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Mar 11 2012

The most revolting aphrodisiac ever

All right, is there nothing so disgusting that someone somewhere won’t eat it in the belief that it will make their penis hard? Nepal is suffering from goldrush-style violence over the harvesting of yarsagumba, a purported ‘natural viagra’. This is yarsagumba:

Yarsagumba is the result of a bizarre parasitic relationship between fungus and insect. Spores of the Cordyceps mushroom invade and consume the larvae of the Himalayan bat moth, which live underground at altitudes of 10,000 to 16,000 feet for as long as five years, feeding on roots before they commence their metamorphosis into moths.

After the fungal spores have killed and mummified the larvae, they send up a spindly brown stem, a tiny knob-headed mushroom – and then they are very likely to be picked.

Sound familiar? It’s Cordyceps, the parasitic fungus that alters the behavior of its insect hosts. The Nepalese are carefully gleaning high-altitude fields, looking for shriveled dead insects with fungal stalks sprouting from them, and selling them at high prices on the global market.

What was the first person to pick up one of these and chew on it thinking? “I’m desperately starving and about to die”?

Anyway, the article claims that it’s actually effective.

The fungus’s reputation is powered by the anecdotal reports of consumers as much as by ancient tradition: In other words, it appears to work. And medical research has backed up claims for its efficacy. A study at Stanford University’s medical school found an increase of 17-ketosteroids in the urine of men taking daily doses of yarsagumba, which indicates an increased production of androgen and other sex hormones in the adrenal gland and testicles.

Controlled animal tests offer credible evidence that regular yarsagumba use decreases recovery time between orgasms and increases the volume of semen production. In another blind trial on human subjects, 65 percent of Cordyceps eaters reported an enhanced sex drive.

I don’t know if I quite believe it. I looked for some of these articles, and not much turns up on PubMed. There are a few articles in places like The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (not very credible), and a few studies in tissue culture that show an effect on steroid synthesis in tumor cells. Nothing incredibly definitive, although I suppose it’s possible it has some effect…but nothing that justifies going all gangster over it.

Well, other than that gullible people will go crazy over imaginary magical herbs.

72 comments

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  1. 1
    stonyground

    I’m not quite sure why a fungus should automatically be revolting, I use regular mushrooms all the time in my cooking. Reindeer eat lichen that has halucigenics in it, you can experience all kinds of wonderful things if you can hold your nose and drink reindeer piss, now that is revolting. Knowing how magical thinking works, would it be a safe bet to assume that these particular mushrooms look like erect penises? If this becomes a craze it may stop the idiots from killing rhinos and tigers, that would be a good thing.

  2. 2
    Glen Davidson

    Probably just aliens taking over men’s bodies, knowing that any hint of sex drives out thought.

    Anyway, that’s probably what they’ll do if they ever want to take over, on the off chance that this is just a terrestrial fungus.

    Glen Daivdson

  3. 3
    xenithrys

    This craze could be very adaptive for the fungus if it can manage the host switching, ridding the world of magic believers at the same time.

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    Meanwhile, Viagra actually works.

  5. 5
    xenithrys

    Yes, it’s doctrine of signatures nonsense. I stumbled on a doctrine of signatures web page yesterday (http://blog.landscapedesign.co.nz/healthy-living-lifestyle/the-doctrine-of-signatures/archives/138/), at a seemingly respectable gardening site.

    “Bananas, Cucumber and Zucchini target the size and strength of the male sexual organ.”

    I love the 4-chambered tomato claim, illustrated by a cross-section that shows, to the contrary, that tomatoes have only 2 chambers (locules). (Although some cultivated varieties have more, which raises the flesh:pulp ratio.) When I went looking for this page again today I was shocked to see how many other web sites are promoting such nonsense.

