Caterpillar Fungus on radar of international smugglers

A rare mushroom highly valued as an aphrodisiac has become the target of international smuggling ring.

Itanagar: A rare mushroom grown in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh highly valued in China and Tibet as an aphrodisiac and for treating a variety of ailments, including cancer, has become the target of an international smuggling ring.

Recently 28 Tibetan nationals, including a woman, have been arrested in the Mechukha sub-division in West Siang district by ITBP personnel for allegedly trying to smuggle out the exotic mushroom whose medical name is Cordyceps Sinensis or Caterpillar fungus.

The Caterpillar Fungus is parasitic growing in alpine grass regions like Mechukha and Monigong in West Siang, Tuting in Upper Siang and Taksing in Upper Subansiri bordering China between June and August.

It is known in Tibet as Yartsa Gunbu which means `summer herb winter worm`, Yarchagumba in Nepal, Yartsa Guenboob in Bhutan and Keera Jhar or Keeda Ghas in India.

``One kg of wild fungus is sold at 30,000 to 60,000 in Nepalese currency while it fetches Rs one lakh in India,`` Sona Mosing, an elder of the area, said.

A study, conducted by German scholar Dr Gerhard Heller into the traditional healing systems in the state, said the fungus is rare and an exotic medicinal mushroom which is highly prized.

Heller in his writings said the fungus is in high demand in Tibetan, Chinese and traditional herbal folk medicines in which it is used as an aphrodisiac as well as a treatment for a variety of ailments from fatigue to cancer.

It caught the attention of western athletes when their Chinese counterparts used it to break nine world records in the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Germany in 1993.

In early 1970s, researchers at the Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences began cultivating and analyzing various strains of cordyceps.

In 1982, they successfully isolated a strain of cordyceps that is chemically and functionally similar to the wild cordyceps, and named it CS-4 (Paecilonyces Hepiali).

Since then fermented products derived from the CS-4 strain have been studied clinically in China and other countries, and it has been used extensively by the general Chinese population.

The presence of the rare fungus in the mountains of Mechukha was first discovered by a team of scientists from France in the early August this year.

The team comprising seven botanists were on a two-month research on medicinal plants in this part of the country from June.

The study said that the fungus infects caterpillars in alpine grass and shrublands on the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas at an altitude between 9,800 and 16,000 feet.