—it did come from the ground after all!
Fresh Caterpillar Fungi is quite crunchy, so if you prefer something a little easier on the teeth, you could always soak your Caterpillar Fungus in water overnight. The following day, the fungi will be softened up and should require a bit less effort to chew, and you can make a tea out of the water to ensure you don’t lose any of those valuable nutrients.
What is Caterpillar Fungus Used For?
Caterpillar Fungi have a range of purported benefits, and it is these benefits that make them so sought after. The benefits, including medicinal and performance-enhancing qualities. Some of the things it is thought to help with include;
- Malignant tumors
- Coughs and cold
- Erectile dysfunction
- Bronchial asthma
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Female aphrodisia
It should be noted that much of these purported benefits are apocryphal and not yet backed up by any scientific research. That being said, they are backed up by over a thousand years of use.
Cordyceps is the former name of this genus of fungi, though it is often still referred to by that name, especially on the Internet. The current name is Ophiocordyceps, and the full name of this particular fungi is Ophiocordyceps Sinensis. The fungi have other names—which we will get to shortly—but this is the scientific name.
Can Cordyceps Sinensis be Cultivated?
Cordyceps can indeed be cultivated; however, it is not an inexpensive process. To start with, you cannot easily buy spawn for the Caterpillar Fungus, so you would be forced to used wedges from fully-grown petri plates.
The next hurdle is the equipment, which is by no means cheap. It is worth noting that, despite these hurdles that would seem to make it harder for a small enthusiast grower—as opposed to a large company—it is actually much harder for a large-scale Caterpillar Fungus cultivation operation. Perhaps even impossible. This is largely because of how labor-intensive the process is.
Can Cordyceps Jump to Humans?
The genus of Cordyceps contains fungi that can infect and take over a range of insects, forcing them to do as the fungus wants and, ultimately, killing them. Given the prevalence of zombie fiction in our culture, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are people worried about the possibility of the fungus figuring out how to jump from its usual prey to humans.
Fortunately, this is not a problem we will have to face any time soon. Our bodies are much better at dealing with pathogens, and Cordyceps simply would not be able to get a foothold in your body. It has evolved for attacking insects, which is a much simpler prospect. And beyond that, there is also the fact that humans are much larger and complex than a typical insect. It is highly unlikely a Cordyceps infection could reach a terminal stage without being noticed and, theoretically, treated.
Is Cordyceps a Worm?
Don’t worry, Cordyceps worms are not a thing, but the fungus is has been mistaken for one in the past. For a long time, the Caterpillar Fungus was thought to be some kind of parasitic worm that infected the caterpillar. This is understandable when you consider the levels of knowledge humans have historically possessed and the fact that the fruiting body of the mushroom does look a lot like a worm.
As we now know—and as you should know if you have read this far into the article—Cordyceps are not worms but the fruiting body of a fungus that has infected and killed its host caterpillar.
Do Cordyceps Increase Testosterone?
Though it has long been touted as a testosterone-boosting supplement in the world of folk medicine, the science in this area is a little less sure. There is certainly some evidence to suggest that it does, in fact, raise testosterone levels, but the dosages and external factors are yet to be ironed out.
As a general rule, you should start small with your dosage and work up to a larger dosage if needed.
Do Cordyceps Boost Immune System?
Of the many benefits that Cordyceps are thought to have for the human body, immune system boosting is among them. Unlike some of the other purported benefits that have been attributed to Cordyceps, immune system boosting—in specific ways—does have some scientific data to back it up. There is also evidence that Cordyceps decreases blood flow to cancer cells.
What are the Side Effects of Cordyceps?
As with any medicinal substance, there are some side effects associated with Cordyceps, though it should be noted that they are generally considered safe for consumption.
The first potential side effect is an allergic reaction. If you are allergic to mold or yeast, there is a strong chance you will be allergic to this. Another potential side effect can cause problems for people with diabetes, as Cordyceps can alter blood sugar levels. Insulin is carefully managed to bring diabetic patients blood sugar to appropriate levels, so taking additional supplements that alter that blood sugar can cause serious problems.
People who take blood thinners should also steer clear of Cordyceps as the combination of the fungus and your medication could result in severe bruising or excessive bleeding. On a similar note, if you have a surgery scheduled, you should stop taking Cordyceps at least two weeks before.
What is Cordyceps Worth?
To begin with, we should reiterate that Cordyceps is a genus of fungus of which the Caterpillar Fungus makes up a very small part of. The reason it is so small is because of the price tag that is attached to it. Cordyceps Sinensis goes for around $50,000 per pound, which makes it the most expensive mushroom in the world. This is largely because the Chinese have been unable to figure out how to cultivate the fungus, and as such, have had to rely on foraging for them in the wild.
