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Yarcha Gumbu (Cordyceps)

Every man needs to have a go-to guy.  Not in the Jersey wise-guy,“I know a guy” (if you want to buy hubcaps or something else that probably fell off a truck), but someone you can count on in a pinch.

Lhakpa, a common Tibetan male name, also means ‘hand’ which seems to be fitting as my translator, clinic assistant, price-bargainer, and friend, all wrapped up into one is called Lhakpa.  I met Lhakpa at the Dolpo clinic and is the friend I wrote about earlier that took Laura and I up to Pharping the first day of Losar to meet Dudjom Tinley Norbu Rinpoche along with the other kids from Dolpo, and the friend who invited us over for the Tibetan back-yard-style Losar dance and music celebration the following day.  The region of Dolpo, one could say, is really the farthest hill out there.

Dolpo is located along the Tibetan (erm.. Chinese) border and probably resembles old Tibet better than Tibet now does as it hasn’t experienced the influx of Han Chinese, banning of religion, and cultural genocide that is still a morbid work in progress for our red friends to the north.

Lucky for Lhakpa and his people, Dolpo happens to be on the other side of an imaginary line drawn in the sand (perhaps snow would fit the expression better here) separating the two countries.  These Himalayan regions of Nepal are quite special in this that the Tibetan culture is still alive and well.  For the Diamond Way Buddhists out there reading this, it is why the Kathmandu center recently purchased land in Mustang province, which shares in common the remote, high-altitude nature of Dolpo.  Lots of mountains, lots of snow, secluded and perfect.

‘Himalaya,’ well-known film about the nomadic people of Dolpo

Dolpo is at about 4,000 meters, or 12,000 feet above sea-level.  The village where Lhakpa is from is called Dhotaraph and has a population of about 1,000 people.  At altitudes that high, the Dolpo are only able to live in their village for a portion of the year.  During winter they come to Kathmandu to trade and to live.  Now days they fly down, but generations ago they would herd their yak and sheep down from the mountains, making the 1-month trek to Kathmandu by foot as the mountains are too steep for the horses to come down from.  When the ice and snow thaws in Spring, they pack up their things and head for the hills in the same fashion as their ancestors have done for many generations.  Many of them, including Lhakpa, stay in Kathmandu year-round in order to attend school.

Lhakpa has four other siblings, one brother who is a monk, and three sisters.  His parents are farmers and grow potatoes and tsampa (barley).  These happen to be the only vegetative foodstuffs that are edible at this altitude.  All other sources of calories come from those with four legs and a fur coat and some rice if they have traded with the Chinese.  His family tends to 20 yak and 100 head of sheep.  From these they get wool, milk, cheese and meat.

Freshly picked yarcha gumbu

Another product from the Dolpo region is “yarcha gumbu.”  “Yarcha” means “summer grass” and “gumbu” means “winter insect.”  Summer-grass, winter-insect.  Medicinals from all the kingdoms of species, including animals, fungi (penicillin in the West), plants and so on, have been used medicinally for thousands of years.  Tibetan medicine and Chinese medicinals are no exception to this rule.  Important for both disciplines, “yarcha gumbu,” in Tibetan or “dong chong xia cao” in Mandarin, is a highly sought after and fetches high prices once it finally reaches the Americas and Europe where it is known in Latin as ‘cordyceps.’  Like any product that is in short supply and firm demand, it often isn’t even close to being as pure as the original source as it goes through multiple middle-men along the way who may add filler or product of a lower quality in with the original.  In Dolpo and other areas of the high Himalayas, they can harvest enough to supplement what little they make from their subsistence farms.  At the Chinese border a single yarcha gumbu sells for 400-500 Nepali rupee, which about six to seven dollars, given the current exchange rate and 500 rupees will go a LONG way in Nepal.  In one day of harvesting, they can find anywhere from 25-50 yarcha gumbu.  It is similar to our wild ginseng in Wisconsin (not the Wisconsin ginseng which grows in the farms, but the ruddy, old, tough roots one can still find in the wild which can sell for hundreds of dollars a root) to the right buyer.  *Note to Wisconsin friends, don’t pick wild ginseng unless you know what you’re doing, because if you pick and try to sell a root that is too young you can be fined thousands of dollars.*

