Yarsagumba, most expensive insect-herb

Yarsagumba is a type of caterpillar fungus which is one of the most expensive insect-herbs that is used for medical purpose. Yarsagumba is a Tibetan word which means summer grass – winter worm. It is a rare fungus that parasites on the body of a moth caterpillar that grows only at higher altitudes in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, China and North-East India.

Photo credit: Daniel Winkler

It is also known as the Himalayan Viagra or the Himalayan Gold, Yarchagumba, Yatsa gunbu and Yartsa gunba. The caterpillar lives underground and feeds on plant roots and is attacked by the fungus during its larva state. The fungus kills it and a tiny mushroom sprouts from the head of the dead larva. It, however, is found on the surface of the ground during the spring when the snow melts.

It is a popular Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) whose demand increased after 1993 when three Chinese female athletes broke world records and their coach mentioned giving them Yarshagumba mixed with turtle blood soup while answering to the suspicious questions of the media. TCM claims that the Yarshagumba, when boiled and added to the tea or soup acts as aphrodisiac, cure cancer and fight fatigue, however, these claims have not been scientifically proven.

Every year, number of Nepalese goes to the Himalayans in search of Yarshagumbas. Students miss their schools for this purpose and also many middle aged men and women accompany them. Also many people have been reported dead in clash between the groups in search of this most expensive insect-herb. Its high cost and demand is the reason for the people to go in search of the insect-herb putting their own life at risk. However, it also helps in increasing the social and financial status of the people in that region which is why they do not hesitate risking their life to search for it.

The over harvest of the insect-herb to meet the high demand and the climate change is putting it at a risk of extinction. The number of Yarshagumba collected decreases every year while the number of the collectors is increasing. At average, the cost of one Yarshagumba is quite more than the daily wage of a labor. The global market for Yarshagumba is calculated to be between $ 5 billion and $ 11 billion (in February 2012).

Thus, Yarshagumba is the most expensive and most effective medicinal insect-herb found in the higher altitudes but is in the verge of extinction.