Traditionally, cordyceps have been used in Asia for strenuous, high altitude activities and as an immune tonic (Fungi Perfecti, 2018). Today in Asian traditional medicine, cordyceps are used to enhance sexual potency and desire, as a remedy for diabetes and other dietary diseases, cancer, bronchitis, TB, jaundice, among others. (Panda and Swain, 2011). Today, Western medicine has discovered that cordyceps may have the effect of increased oxygen uptake, supporting higher endurance levels, and that cordyceps can support overall healthful functioning of the body (Fungi Perfecti, 2018). Currently, in the United States cordyceps are being grown in jars for medicinal purposes.
Cordyceps provide Bhutan with a significant agricultural item to export. In recent years, cordyceps have increased in value and have provided the Bhutanese who collect them with a very comfortable income. Cordyceps are found in the highest altitudes and are normally considered organic, wild harvest.
Traditional yak herders are the Bhutanese that typically collect cordyceps; they are the highlanders, the individuals living at those high altitudes herding their yaks.
Cordyceps are a very unique agricultural product. They are created by a parasitic fungus which attacks insects, most commonly found in caterpillars (Thapa 2017). Surjaman Thapa explains, “The fungus germinates in the living larva, kills and mummifies it, and then a dark-brown, stalk-like fruiting body – just a few centimeters long – emerges from the corpse.” (2017). Thapa also states that the cordyceps are only found between 4,000 and 5,000 meters, around 13,100 and 16,400 feet, in the Himalayan regions of Bhutan, China, India, and Nepal (2017).
Another interesting fact about cordyceps is that they are expensive, due to these unique features of habitat and growing conditions. In 2017, one of the highest prices paid for a kilo of cordyceps was $42,000 dollars (Thapa 2017). This appear to be a significant increase to the income, although it is important to remember that there are many middlemen involved in these market trades and, thus, transactions of these cordyceps products keep the original harvester from reaping the full financial benefit. That said, data do show that the annual income of many highlanders has risen somewhat from the usual 155 USD equivalent from their original markets selling yak cheese, milk, and butter.
According to the Bhutan Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the prices of cordyceps has steadily increased since 2014 (Ministry of Agriculture and Forests 2014, p. 2).
Traveling in Bhutan, we have seen cordyceps in shops and people’s homes. The most easily obtained is normally in the form of tea, but they also exist in powder, tincture and capsule form. They are a highly regarded traditional medicine, and have been researched to further understand their role in stabilizing the immune system, combating cancer cells, and assisting with a whole host of other ailments of the body.
In the United States, cordyceps is growing in popularity as a dietary supplement. There are several companies in the U.S. that supply this natural Himalayan medicine.
By: Matthew VanEyll and Paul Agneburg
Thapa, Surjaman. “Bhutan’s cordyceps collectors eye return to yak herding.” The Third Pole. September 21, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2018 from https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/2017/09/21/bhutans-cordyceps-collectors-eye-return-to-yak-herding/
Ministry of Agriculture and Forests. “Cordyceps Marketing Report – 2017.” Department of Agricultural Marketing & Co-Operatives. Thimphu (August 2017):1-3.
Panda, Ashok Kumar, and Kailash Chandra Swain. “Traditional Uses and Medicinal Potential of Cordyceps Sinensis of Sikkim.” J Ayurveda Integr Med., Mar. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3121254/.
“Cordyceps Capsules .” Fungi Perfecti, Host Defense, fungi.com/products/cordyceps-capsules.