  6. 6
    erichoug

    HAHA, My ex girlfriend used to buy those things to ship back to her Mom in China. When she told me what it was my first reactions was “Seriously?” But, these are a staple of traditional Chinese medicine for treating lots of different things. In the case of my ex’s mom it was basically treating being a hypochondriac. Damn woman was dying for at least the 11 years I was dating here daughter.

    But, my ex would spend hundreds of dollars buying, packing and shipping them to China. Not quite sure why her mom wanted ones from Texas when she probably could have bought them In Huludao(葫芦岛) for a lot cheaper.

    Supposedly there is an outfit around Texas that grows these. But, I am a bit doubtful of that.

  7. 7
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    The most revolting aphrodisiac ever

    Bad move.

  8. 8
    Putting On The Foil

    Meanwhile, Viagra actually works.

    …and is often found as a “contaminant” in herbal/natural ED preparations.

  9. 9
    jademussreg

    Reminds me of this: http://youtu.be/qLGxubfC1Ik?t=11s
    It’s a post-apocalyptic survival game, the catastrophe being an outbreak of a Cordyceps-like fungus that infects humans. Notice how the fungus blooms from the head of the infected, vaguely reminiscent of the aliens from Mars Attacks?

  10. 10
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    But, my ex would spend hundreds of dollars buying, packing and shipping them to China. Not quite sure why her mom wanted ones from Texas when she probably could have bought them In Huludao(葫芦岛) for a lot cheaper.

    Or why her mom couldn’t pay for her own snake oil.

  11. 11
    brianthomson

    Believe it or not, one type of Cordyceps (Isaria sinclairii) has found uses in conventional medicine. It’s the basis for a class of immunosuppressant drugs, such as Fingolimod, which has been approved for multiple sclerosis patients under the name “Gilenya” (Novartis). It’s not “alternative” medicine if it actually works ..!

  12. 12
    philipranger

    As soon as I saw the word Cordyceps, I got all squirmy. My high school Biology teacher loved playing video clips which both amazed and terrified us. A mind controlling spore, even one which only affected ants, is some scary sci-fi sounding stuff.

  13. 13
    M can help you with that.

    You think that’s a weird thing to eat? I eat congealed apocrine-gland secretions with mold growing on/in the mass.

    It’s all a matter of what counts as “normal”, isn’t it?

  14. 14
    Crimbly

    Watch the beautiful Wild China from the BBC Natural History Unit. They document the collection and selling of Ophiocordyceps sinensis in Nepal, in the third episode.

    However, Wild China remains one of the most gorgeous wildlife documentaries I’ve ever seen, despite this. Watch it. :)

    My apologies, I tried putting in links but it didn’t work :( .

  15. 15
    Kevin Anthoney

    Maybe the penis-shaped thing that grows out of their head shortly after eating it is bigger than their actual penis?

  16. 16
    'Tis Himself

    I eat congealed apocrine-gland secretions with mold growing on/in the mass.

    I’m also fond of blue cheese.

  17. 17
    'Tis Himself

    WARNING! DANGER!

    Azkyroth’s post #7 has a link to TV Tropes.

  18. 18
    Anthony K

    I’m also fond of blue cheese.

    Alas, my favourite watering hole no longer serves it as a dip for dunking portions of the diminutive descendants of theropods that have been deep fried and slathered with an acidic paste containing irritants taken from the fruits of various members of the genus Capsicum.

    As a result, I end up drinking way more rotten grain juice to cut the heat.

  19. 19
    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    It’s that ‘knob-headed’ bit that makes the magic. And perfectly described the sort of people that promote it – a wonderful twofer.

  20. 20
    llewelly

    … and increases the volume of semen production.

    It is difficult to imagine how this could be seen as a plus.

    (Except, of course, by those who can’t distinguish pornography from reality.)

  21. 21
    ibyea

    If even PZ is grossed out by it, you know you crossed a line.

  22. 22
    nemothederv

    I could go for some undercooked gallus menstrations along with the stripped flesh from the just behind the spine of a sow. Yum!

