Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Asian medicine: A fungus in decline

Estimates of wildlife trade for traditional Asian medicine should include that of the caterpillar fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis (Nature 480, S101–S103; 2011).

The fungus, used to treat asthma and other diseases, is legally harvested on a huge scale in Tibet and the Himalayas, and is one of the world's most expensive natural medical resources. Some 85–185 tonnes are collected annually by the local population for a global market worth between US$5 billion and $11 billion.

Large increases in the price (up by 900% from 1997 to 2008) and trade of caterpillar fungus have encouraged more intensive harvesting. My informal survey of harvesters in the Himalayas reveals that caterpillar fungus abundance is dwindling: the average harvest per collector dropped by around half between 2006 and 2010. Harvesters are extending their range as a result, risking overexploitation of a pristine landscape and more ecosystem degradation.

Conservation efforts must be initiated to halt the decline of this species, which is causing a loss of biodiversity and threatening local livelihoods.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Uttam Babu Shrestha.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Shrestha, U. Asian medicine: A fungus in decline. Nature 482, 35 (2012).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing