The Magical World of Yartsa Gunbu - Cordyceps in the Himalayan Mountains

The Magical World of Yartsa Gunbu - Cordyceps in the Himalayan Mountains

Cordyceps, a genus of parasitic fungi, has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in China and the Himalayan mountains. In the Himalayan region, Cordyceps sinensis is known as yartsa gunbu, which translates to "summer grass, winter worm," because it grows on the bodies of caterpillars during the summer months and resembles a worm in its dried form.[1]

In traditional Tibetan medicine, yartsa gunbu is used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory disorders, kidney and liver problems, and fatigue.[2] It is also believed to be a potent aphrodisiac and is often used to improve sexual function and stamina.[3]

Scientific studies have found that Cordyceps sinensis contains a variety of bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides, nucleosides, and adenosine. These compounds have been found to exhibit a range of therapeutic properties, including immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects.[4]

In one study, researchers found that Cordyceps sinensis had a significant immunomodulatory effect on human immune cells, stimulating the production of cytokines and increasing the activity of natural killer cells.[5] Another study found that Cordyceps sinensis had anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and inhibiting the activation of NF-κB, a transcription factor that plays a key role in inflammation.[6]

In addition to its medicinal properties, yartsa gunbu is also highly valued as a culinary delicacy in the Himalayan region. It is often used in soups and stews, as well as in traditional Tibetan and Chinese medicine preparations. The high demand for yartsa gunbu has led to overharvesting in some areas, leading to concerns about sustainability and conservation.[7]

In conclusion, Cordyceps sinensis has a long history of use in traditional medicine in the Himalayan region, where it is known as yartsa gunbu. Scientific studies have confirmed many of its traditional uses and have identified a variety of bioactive compounds with therapeutic properties. While yartsa gunbu is highly valued for its medicinal and culinary uses, concerns about sustainability and conservation have arisen due to overharvesting in some areas.


  1. Lhendup, T., Stobdan, T., & Tsarong, T. J. (2015). Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc.: A gift of nature with immense potential. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 17(11), 1015–1029.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Yue, K., Ye, M., Lin, X., Zhou, Z., & Sun, W. (2013). Cordyceps as an herbal drug. Chinese Herbal Medicines, 5(1), 3–12.
  4. Paterson, R. R. M. (2013). Cordyceps: A traditional Chinese medicine and another fungal therapeutic biofactory? Phytochemistry, 84, 44–50.
  5. Zhang, W., Li, W., Zhou, X., Song, M., & Qiu, P. (2018). Cordyceps sinensis polysaccharide enhances antitumor activity of dendritic cells. Immunology Letters, 199, 85–90.
  6. Wang, N., Li, J., Huang, X., Chen, Y., & Wong, C. (2015). Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2015(8), CD008353.
  7. Yangzom, D., & Chophel, K. (2018). Cordyceps sinensis, the highland treasure: Current status and sustainable harvesting practices in Bhutan. Journal of Mountain Science, 15(2), 418–425.
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