Popular Aphrodisiac Fungus Could Be Harvested To Extinction

A seemingly insatiable demand for the so-called “Himalayan Viagra” may cause lasting ecological damage to the high-altitude regions where the fungus is found.

The odd-looking, tubular Yarsagumba is being dangerously overharvested to supply the Chinese market, according to a new study.

Heralded for its medicinal properties, the fungus is found high in the mountainous Himalayan region, where it is a vital but increasingly tenuous livelihood for poor farmers in rural Nepal and Tibet, according to CBS News. CNN reports that the average annual income for many harvesters is $ 283.

The popular supplement is formed when a parasitic fungus infects caterpillars that have burrowed beneath the soil. “After the fungus mummifies the caterpillar underground, it thrusts out of the soil. It’s this tiny protuberance that the harvesters spend weeks each spring searching for,” reports CNN.

Researches, who will publish a new study in the journal “Biological Conservation,” write that “Himalayan Viagra” can fetch as much as $ 100 per gram in China, making it potentially more valuable than gold.

The AFP notes that the lucrative Himalayan Viagra boom has also increased violence in the region. In 2009, seven farmers were killed in a dispute over harvesting.

Kamaljit Bawa, lead author on the study, writes that the supplement has become extremely popular and pegs its “global market at betwen $ 5 billion and $ 11 billion per year.”

Scientific American reports that the fungus is generally boiled to be consumed in tea or soup, and for centuries has been believed to increase libido and even cure cancer by practioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“The medical properties of Yarsagumba are numerous and many,” Carroll Dunham, a medical anthropologist who works in Nepal told the BBC. “It works in a way similar to Viagra. It’s considered to be helpful for impotence in men and it’s considered to be a great stimulant.”

Liu Xingzhong, a mycologist in the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology in Beijing, told Nature that, due to a dearth of regulations protecting the fungus, there is a risk of the it being harvested to extinction, which would be disastrous for the region’s fragile ecosystem and a major economic blow to the harvesters who rely on it.

Visit Nature’s website to read the full study on the overharvesting of Yarsagumba.

Full Story Via Weird News on HuffingtonPost.com

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