Yarsagumba is the world’s most expensive medicinal fungus which forms when a fungus in the soil attacks and kills a caterpillar. And then the fungus comes out from the dead caterpillar’s mouth.
- Rohit Joshi , Shivani Azad
Villagers involved in the collection of Yarsagumba (also known as Cordyceps or Himalayan Viagra) have reported that this year’s collection of the precious fungus-like herb which sells locally for around Rs 10 lakh/kg (mainly due to its aphrodisiac-like properties) has been very low in Uttarakhand while they have attributed it to climate change. The forest department says the villagers themselves are to blame since they are picking up the herb early not allowing it to bloom and grow properly. The herb is also known locally as ‘keeda jadi’ in Uttarakhand.
This year, villagers in Kumaon say, has been a very bad area for the collection of the herb on which the livelihoods of many families depends. “On an average, around 500-700 pieces (250-400 grams) of keeda jadi was collected by each person who went to collect the herb. But this year, we could manage only 10-20 pieces per person,” said Anand Goswami, a farmer of Walti village of Munsyari block in Pithoragarh district. He added that the low rain and snowfall in high Himalayan regions could be behind such low produce.
However, forest officials dismissed this reasoning. “The major cause isexcessive and uncontrolled exploitation of the plant even before the larvae attains maturity. The sudden shift of human settlements towards bugyals (meadows) where the keera jadi is found has impacted the entire ecology of these fragile ecosystems,” said Sanjeev Chaturvedi, head, research wing of the state forest department.
“This year we got ‘Keeda-Jadi’ (Local name of Yarsagumba) in very small amounts. Every person could barely get only 10-20 pieces. Usually every person used to collect at least 500-700 pieces (250-400 grams) of Keeda-Jadi, but this time there was no crop at all.” Anand Goswamy, A farmer of Walti village of Munsyari block in Pithoragarh District, told TOI. Goswami thinks the low rain and snowfall in high Himalayan regions is the reasons behind it.
Yarsagumba is the world’s most expensive medicinal fungus which forms when a fungus in the soil attacks and kills a caterpillar. And then the fungus comes out from the dead caterpillar’s mouth. Yarsagumba is only found in the Himalayan Mountains above 3500 meters. It is believed as a power-enhancing drug and aphrodisiacs. Since almost the last two decades, when Yarsagumba’s medicinal importance have been discovered, the main source of livelihood of most of the villagers living in these remote villages of the upper Himalayas, is to collect and sell this fungus.
“Less production of Yarsagumba, has created a crisis on the livelihood of many families in the region, this year.” Mohan Singh, anther farmer of Rabti village told TOI. “In local, the price of 1 kg of Yarsagumba ranges from about 9.50 to 10 lakh. If a family collects 250-500 grams of yarsa then it earns livelihood for a year.” he added. Locals believes that this year, dry winters and lack of rains on time, has been adverse impact on the production of Yarsagumba. But scientists working on this fungus believe that due to over-exploitation, the production of Yarsagumba is decreasing every year.
“Observation of the past several years shows that the production of Yarsagumba has decreased significantly. There are many reasons for this but the main is over-exploitation.” Dr. CS Negi, Head of the Dept. of Zoology, PG College, Pithoragarh, who is working on yarsagumba for several years, told TOI. Dr. Negi also said that in search of Yarsagumba, hundreds of people camps in the isolated Bugyals (grass fields) of the snow-covered Himalayan foothills for 2-3 months.
Human interference in many ways affects this terrain, which also has direct effect on the production of Yarsagumba. “People often prefer to such Yarsagumba whose mushroom is not fully prepared, because its cost is high. But due to this Yarsagumba’s life cycle is not being completed so it effects adversely on its reproduction.” he added.
Forest Department also believes that over-exploitation is the main reason of the declining production of Yarsagumba and the communities associated with it’s harvesting need to be educated. “We are trying to make local communities aware about this. We have told people that in the area from which they are collecting Yarsagumba this year, it should be left for the next two years, so that Yarsagumba could complete its reproduction cycle again.” Vinay Bhargav, DFO, Pithoragarh told TOI.
Dr Negi said that in the last few years, Nangling and many other villages of Darma valley have been quite aware about Yarsagumba. These villages are now adopting many ways to preserve it.