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Unique Bhutanese health weed as precious as gold

Last Updated: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 00:00

Thimphu: Cordyceps, a peculiar health weed native to Bhutan and highly valued for its medicinal properties, fetches astronomical prices at the yearly auction. This year a man from Thimphu district got the highest price for his cordyceps - Rs.351,000 for a kg!

The price for cordyceps can be compared to the highest price that the best known Darjeeling tea fetches in the international market: the Silver Tips Imperial of Makaibari Tea Estate fetches only Rs.21,000 a kg. And the best of Kashmir`s saffron sells for not more than Rs.100,000.

Cordyceps is a weed that is formed when a particular species of caterpillar entwines itself on a high altitude grass, and the two dry up. The weed is also known to have aphrodisiacal properties.

In Thimphu, capital city of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a single stick of medium grade cordyceps sells for Ngultrum 50, roughly equivalent to one US dollar. However, the entire lot is sold out in auctions and hardly a few grams is available in the Thimphu markets.

The Agriculture Ministry holds auctions every year around this season in various districts, and the Thimphu auction saw the collector from the Naro Block of Thimphu district go laughing back to his village, according to a report by the Bhutan Today News Service.

Cordyceps are grown at altitudes beyond 2,500 metres and the collectors are nomadic people whose only livelihood comes from this once-a-year auction. No other cash crop can be grown at those altitudes, agriculture ministry officials said.

These nomadic people live a very hard life, as survival conditions are difficult. To detect a live cordyceps stick, they have to crawl. The collectors have to stay away from their homes for days, surviving on dried food, especially dried beef or pork.

Sometimes an individual collector may not even find one full kilogram of the weed.

Sangay Penjor, 18, said: "My entire family worked on collection this year and yet, we have not managed to get a kg of the stuff."

Often the collectors die, as six of them did when a mudslide completely washed them away when incessant and heavy rains lashed the country on May 26 in the wake of Cyclone Alia. Their bodies have still not been found.

The ministry is still holding auctions in various districts, but it seems unlikely that the price will bettered.

Ministry officials are worried over a new trend they noticed this year - all the certified and listed bidders are not coming to the auction, for reasons they are yet to fathom.


First Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 - 00:00

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