Yarcha gumbu

Cordyceps itself is some product of worm/fungus/grass.  I’m not entirely clear on the process it goes through, but its something like this: right now, there is special kind of worm underneath the ice.  I’m not sure when they die, but they eventually do.  There is a fungus that that feeds off the worm, and from the fungus, there is a grass that’s also somehow involved as it feeds off the fungus.  Through some synthesis of the three species, a medicinal substance is produced.  In traditional Chinese medicine, dong chong xia cao is used to treat respiratory disorders such as asthma, emphysema and other respiratory diseases as a result of deficiency.

It may be used alone or with other herbs in combination in a formula.  The Tibetans pan fry it and take it with a bit of warm alcohol such as barley wine (chang).

origin here

The Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli), also known as the Ghost Swift, is a moth of the family Hepialidae. It is common throughout Europeexcept for the far south-east. This species is often considered the only species in the genus Hepialus and a number of previously included species is now reclassified into other genera. However, other authorities retain a number of species in the Hepialus genus.

Ghost Moth on a Faroese stamp



The male has a wingspan of about 44 mm and both forewings and hindwings are pure white (although in H. h. thulensis, found in Shetland and the Faroe Islands, there are buff-coloured individuals). The female is larger (wingspan about 48 mm) and has yellowish-buff forewings with darker linear markings and brown hindwings. The adults fly from June to August and are attracted to light. The species overwinters as a larva.

The Ghost Moth gets its name from the display flight of the male, which hovers, sometimes slowly rising and falling, over open ground to attract females. In a suitable location several males may display together in a lek.

The larva is whitish and maggot-like and feeds underground on the roots of a variety of wild and cultivated plants (see list below). The species can be an economically significant pest in forestnurseries.



Benefits Of Cordyceps Sinensis

To date, the medical recognition of cordyceps mushrooms spans fifteen hundred years already. It originated from the Shepherds in Tibetan mountains that discovered the use of the mushroom to cure problems with organ functions, immune system and on well-being and general strength of people. The positive effects were first noticed on the cattle that were being tended in the mountains of Tibet.

Upon discovering that it also has a positive effect on human health, the popularity of the cordyceps mushroom increased and the mushroom was further studied. It was later found out that the mushrooms are also excellent cure for asthma, coughs, chest congestion, wheezing, weak lungs and shortness of breathing.

People who wanted to boost their energy weakened by respiratory problems can resort to taking cordyceps. This could enhance their vitality and perform better in physical labor, activity and sport. In ancient medicine, cordyceps was used in the treatment of an overall fatigue, debilitation and weakness. The fungus was also used in stimulating energy to help a person perform activities required and also helps in facilitating deep and restful sleep.

Cordyceps is also served as an aphrodisiac that maximizes sexual performance and desire. In ancient Chinese, Cordyceps was used to cure males with erectile problems. It was also able to treat problems with infertility and impotence. The fungus also helps slow down the process of aging by rejuvenating the body thus encouraging life’s longevity. It helps in rebuilding physical potency and acts against stressors that hasten the aging process of cells. It is an extremely potent antioxidant that helps in addressing problems on degenerative illnesses.

It also has the capacity to lower the bad LDL cholesterol in the body and increase the HDL level. This benefit helps in reducing illnesses like strokes or heart diseases. The Cordyceps mushroom helps in thinning the blood clots or formation of plaques that clogs the blood vessels. Moreso, the mushroom had been used in treatment problems of kidney malfunction.

Remarkably, research in China during the 70’s showed that the Cordyceps helps in restraining cancer cells. It aids in the reduction of tumors and also assists in the coping ability of people undergoing radiation treatment and chemotherapy.

Cordyceps is also considered a culinary delicacy in China and is used in soups and brews with poultry and pork. But since it is highly priced because of scarcity, the mushroom is only available and accessible to the wealthy in China during the ancient times. The Chinese had been using Cordyceps mushroom as part of their traditional medicines for centuries already.

Check out Cordyceps Mushroom extracts here:

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