This could change going forward, as cultivation is now possible. In the meantime, it is worth being aware of this fact because, despite the absence of any Caterpillar Fungi in most Cordyceps supplements, many manufacturers still use images of the fungus in their promotional material, misleading their customers into thinking they are getting something that they are not.
Yarsagumba a name for Caterpillar Fungus and is one of many alternative names that this highly sought after fungus has. It is also known as Dong Cong Xia Cao in Chinese, Yartsa Gunbu in Tibetan, and Keeda Jadi in India. These names all refer to the same thing, though the name that is being used at any given time can be relevant, as it may give context to the conversation. We’ll get into this more a little later in the post, but one example of this context is in India, where it is illegal to sell the fungus in some situations. The use of the Indian name, therefore, suggests a context where the fungus is not legal to sell.
What is Yarsagumba in Nepal?
Prior to 2001, the selling of Yarsagumba was banned in Nepal, even though it was popular for a range of medicinal purposes. Thanks to the inclusion of royalty collections on the sale of Yarsagumba, the ban was lifted, and the sale of the fungus was permitted. During the months of May and June, many villagers from parts of Nepal head up to the higher elevations where Yarsagumba grows to forage for this valuable herb.
What is Yarsagumba Used For?
Yarsagumba is thought to have many medicinal benefits that have been put to use in Nepal, Tibet, China, and India for hundreds of years. It is also an extremely valuable export, with other parts of Asia and some of the western world particularly interested in the herb. A significant part of the local economy relies on the money generated from Yarsagumba.
What is the Price of Yarsagumba in Nepal?
There are two ways to look at the cost of Yarsagumba in Nepal. Firstly, as we have already mentioned, the cost of buying this precious fungus is around $50,000 per pound, which equates to roughly five million Nepalese Rupees (R 5,000,000). However, that number is based on international prices, whereas the cost of Yarsagumba is not so steep in Nepal itself, where it can be the equivalent of around $1,000 per pound.
The second way in which you can consider the cost of Yarsagumba is from the perspective of those collecting it. Collectors have to pay a little under $400 per pound of Yarsagumba they collect in royalties. Given that there are approximately fifty thousand people from across the villages of Nepal, it is easy to see why this is such an important market for the local economies.
Can We Grow Yarsagumba?
In recent years, attempts to cultivate the fungus using soybeans have found success in America, though the local markets in Asia still rely on picking the fungus from its natural habitat. So, it is possible to grow the fungus, but it is not easy.
Much of this difficulty revolves around the conditions that Yarsagumba has evolved to grow in. The regions in which Yarsagumba is commonly found is between 10,000 and 15,000 feet above sea level and adapted for specific temperature ranges. It is also not a quick process, with the fungus over-wintering inside its dead caterpillar host before sprouting the following season.
How do you Eat Yarsagumba?
Given that Yarsagumba is just an alternative name for Caterpillar Fungus, the way you go about eating it is the same. You can chomp down on it raw—after a thorough cleaning, of course—or you can soften it up with a little water beforehand, perhaps making a tea with the water. The prospect of crunching away on a dead caterpillar with a mushroom growing out of its head might not be the most appealing thing from a visual perspective, but it has been consumed this way for centuries.
Which Part of Yarsagumba is Used as Medicine?
Given the relatively small size of the mushroom, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the whole thing—caterpillar and all—is typically used. It is most commonly consumed as it is, so there is no need to break it down into individual parts. Indeed, the image of the complete fungus attached to its dead caterpillar host has become something of a status symbol in parts of Asia.
How do you Take Yarsagumba?#
Taking Yarsagumba typically involves popping it in your mouth and chewing. That being said, it can also be ingested as a tea. There is no difference between taking Yarsagumba as a mere supplement or for medicinal reasons. The most typical way of packaging Yarsagumba is in its harvested form, albeit thoroughly cleaned.
How does Yarsagumba Reproduce?
Once Yarsagumba has fruited, it releases its spores into the air around it, where they are taken by the wind and settle on the ground in the area around the mushroom. These spores then go on to infect other caterpillars as they are going about their business. The caterpillars are most vulnerable to infection as they feed on plant roots and just after they have shed their skin. Once infected, the caterpillar is compelled to head towards the surface where it takes up its final position, vertical, just below the surface. It then dies, and after winter has passed, the mushroom sprouts from the head of the caterpillar and pokes up through the ground. From there, the process repeats.
Is Yarsagumba Banned in India?
Though some temporary bans have come and gone in India, the nature of the legality of Yarsagumba is a little more complicated than whether it is legal or not. However, we are about to get into Indian take on Yarsagumba in the next section, so keep on reading for more on this particular subtopic.
