Kathmandu, June 17

A villager was shot dead in a remote mountainous area of Nepal and three others were injured in clashes over a rare and valuable fungus known as the “Himalayan Viagra” for its reputed aphrodisiac qualities, an official said today.

Every year, thousands of villagers in Nepal and Tibet harvest the parasitic fungus Cordyceps sinensis, known locally as yarshagumba, which grows on the body of a caterpillar. It can fetch huge sums in neighbouring China where it is used in herbal medicines, but is only found at certain elevations and for a few weeks a year.

Officials in the western district of Mugu where the clash occurred said they had dispatched a police team on Wednesday after receiving reports of the clash, but they only arrived this morning.

“One person was killed while three others were injured when a gang of 10-12 looters shot indiscriminately in the area on Wednesday night,” Mugu district chief Keshab Raj Sharma told AFP over phone. “Locals said the gang had stolen their collections.”

It is not the first time that violence has broken out over the yarshagumba harvest — in 2009 seven people were brutally murdered in a fight over harvesting rights. Two years later, the court convicted 19 villagers over the case.

Sharma said no medical teams had yet reached the spot. A rescue helicopter took off, but had been forced to turn back because of bad weather.

Yarshagumba, which means “summer plant, winter insect” in Tibetan, is only found above 3,500 metres and forms when the parasitic fungus lodges itself in a caterpillar, slowly killing it.

No definitive research has been published on the beneficial qualities of the fungus, but Chinese herbalists believe it boosts sexual performance.