  23. 23
    Anthony K

    I could go for some undercooked gallus menstrations along with the stripped flesh from the just behind the spine of a sow. Yum!

    I just left the thread to use heat to denature the proteins via of some of those very objects. (Although I’m pretty sure “menstrations”, even spelled correctly, doesn’t apply to anything a member of G. gallus does.)

  24. 24
    coragyps

    Do you think Rush Limbaugh’s health insurance will pay for this stuff?

  25. 25
    Christoph Burschka

    Even if it works, fungal stalks growing out of your head would probably be something of a turnoff. :P

  26. 26
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    You think that’s a weird thing to eat? I eat congealed apocrine-gland secretions with mold growing on/in the mass.

    It’s all a matter of what counts as “normal”, isn’t it?

    Although if THAT resembles your penis, a la doctrine of signatures, you need to get the hell to a doctor. O.O

  27. 27
    BrianX

    This sounds like something to keep the SCP Foundation apprised of…

  28. 28
    nemothederv

    @23
    That’s how the coneheads refer to them but I yield to a more credible source

  29. 29
    chrislawson

    At least they’re not hacking the penises off endangered animals, so there’s that.

  30. 30
    littlejohn

    I’m of Scottish descent. My people eat haggis. We also consider burly men throwing a telephone pole to be a sport. I can’t criticize anyone.

  31. 31
    tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach

    We also consider burly men throwing a telephone pole to be a sport

    That’s ‘burly men in skirts’.

  32. 32
    vexorian

    So, you know what my first thought about this was?

    What if the Nepalese are actually being controlled by the parasites to spread a new form of mind control?

    Any smart enough parasite would know that woo about aphrodisiacs is the easiest way to get humans to eat anything.

  33. 33
    chigau (違う)

    vexorian
    That mind-parasite thing might explain American politics.

  34. 34
    billygutter01

    From “2010:The Year We Make Contact”

    “If it has to taste like this, I don’t care if my electrolytes are imbalanced or not.”

    I would offer:

    “If it has to taste like this, I don’t care if my electrolytes penis are is imbalanced erect or not.

  35. 35
    billygutter01

    *Ahem

    Close that quotation for me will you?

    Grrrr… That awkward moment when you preview and still miss the obvious…

  36. 36
    ChristineRose

    I dunno, a quick trip to Google-land brings up not only the aforementioned tiger penis (pretty gross) but also such wonders fetal duck in an egg, sea cucumber (phallic), Spanish Fly (from an actual flying bug) and cobra blood (what?). I suspect this all belongs to the goldfish swallowing school of logic–get drunk, prove your manhood by eating something repulsive, have sex with impressed female, wake up hungover and a dad-to-be. Evolution in action.

  37. 37
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    AZKYROTH! You just had to link there, didn’t you? I will resist! I will not– *click*

  38. 38
    sc_c408e3b818e5fbf342058a2552e37187

    I bet if someone said Amanita muscaria was an aphrodisiac some knob-headed fools would go eat it.
    Paul

  39. 39
    Evader, the parasite-infested branch on the evolutionary tree

    My favourite aphrodisiac? Watching a woman undress.

    Call me old fashioned…

  40. 40
    Ring Tailed Lemurian

    stonyground

    Reindeer eat lichen that has halucigenics in it, you can experience all kinds of wonderful things if you can hold your nose and drink reindeer piss

    sc_c408e3b818e5fbf342058a2552e37187 (paul)

    I bet if someone said Amanita muscaria was an aphrodisiac some knob-headed fools would go eat it.

    Hang on – a) I thought the reindeer were fed Amanita muscaria, not “hallucinogenic lichen” (is there such a thing?) to filter out the nasties and then the piss was drunk, and b) Hallucinogenics can act as aphrodisiacs by greatly

  41. 41
    Ring Tailed Lemurian

    ^ hey, what’s up? I never hit the “submit” button there! And there I was, congratulating myself on remembering my login details after >3 months away – Hi people)

    cont’d – … heightening the sense of touch. (Sex can last for 6 hours or more on LSD, mescalin, or psylocibin, in my experience).

