Caterpillar Fungus of Himalayas
First time I came across Ophiocordyceps Sinensis or as is known in English in Michael Palin’s documentary Himalaya. Brave Michael Palin tried this strange looking half worm half fungus on one of the markets in Himalayan region. Locals claimed these Nepali magic medicine is powerful remedy to treat many problems including cancer.
So when I was travelling in Nepal I asked locals about Caterpillar Fungus and had a chance to try it myself. It is not easily to obtain as it grows high in Himalayan mountains on altitude above 3500 meters. Also only locals with government issued license are permitted to collect the precious medicine.
Local friends reassured me that there is no harm to try it even if you are relatively healthy. It will bust the immune system and serve as a mild aphrodisiac (ha-ha). Locals often take it just to help with exertion and tiredness. Small, few inches long dried pieces usually soaked in milk before use. Petrified of the unknown I have followed the instruction and gulped the milk with Caterpillar Fungus in it. The taste was surprisingly nothing to write home about. However I felt that it helped me to bust my energy during long hours of trekking in Himalayas.
What actually is Caterpillar Fungus?
Ophiocordyceps Sinensis or Caterpillar Fungus is a fungus that parasitizes larvae of ghost moths and produces a fruiting body valued as an herbal remedy found in mountainous regions of Nepal and Tibet.
The fungus germinates in the living larva, kills and mummifies it, and then the stalk-like fruiting body emerges from the corpse. Spending up to five years underground before pupating, the Thitarodes caterpillar is attacked while feeding on roots. It is not certain how the fungus infects the caterpillar; possibly, by ingestion of a fungal spore or by the fungus mycelium invading the insect through one of the insect’s breathing pores. The dark brown to black fruiting body (or mushroom) emerges from the ground in spring or early summer, the long, usually columnar fruiting body reaches 5–15 cm above the surface and releases spores.
Medicine Use of Caterpillar Fungus
The fungus is a medicinal mushroom which is highly prized by practitioners of Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine and traditional folk medicines, in which it is used as a treatment for a variety of ailments; as a reputed curative for many diseases, anti-aging, hypoglycemic, aphrodisiac and also treatment against cancer. It has also been used to stimulate the immune system, and to treat kidney and lung problems, fatigue, respiratory disease, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, asthenia after severe illness, arrhythmias and other heart diseases and liver disease.
Medicinal use of the caterpillar fungus apparently originated in Tibet and Nepal. So far the oldest known text documenting its use was written in the late 15th century by the Tibetan doctor Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje [1439-1475]) in his text: Man ngag bye ba ring bsrel (“Instructions on a Myriad of Medicines”). The first mention of Ophiocordyceps sinensis in traditional Chinese medicine was in Wang Ang’s 1694 compendium of Materia Medica, Ben Cao Bei Yao.
You can read more about properties of Caterpillar Fungus here.