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Yartsa Goenbub—Medicinal winter worms

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

The first time that I ever saw cordyceps (Yartsa Goenbub in Dzongkha) was probably when I was in primary school. We had a bottle of local wine at home (ara) and a single piece of bug-like fungus inside the same bottle. When I asked my dad what it was, he told me it was "a bug but almost a plant." It confused and scared me. I often wondered why my parents occasionally drank that wine and made me drink the water in which the bug was dipped or soaked. I used to hesitate to drink it because, back then, it didn’t make sense to me, but now that I’m older, it totally makes sense.

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Cordyceps are parasitic fungi that feed on insects and caterpillars. Long extensions of stem sprout from the body when these fungi attack the host and replace its tissue. It also frequently alters the behaviour of the host insect, causing it to travel to an area where the release of fungal spores is favourable.

They belong to species from the Clavicipitaceae fungi family, which has over 700 varieties. It is found in the Tibetan Plateaus and locations around it that are higher than 3,000 meters, such as the Chinese provinces of Tibet, as well as in other places like Bhutan, India, and Nepal on the southern flank of the Himalayas.

These winter worms have a long history of being used as an effective kidney and adrenal tonic. According to studies, cordyceps may improve aerobic capacity, strength, stamina, and physical performance, as well as speed up recovery times, support the lungs, lower cholesterol, increase libido, and improve fertility. Moreover, it also reduces inflammation and fights free radicals as a strong antioxidant and immunomodulatory agent.

The Wild Cordyceps Sinensis from Bhutan is a highly desired medicinal fungus that expands 5000 meters within the Himalayan range of elevation region. The cost of Cordyceps Sinensis is significantly higher due to its numerous advantages and constrained supply. As a result, the Royal Government of Bhutan has given a lot of attention to the collection of this natural fungus. Bhutan's highlands are home to adaptable and changing livelihoods. While raising yaks and sheep was originally the main source of income for highlanders, cordyceps is now their main source of income. The practice of collecting condoms was legalized in 2004. The authorization for the collection was only provided to Highlanders. The Department of Forest and Park Services keeps a close eye on the situation, and if anyone is caught unlawfully collecting cordyceps, they will face stiff penalties.

The most expensive cordyceps were auctioned off for Nu 2.8 million (for one kilogram) at Sephu, Wangdue, this year, whereas the lowest was sold for Nu 0.29 million.

The Bhutan Wild Cordyceps now have a tea bag product that is available in Bhutanese stores and is also sold on online shopping platforms.

Bhutan Cordyceps Tea is believed to provide a whole new level of physical and psychological strength. The immune system in our body is also nourished by tea which helps to slow down ageing. Additionally, it functions as an antioxidant and an anti-carcinogen, replenishing our body's kidneys and digestive systems. The primary ingredients for the tea are organic wild Himalayan Cordyceps, Darjeeling green tea, and Tulsi.

Picture courtesy: Instagram: @bhutancordyceps

The preparation of the tea includes the following steps:

• To get the finest flavour and infusion, we need to pour boiling water over a tea bag that has been placed in a cup and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes.

• To maximize the advantages, we need to avoid adding milk and sugar.

• A little spoonful of honey or two fresh mint leaves can be added to the cordyceps tea to enhance its flavour.

•We can also keep our spent tea bag in the fridge to use as an eye pack or a face cleanser instead of throwing it away.

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