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Valentine’s Day Special: Aphrodisiac fungus from caterpillars is prized in China

If you’re looking for an aphrodisiac, the Chinese are very keen on this fungus.

High in the Himalayas grows a highly sought after medicinal fungus known as Himalayan Viagra. And while many global leaders fail to enact policies to protect their own resources, two remote Tibetan communities who harvest the fungus have managed to implement a system to secure a sustainable harvest year after year. Using an innovative resource management system that would likely give most capitalists a regulatory headache, the harvesters work hard to ensure that their livelihood is protected from over use.


Yartsa gunbu – literally ‘summer grass, winter worm’ – is prized in China for supposed aphrodisiac properties. The fungus is the result of an infection that invades the bodies of  ghost month caterpillars and a single ounce can nab more per ounce than gold. Income from the annual harvest can account for a vast majority of the yearly income for many villagers.

In order to protect the annual harvest, villagers in one area are required to check in four times a day during harvest to ensure that people aren’t sneaking away to grab their own stash of the Himalaya Viagra fungus to sell. Other regulations include restricting who can harvest the fungus, penalties for harvesting outside of harvest season, registration and taxes for harvesters and prohibition against harvesting on mountain slopes considered sacred.

“There’s this mistaken notion that indigenous people are incapable of solving complicated problems on their own, but these communities show that people can be incredibly resourceful when it’s necessary to preserve their livelihoods,” said Geoff Childs, PhD who co-authored a study investigating the resource management in Himalayan villages.

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