What is the English Name of Yarsagumba?
The scientific name for Yarsagumba—Ophiocordyceps Sinensis, formerly Cordyceps Sinensis—is the closest thing we have to an English name. More commonly, it is referred to simply as Caterpillar Fungus in English speaking regions. Despite the many different names in several different languages, they are all referring to the same fungus.
On the subject of those different names in different languages, Keeda Jadi is one such alternative name given to the Caterpillar Fungus in India, though it is also known as Keera Jhar, Keeda Ghas, and Ghaas Fafoond. India’s northern boundaries are shared with Nepal, and their supply of Keeda Jadi comes from the very same place as everyone else’s. As hinted at above, there is something of a complicated relationship between India and this particular fungus from a legal standpoint. We’ll address that and more in the following most commonly asked questions about Keeda Jadi.
What is Keeda Jadi?
Keeda Jadi is one of the Indian names for the Caterpillar Fungus, a special kind of fungus that grows in the Himalayan region to the north of India. It is distinctive for its lifecycle, which includes becoming a parasite to subterranean caterpillars and subsequently sprouting a fruiting body from the dead caterpillar to allow it to repeat the process. It is desirable for its medicinal qualities, and the demand for this very localized fungus has caused the prices of it to skyrocket, locally but even more so globally, where it can be worth over $100,000 per pound in some cases.
What is the Price of Keeda Jadi?
The price of Keeda Jadi on a global market, using our above $50,000 figure, means that it is worth the equivalent of around 3,500,000 Indian Rupees. However, similar to how their fellow Keeda Jadi enjoyers north of the border, things are not nearly as expensive in India itself, though they are far from cheap. The very same pound of Caterpillar Fungus in Indian could go for around 360,000 Indian Rupees or a little shy of five thousand dollars.
Is Keeda Jadi Illegal?
In India, it is illegal to just head up into the mountains and start picking Keeda Jadi. Much like in Nepal, there are royalties to pay. They come in the form of permits issues to the foragers. Still, the high value of the fungus coupled with this arguably unfair arrangement has to lead many people to bypass the middleman and go straight to the buyers, which technically means they are breaking the law.
Where is Keeda Jadi Found?
There is only one part of the world where Keeda Jadi is found naturally, and that is the Himalayan regions, and in particular, the Tibetan Plateaux. Despite being localized to this one region of the world, it is quite a large region that spans different countries, including India.
What is Himalayan Viagra?
Among the many benefits that Keeda Jadi is thought to have, treatment for erectile dysfunction is one of the more in demand attribute, which has naturally led to it being referred to as “Himalayan Viagra.” Of course, this fungus has nothing to do with the product that goes by the name of viagra.
What is Himalayan Gold?
The term “Himalayan Gold” simply refers to the value of the Caterpillar Fungus. Indeed, by weight, it is often worth more than gold, though the exact prices of both gold and Caterpillar Fungus fluctuate a lot.
What is the Zombie Fungus Called?
There is no single zombie fungus, but rather an entire genus of them. We mentioned above that Cordyceps was the name given to this genus, and it covers a large collection of fungi that have evolved to infect specific animals and use their body to propagate. Remarkably, each species of Cordyceps targets a specific animal, with no cross-infection occurring.
The “zombie” title comes from the fact that, in some cases, the fungus takes control of the insect’s body. For a caterpillar, it forces it to head towards the surface and remain there, vertically orientated. A more well-known example is that of Ophiocordycep Unilateralis, which infects ants, forcing them to climb higher up into the trees and biting down on a leaf or stalk where they will eventually die.
What is Winter Worm?
Winter worm is a translated name for the fungus we have been discussing in this post, the translation being from the name “Yartsa Gunbu.” Once you have seen a picture of the fungus, it is not hard to understand how this name came about. The full translation of the name literally means “summer grass, winter worm.”
Caterpillar Fungus is a remarkable part of the fungal kingdom, with centuries of testimony stating that it provides enormous health benefits. And, while the science may not completely back these claims up—though there is some evidence indicating the health benefits are real—that very same science has also not ruled out the possibility that the fungus can do all the things that it is claimed it does.
That being said, it is an incredibly expensive item, with the cost of Caterpillar Fungus by weight often exceeding that of gold. This is in no small part due to the fact that the growing cycle of the fungus is at least a year-long, and, until recently, nobody had been able to cultivate Caterpillar Fungus.
This has also led to the fungus being essential for the incomes of the people who head up into the mountains to pick it, with some people earning as much as half of their total income through picking Caterpillar Fungi. You can buy this miracle fungus in the west, of course, but it is not cheap