One of the most famous medicinal Mushrooms – Yarsagumba or Cordyceps sinensis has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. The best high quality Cordyceps grows in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. Cordyceps is used as one of the most sought after natural herbal remedies in the world. The name Yarsagumba derives from the Tibetan language. In Tibetan language Yarsa means seasonal grass and Gumbu means wilted insect. It is also some times referred to as Kira Ghas in Nepali.
It takes 4 days to walk to where the Yarsagumba grows. The route is accessible only by walking. The first camp is at a place called Kothari 3210 m. The second night is spent at Humdumti 3850 m. The thrid camp is at the high pass of Benkulak 4800 meters. The mushroom grows between the Api and Namjug mountains – Darchula. This is the remote areas of Sunsara and Rapla district of Nepal. The herb is also found around Dolpo near the Annapurna range. These medicinal mushrooms are found between the altitude of 3200 – 4500 meters. This is near the snow line where the snow melts in the summer. There is usually snow for six months of the year. The mushroom is usually found in the north facing slope of the mountain. The slope of the mountain is usually 5 to 10 degrees.
Yarsagumba collection period is about two months. As the snow starts melting in May, the harvesting season starts. The season lasts from May to the first half of July. If they are not collected during this time, they will rot. Yarsagumba is left to dry for a day before cleaning. If cleaned on the same day it turns dark. Dark Yarsagumba doesn’t command a good price.
Price of Yarsagumba is about 80,000 Rs per KG. This is close to a $1000 US. In the international market the price is at lease 10 fold. Between 3500 to 4000 pieces of Yarsagumba is required to make one KG. To collect this amount it takes 5 people a month. It is estimated that 2000 KG of Yarsagumba is harvested per year in this area of Nepal. This amounts to a revenue of Rs 200 to 250 million or about 2.5 million to 3 million US dollars. The government gets Rs 20,000 per KG of Yarsagumba as royalty.
Local impact from this medicinal mushroom has been very visible. Most homes in Dolpa have solar panels now. The revenue generated supplements other sources of income and farming. The food that most of the local people grow lasts only about five to six months of the year.
Non profit organizations like ANSAB (Asia Network for Sustainable Agriculture and Bioresources) have been instrumental in providing research and other support to make this revenue source a more sustainable venture.
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The articles listed above provide more information on this incredible medical mushrooms found only in the Himalayan region of Nepal. Efforts are being made to continue to promote the harvesting of these herbs with out adversely impacting the environment.