Cordyceps, a bizarre fungus that grows out of the top of a Ghost Moth caterpillar's head, is worth its weight in gold. The opening of a regulated market in Lhasa will offer customers more reliable service and improved quality control.
You may have seen Cordyceps in Chinese herbal medicine stores worldwide and thought, “that fungus looks like dried caterpillars so I guess that's why they call it Caterpillar Fungus.” Sorry, that's just what you'd LIKE to think.
While Cordyceps is a fungus, the caterpillar part IS a caterpillar; killed and mummified by the insidious Cordyceps fungus. Each species of Cordyceps has its own insect "target", which it proceeds to infect, take over, kill, and grow out of. The results are at once disturbing, creepy, and some say... beautiful.
Bizarre, huh? You ain't seen nuthin' yet... Cordyceps Sinensis, the species of fungus that infects Ghost Moth caterpillars found in Himalayan mountain meadows, is a prized traditional medicine whose value can be as high as that of gold!
In fact, the so-called “fungus gold rush” has led to incidents of violence and fraud – no small matter since the trade in Cordyceps Sinensis has become Tibet's leading cash crop.
“The caterpillar fungus is everything to the people here,” stated Tsuren Pingcuo, a Cordyceps dealer from the city of Yushu near the Tibetan border. “We all depend on it for a living. I used to work for the government, but now fungus is my business. It has changed my life. I'm rich.”
Known locally as Yartsa Gunbu or “summer grass winter worm”, the price of Cordyceps has risen almost 900% from 1998 to 2008 with larger, higher quality specimens boasting even higher rates of increase. At least high prices for what some call "herbal Viagra" have filtered down to the actual fungus hunters in China, Tibet and Nepal with a hard-working hunter being able to earn $900 dollars for just one ounce of Cordyceps.
The Chinese government has taken notice of the booming trade in Cordyceps Sinensis and takes a dim view of the associated lawlessness. In reaction, authorities have sanctioned the Shun Xing Market to be the first regulated Caterpillar Fungus market in Lhasa, scheduled to open in May of 2011. Save the date!
According to Ma Junsheng, manager of the Shun Xing Market, “…credibility and quality are most important, so consumers will save their trips to other places”. The market will operate much like an American farmer's market with independent dealers operating out of designated spaces they can rent from the market management for 25,000 to 100,000 yuan ($3,485 to $15,385) per year.
Should any dealers be caught engaging in fraud or fakery, they will be forced to leave the market immediately. Dealers who respect their customers will benefit from safety and security, provided by the Shun Xing Market through 20 guards working in shifts 24 hours a day.
They say the early bird gets the worm... at the Shun Xing Market in Lhasa, you'll be able to get yours: at a fair price and with an assurance of good quality. (via China Tibet Online, France 24, and The Guardian)