the last of us

Cordyceps [kord-uh-seps] is a genus of mushrooms that grows on caterpillars and other insects; it has a number of Eastern and Western medical applications. It is used for a wide range of conditions including fatigue, sexual dysfunction, coughing, and as an adaptogen or immune stimulant.

An interesting feature of the Cordyceps species is the ability to affect the behavior of their insect host. Cordyceps unilateralis causes ants to climb a plant and attach there before they die. This ensures the parasite’s environment is of the optimal temperature and humidity, and maximal distribution of the spores from the fruiting body that sprouts out of the dead insect is achieved.

Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties, like cordycepin, which was the source of ciclosporin—a drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it suppresses the immune system. In studies it showed antitumor, radioprotective effects and also enhanced recovery of mice.

It is known as yartsa gumba in Nepal, and dates back to at least the 15th century. It gained some notoriety in 1993 when three Nepalese athlete broke 5 world records for 1,500, 3,000 and 10,000 meters at Nepal’s National Games. Following the races, the men were expected by some to fail drug tests for anabolic steroids. However, the athletes’ tests revealed no illegal substances, their coach told reporters that the runners were taking Cordyceps at his request.

In Tibet, yartsa gunbu has become the a very important source of income in rural areas, contributing 8.5% to the GDP in 2004. Prices have increased continuously, especially since the late 1990s. In 2008, one kilogram traded for US$3,000 (lowest quality) to over US$18,000 (best quality). The search for Cordyceps sinensis is often perceived to pose a threat for the environment of the Tibetan Plateau where it grows. While it has been collected for centuries and is still common in such collection areas, current collection rates are much higher than in historical times.


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