Thousands on Risky Hunt for Nepal's 'Viagra'
Harvesting of Yarsagumba could also damage ecosystem
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2014 5:00 PM CDT
Local women carry items on their backs as they climb up a hill in Rolpa, Nepal, Wednesday, April 9, 2008.   (AP Photo/ Saurabh Das)

(Newser) – It's June in Nepal, so tens of thousands of people are scouring the nation's remote highlands for so-called "Himalayan Viagra"—a fungus said to boost libidos and ease health woes. But harvesting is a risky job that doesn't pay much compared to the fungus' value on the open market, Al Jazeera reports. Why risky? Not only are the mountain paths steep and narrow, killing the occasional harvester, but the fungus is worth enough to attract crime. Six men were given life sentences in 2011 for killing harvesters, the BBC reports, and the Himalayan Times reports that thieves stormed a harvesters' tent on Friday and stole more than $410,000 worth of fungus.

Called Yarsagumba, the fungus has been popular for more than 500 years, but Nepal's decision in 2001 to legalize its collection, use, and sale may have led to ecologically destructive over-harvesting. Because the fungus grows inside of caterpillars, heavy collection (60,000 are now harvesting the nation's midwestern region) could destroy caterpillar populations and allow moths and larvae to proliferate, Nature reports. On the plus side, harvesters make decent money for a couple of weeks' work, and buyers reportedly enjoy the benefits. "It regulates the normal functioning of various parts of the body and strengthens the immune and circulatory system," says a Nepalese professor. "It has traditionally been used for impotence, backache, and to increase sperm and blood production." (For more on fungus, read about North Korea's claim to a new sports drink.)
 

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