Fungus with libido-boosting power

Although it sounds more like something against which you should be vaccinated than an ingredient of love, yarsagumba is fast becoming one of the most talked-about aphrodisiacs in the world.

Its notoriety hasn’t sprung from some new scientific study proving the ingredient’s power in black and white terms. No, yarsagumba is the new “it” food because its transport and sales have become as legally controlled as drugs. Yes, there are yarsagumba busts. People go to prison for this aphrodisiac. (In fact, there were several murders linked to the plant!)

Why? Because this Asian fungus is most typically found in the ancient homeland of the Manang people of Nepal. Only a select few are permitted to harvest yarsagumba. But because it is considered the one of the most expensive ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, poaching has become big business.

A dangerous mushroom spore

This rare ingredient only grows above approximately 11,000 feet and is found, as far as I know, only in Nepal. It is the spore of a particular mushroom which–I wish I was kidding–settles on the heads of caterpillars, grows through the head and sucks out the caterpillar’s energy, eventually killing its host. By spring, when they are harvested the yarsagumba resemble mummified caterpillars and are transported whole. To serve, they’re crumbled over cereal, rice, whatever.

Improving sexual function

Leave it to the scientists at Stanford to examine the fact behind this fable. In a controlled study they found an increase in the 17-ketosteroid in the urine of men who had eaten the fungus. (This indicates a possible improvement in sexual function among caterpillar mummy fungus eaters.) In another, slightly less scientific poll, 64% of users claimed noticeable improvement in sexual function.

The more industrious among the believers have tried to cultivate the fungus phenom. But thus far, efforts have proved fruitless and the value of yarsagumba, as its reputation reaches further and wider, continues to drive up both price and allure of what has to be one of the aphrodisiac world’s least savory ingredients.

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