Yarsagumba, Yartsa Gunbu, Yarsagumba, Cordyceps, Caterpillar Fungus, or Himalayan Viagra, is an expensive rare combination of fungus and insect’s caterpillar and found in Himalayan regions at altitudes between 3000 and 5000 meters, in Nepal, India and Bhutan, and the Tibetan Plateau. It is a unique black medicinal fungus grown inside a caterpillar.
In traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps known as Dong Chong xia cao, is in use for at least 1000 years as general tonic, cure for lung and kidney problems and promoting endurance, vitality and longevity. It is increases oxygen level and utilization in body. It is reported to alter sex hormone release in body and improving libido and fertility in both sexes. It nourishes yin and boosts yang. At high altitude, local people dug it from the soil and eat fresh to combat altitude sickness and for better oxygen utilization which is scanty at such heights.
As the name Himalayan Viagra itself suggests, Yarsagumba is now mainly used as an aphrodisiac. It has antitumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-depression, anti-arteriosclerosis, and anti-osteoporosis and antioxidant activities. Yarsagumba is also considered beneficial in impotency, erectile dysfunction, liver-kidney and heart diseases, diabetes, high lipid level and general weakness. It is given in chronic diseases to increase stamina, energy and health. It improves quality of life and gives longevity.
The demand for Yarsagumba rose rapidly after the 1993 World Athletics Championship, during which Chinese athletes had set new world records. Many reports credited the performance to Yarsagumba which was used as tonic. It benefits the kidneys, lungs, and gonadal functions.
General Information about Yarsagumba
Yarsagumba is formed when a parasitic mushroom spores infect and mummify a ghost moth larva living in the soil and finally comes out from the dead caterpillar host’s head.
Scientific name: Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Syn. Sphaeria sinensis Berk. Ophiocordyceps sinensis
Family: Clavicipitaceae (Ascomycetes)
Cordyceps mushroom is parasitic in nature and grows by feeding on larva or on mature insects. They can be even found growing on mature moths, crickets, cockroaches, bees, ants, beetles etc. There are about 680 documented verities of Cordyceps mushroom and Cordyceps sinensis is one of them.
Cordyceps sinensis, mycelium which is vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a network of fine white filaments (hyphae) is encased in mummified body of caterpillar with intact exoskeleton. The fruiting body of fungus, shaped like twig/blade, dark-brown at base and black at top, sprouts from the head of caterpillar. Sometimes many fruit bodies can be seen growing on insects.
Cordyceps mushroom is an ascomycetes fungus closely related to mushroom. It belongs to the family clavicipitaceae and genus Cordyceps.
The Latin name is based on the physical appearance of the fungus (cord=club and ceps = head). Sinensis refers to Chinese.
- Kingdom: Fungi
- Phylum: Ascomycota
- Class: Ascomycetes
- Order: Hypocreales
- Family: Clavicipataceae
- Genus: Cordyceps
- Species: Cordyceps Sinensis
- Available Species: 500 different species
- Synonym: Sphaeria sinensis, Metarhyzium,Buevaria, Isaria
- English: Cordyceps mushroom, Caterpillar Fungus
- Japanese: Totsu kasu, Tochukasu
- Chinese: Hia tsao tong tchong, dongchongxiacao
- Nepal: Bu,Bhu-Sanjivani, Jivan Buti, Jingani, Kira Chhyau, Kira Jhar, Saram Buti Jadi, Saram Buti
- Common names: Yarshagumba, Yartsa Gunbu, Yarsagumba, Or Himalayan Viagra, Caterpillar Fungus, Yartsagumba (Gurung), Cordyceps, Dongchongxiacao (Winter Worm, Summer Grass)
The formation of Caterpillar fungus
Caterpillar fungus is fusion of a parasitic fungus and caterpillar. The lower part is dead caterpillar and the upper part is a fungus. The fungus has a small spike with dark brown fructification and yellowish white stalk.
The parasitic fungus is Cordyceps sinensis and the host insect is Ghost moth/ bat moth Hepialus armonicanus (or other insects of about 60 different species).
The life cycle of insects generally involves five stages viz. larva-caterpillar-cocoon-pupa-adult. The fungus Cordyceps sinensis infects the larvae, slowly consumes it and completes its own life cycle.
In summer and autumn months when temperature is more, the fruiting Cordyceps release millions of ascospores in the air. These ascospores infects the ghost moth larva (and few other related species, adult insects etc.) which are living underground, inside the soil. First the spore or spores stick to the outer body (or exoskeleton) of the host. Then the spores germinate a short germ tube that ends in an appresorium, a flattened disc-like structure. Next an infection peg develops on the ventral surface of the appressorium and penetrates through the exoskeleton through mechanical pressure and produces enzymes.
After this, the fungus grows inside the larva and divides in a blastospore or yeast-like, hyphal body stage. Slowly the fungal cells spread inside the insects, grows to filamentous stage and till winter it consumes all parts of insect which is now grown to caterpillar stage leaving only the exoskeleton.
