Medicinal fungus close to extinction

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2007, 12:00am

A caterpillar fungus prized for its medicinal properties is facing extinction because of over-harvesting and damage to its habitat, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing a scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Yang Darong said a study in June and July had found that the fungus was largely extinct in its natural habitats in Tibet , Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan .

The fungus Cordyceps sinensis attacks caterpillars. It is an expensive and highly sought-after ingredient for a Chinese medicine that is believed to boost human immune systems, now found only on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

Professor Yang said that 25 years ago, it was common for farmers to dig up more than 40 clumps of the fungus per square metre.

Nowadays, farmers uncover a maximum of five pieces per square metre, he said.

Output had slipped to 3.5 per cent of what it was 25 years ago, he said, because of aggressive harvesting.

An industry manufacturing substitutes had grown because the fungus cannot be mass farmed, the report said.

A sales clerk at Yishenyuan, a Beijing trade company that promotes the fungus harvested from Qinghai, said prices of the fungus had climbed steadily over the past few years, and jumped 70 per cent over the past year to around 200 yuan per gram.