Saturday, June 07, 2008

Caterpillar fungus: India's answer to Viagra?

Foreign drugs like Viagra and Cialis used for treating erectile dysfunction may soon get their Indian counterparts from a `caterpillar fungus' found in the high altitudes of Uttarakhand.

The caterpillar fungus locally called as `Keera ghas' or 'Yarchagumba' is said to have aphrodisiac properties, which will be used to manufacture drugs in a project undertaken by the Uttarakhand government, say the officials of the Herbal Research and Development Institute (HRDI) in Gopeshwar district.

"Yarchagumba, well known as an aphrodisiac agent, has been used in traditional forms of medicine for ages. Its application is most common in the Chinese medicine system. Considering this we will undertake a project to explore drug manufacturing possibilities from Yarchagumba," S.K. Singh, director of HRDI and additional secretary (herbs), told IANS on telephone from Gopeshwar.

The drug manufacturing project will be undertaken jointly by HRDI and the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, officials say.

"The joint project will probably be initiated in the next two months," a senior HRDI official said.

Prior to undertaking the project, the state government has directed the forest department to ensure protection of the caterpillar fungus found in high altitude regions in the state.

"Owing to its therapeutic importance, Yarchagumba is in great demand. At times unscrupulous elements manage to sell the caterpillar fungus illegally to fetch a good amount of money," said Uttarakhand chief wildlife warden Shrikant Chandola.

On the directive of the government, the van (forest) panchayats in the state have been instructed to take care of the caterpillar fungus. Now, only van panchayats are authorised to extract the caterpillar fungus, added Chandola.

There are as many as 1,500 van panchayats in the state, comprising local villagers who have been entrusted with the task of exploring the therapeutic importance of herbs and protecting them.

Interestingly, the forest officials pointed out, a kilogram of the caterpillar fungus costs around Rs.300,000.

"Over the years, the price of Yarchagumba has increased drastically. Its market price around five years ago was Rs.150,000 per kilogram,'' said Singh.

Earlier, the Pharmacists' Association of Uttarakhand had approached the government, asking it to check the illegal exploitation of the caterpillar fungus in view of its medicinal importance.

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