After this, the fungal cells convert into the compact white mass inside the body of larva, known as endosclerotium (tightly packed mass of mycelium). Till this time, winters are set and hence the fungus becomes dormant.
When outer temperature slowly rises up at the beginning of the spring, the endosclerotium produces a stroma or several stromata that may either rupture through the exoskeleton at a random point or at a region characteristic of the species. In this case stroma comes out from the head part of the larva and ultimately protrudes through the soil.
The stroma (fungal fruit body) produces perithecia, asci and ascospores if it is meiotically reproductive, or conidiophores and conidia if it is reproducing by the production of mitotic spores. Most spores are airborne and complete the cycle by infecting a new host.
So the whole process is completed in one year. In summer months the collectors start collecting the Caterpillar fungus.
Appearance: Dried weed/caterpillar
Annual Production: 83 to 183 tonnes (priced about $5 billion to $11 billion) per year.
Distribution: Nepal Himalaya, Tibet, Bhutan, Sichun, Qunghai, Xizang and Yunnan provinces of China. In India mainly found in higher altitudes of Kumaun, Garhwal and in higher altitudes of Arunachala Pradesh and Sikkim.
Found in: The great Himalaya
Habitat: Alpine region of the Himalayas at an altitude of 3,600 – 4,200 meters above sea level.
Harvesting season: The main harvesting period ranges from April to July in Nepal every year.
Largest buyer: China
- China (providing 95%)
- Nepal (collected from Darchula, Dolpa, Jumla, Mugu, Bajang, Rukum, Myagdi, Manang, Gorkha, Rasuwa, Sindhupal chowk and Sankhuwasabha)
- India (1.7 to 2.8 tonnes/year)
- Bhutan (0.5 to 1.5 tonnes/year)
Size of Yarsagumba: 2-12 centimeters
Price in India: The Uttarakhand Forest Development Corporation (UAFDC) markets Yarsagumba. The corporation buys fungus for Rs 50,000 per kg from locals.
Each piece of harvested Yarsagumba is priced around Rs 800.
The selling price for a single piece is about US$3.50 in Nepal.
Purpose: Used by pharmaceutical companies for manufacturing medicines used for boosting vigour, vitality and stamina and treating sexual dysfunctions of men, aphrodisiac
Quality: yellowish-larger (good quality) and copper colour-smaller (inferior to yellowish).
Used in: China, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, UK and the US
Amino Acids (phenylalanine, proline, histidine, valine, oxyvaline and arginine)
Cyclic Dipeptides such as cyclo-(gly-pro), cyclo-(leu-pro), cyclo-(val-pro), cyclo (ala-leu), cyclo-(alaval) and cyclo-(thrleu)
Saccharides & Sugar Derivatives (Mannitol and other oligosaccharides, polysaccharides)
Steroids (ergosterol, delta-3 ergosterol, ergosterol peroxide, sitosterol, daucosterol and campasterol)
Nucleotides and Nucleosides
Polyamines (adenine, uracil, guanine, thymidine, guanosine, uridine and deoxyuridine)
Saturated and Unsaturated Fatty Acids (oleic, linoleic, palmitic and stearic acids)
Vitamins (A, B1, B2, and B12, E and K)
Trace elements (K, Na, Ca, Mg, Fe, Cu, Mn, Zn, Pi, Se, Al, Si, Ni, Sr, Ti, Cr, Ga, V, and Zr)
Composition of Cordyceps sinensis
Coarse protein 25.32%
Coarse fiber 18.53%
- Adaptogen: Considered to help the body adapt to stress.
- Antioxidant: Neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals and other substances.
- Anti–aging: Delays ageing.
- Anti-viral: Active against virus.
- Anti-inflammatory: Reducing inflammation by acting on body mechanisms.
- Anti-hyperlipidemic: Promoting a reduction of lipid levels in the blood.
- Anti-hyperglycemic: Counteracting high levels of glucose in the blood.
- Antitumour: Preventing or inhibiting the formation or growth of tumors.
- Anti-apoptotic: Inhibiting apoptosis.
- Anti-fibrotic: Inhibits formation of excess fibrous connective tissue in an organ or tissue in a reparative or reactive process.
- Expectorant: Promotes the secretion of sputum by the air passages, used to treat coughs.
- Anti-asthmatic: Treat or prevent asthma attacks.
- Hypnotic: Sleep-inducing
- Immunomodulatory: Modifies the immune response or the functioning of the immune system.
- Sedative: Promoting calm or inducing sleep
- Tranquilizer: Reduce tension or anxiety.
- Tonic: Restore or improve health or well-being.
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Bronchial asthma
- Cough and cold
- Erectile dysfunction, impotence, to boost libido and increases semen
- Female aphrodisiac
- Increase energy and vitality
- Tumor cancer
- Uterine fibroids
Health Benefits of Cordyceps – Yartsagumba
Cordyceps is used medicinally for more than thousands of year by the local people living in Himalayan region. It survives in low oxygen level and also helps the people in same way. It enhances endurance and performance. It works on all vital body organs. It improves overall lung functions and treats infections. It has direct energy promoting and anti-fatigue properties.
