During my recent trip to the Himalayas we came to know about Ophiocordyceps sinensis also known as caterpillar fungus.In the Lata village bordering the Nanda Devi National park collecting this fungus is right now one of the main occupation of the villagers there.To keep up with demand, rural harvesters spend about 2 months each spring stooped over grassy meadows, pick axes in hand, searching for fungal gold.The number of fungi picked per person has dropped from 100 to 10 per day.These herders sell at the price of 4 lakhs per kilo whereas in the international market it is sold almost 4 times this price.
The fungus is known in Tibetan as yartsa gunbu or yatsa gunbu. Caterpillar fungi are the result of a parasitic relationship between the fungus and the larva of the ghost moth genus Thitarodes, several species of which live on the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, West-Sichuan, SW-Gansu & NW Yunnan, all in China, and the Himalayas India, Nepal, Bhutan). The fungus germinates in living organisms (in some cases the larvae), kills and mummifies the insect,then shoots up like finger-size blades of grass out of the dead insects’ heads.
Chinese caterpillar fungus has traditionally been used as a tonic to strengthen the human body and in the treatment of kidney and lung problems. It has also been shown to possess a variety of medicinal effects by recent studies, e.g. immunomodulating, hypocholesterolemic, hypoglycemia