Yartsagumba is believed to have following health benefits:
It delays ageing and gives longevity. In Chinese medicine it is prescribed along with Ginseng, Astragalus root, Angelica roots and lycium fruit.
- It benefits cardiovascular and circulatory functions.
- It is effective in palpitation and hypertension.
- It normalizes abnormal heart beat. For this purpose 1.5 grams of Cordyceps per day is prescribed for few months.
- It relaxes artery and inhibits atherosclerosis (deposition of fatty material on inner walls of arteries) by decreasing the number of platelets trapping in plaques, reducing blood viscosity and total cholesterol. In a study, coronary heart disease patients were given 3 grams of Cordyceps per day for three months and the result showed 21% drop in total cholesterol and blood viscosity.
- It supports reduction of cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar level.
- It regulates blood lipids.
- It reduces fat in blood.
It aids in both getting more oxygen into the cells and increasing endurance. It increase both the cellular ATP almost 28% (adenosine tri-phosphate, releases energy in the cell by losing a phosphate and converting from a three-phosphate form of adenosine to a two-phosphate form or ADP) level and the oxygen utilization.
It boosts physical performance.
It is regularly used in all types of immune disorders due to significant immune enhancing effects. It has immunomodulating (immune enhancement and immune suppression) properties.
When Yartsagumba is taken in immune-deficient state (cancer, hepatitis or HIV infection) the number and activity of the white blood cells increase. But when taken in hyper-immune state (Lupus, Lymphoma or Rheumatoid arthritis) the number and activity of the white blood cells drop, while the red blood cells often increase in number.
It stimulates immune function by activating T cells and B cells, while increasing interleukin-1 and γ-interferon. It is also used for the inhibition of infection and reverse transcriptase activity of HIV.
It increases erythroid progenitor cells and erythroid colony forming units in bone marrow.
- It helps in kidney and renal system diseases such as blood urea and creatinine.
- It strengthens the kidneys.
- It protects kidney and liver.
- It promotes normal kidney functions.
- Researches in China had reported 5 grams of Cordyceps daily for 30 days helps chronic renal failure.
Lowers blood sugar level
It improves blood glucose metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity.
Cordyceps lowers blood glucose, plasma insulin, and improve glucose tolerance.
It helps in both male and female fertility.
It improves reproductive functions and increases sperm count.
It promotes spermatogenesis.
It reduces malformed spermatozoa and increases survival rate of spermatozoa.
It is given to treat impotence, nocturnal emissions, night sweating, and pain in loins.
Studies done in China shows intake of 1 gram Cordyceps thrice a day improves sexual functioning of men and helps in impotency.
It shows beneficial effects in respiratory system diseases such as cough, chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma etc.
It gives relief in bronchial inflammation and works as expectorant.
In China, it is prescribed for asthma. For this purpose Cordyceps is given in dose of 3 grams/day for ten days.
It has sedative and hypnotic activity due to presence of amino acids.
Strengthening and Rejuvenating
It is an overall rejuvenator for increased energy while recovering from serious illness. It strengthens immunity, liver, lung and kidneys.
It supports building of blood and the bone marrow.
It is aphrodisiac and increases libido.
Intake of Yartsagumba, improves conditions such as arrhythmia, chronic kidney problems, liver function after hepatitis B and tinnitus caused by accumulation of fluid in inner ear. It is well known to relieve exhaustion, night sweats, sexual impotency, and acts as a sedative. In the local areas, one piece of Yarsagumba is immersed in hot water/alcoholic drink at night at taken next morning.
Yarsagumba powder mixed with powdered root of Dactylorhiza hatagirea (panchaule) is placed in Honey or milk. This is taken as a potent tonic.
Cordyceps is available as standardized dietary supplement (1-4% mannitol) and taken in dose of 2-6 grams per day. Supplements in form of tablets, tinctures and in combination are also available.
Safety and Toxicity
Cordyceps is considered to be very safe in recommended doses. Intraperitoneal dose of 5g/kg was found to be lethal for some mice and 30-50g/kg was found to be lethal for all mice. Toxic reactions include sedation, spasm, respiratory paralysis etc.
- It should be used by adults only.
- It should be taken with caution in people with low blood sugar level.
- It can interact with drugs such as anticoagulant drugs, blood thinning medicines, asthma inhalers, immunosuppressant drugs, drugs for lupus, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis etc.
- According to Chinese medicine, it should not be taken by person with external pathogenic symptoms and heat in the lungs.
- In some patients it may cause allergic reactions (breathing difficulties or tightness chest, chest pain, skin rashes, itchy or swollen skin).
- It may cause mild gastro intestinal discomforts including nausea, upset stomach, dry mouth etc.
- Large dose may cause skin rashes, dry mouth, diarrhea, and drowsiness.