  42. 42
    chigau (違う)

    ring tailedlemurian
    *whew*
    I thought you’d been struck by lightening or something.

  43. 43
    rorschach

    If it was 100% pure V*agra growing out of the larva of a moth on a stalk, I wouldn’t eat it, thank you very much.

  44. 44
    Ring Tailed Lemurian

    ^ *sigh* I think I’ll disappear for another 3 months – psylocybin ofc, “psylocibin” is one of the few drugs I’ve never taken.

    “doctrine of signatures” – Someone in Cambodia (where they eat absolutely anything) was trying to tell me that eating snakes makes your penis longer. I asked them why it didn’t make your limbs fall off, or your skin turn scaly, or your tongue go forked.
    They thought I was mad.

  45. 45
    Ring Tailed Lemurian

    Hi, chigau – funnily enough, I almost was. At Lake Toba it hit the water not far from me while I was swimming.

  46. 46
    Glen Davidson

    I thought you’d been struck by lightening or something.

    Nah, it was Michael Jackson who was struck by lightening.

    Glen Davidson

  47. 47
    chigau (違う)

    Glen Davidson
    *har*
    (We shouldn’t make fun of The Dead™.)

  48. 48
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    @Glen Davidson — *groan* As a MJ fangirl (lifelong!), I’m sitting here wondering if that wasn’t a veiled reference to, uh, that skin condition where your skin pigmentation is slowly destroyed.

  49. 49
    Glen Davidson

    @WMDKitty: Veiled?

    I got curious about what this yarsagumba actually tasted like, since some fungi taste delicious, some awful, and I ran across this:

    I had left for Hungung to research a book about K2’s heroes, seek peace and avoid frustrations at home. I met the yarsagumba dealer on the way back. His gnarled arms and dented face made me think of a tree stump. A group huddled around him, and he unfolded a grubby handkerchief that revealed the yarsagumba.

    He combed his fingers through the pile. Speaking in Nepali, he said you should chew the “worm bean” straight, but you can also grind it to a paste, brew it as tea, rub it on your skin or sprinkle it on food. Its value exceeds $100,000 per kilo. But he liked me and would cut a deal.

    I distrust hard drugs; life is psychedelic enough without them. I didn’t imagine yarsagumba could be a narcotic. Everyone described it as medicine. I haggled, bought some worms and, along with my friends, ate one. It tasted like English Breakfast Tea and had the texture of wood. I waited for the energy boost to power me up the 1,200-meter climb planned that day. Nothing happened.

    At camp that evening in Num, a villager examined our worms. We’d been scammed, she said. For that inferior stuff to work, we’d need to gorge ourselves on two dozen pieces. Playing it safe, I swallowed another. My friend Pasang Lama took two.

    A few hours later, my vision blurred. The ground morphed, wobbling and sinking beneath my boots. Black polka dots scattered across my field of vision, winking off, on, off, on, then darting away in green streaks. My jaw vibrated. Everything I touched was velvet. Time turned frenzied, cartoonish. Drugs aren’t for everyone, but that caterpillar was working for me.

    We crouched inside a hut around a fire, eating rice and dahl. Nobody else felt the effects of the half-plant, half-animal. Some claimed I was faking it. Pasang swallowed another. If I felt weird, this 25-year-old mountaineering prodigy wouldn’t let me go it alone. Oblivious, I sang a Sherpa tune resembling “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and shoveled handfuls of rice into my mouth. The yarsagumba made everything taste like truffles in A-1 steak sauce.

    “How to Climb
    Rock and Ice / 182
    Finding Nirvana
    It was just medicine. Right?”

    Sounds interesting, and really not revolting, although this doesn’t seem to be the typical experience (dosage, I’m guessing).

    But I do hope that it isn’t collected into extinction, as it seems it could be.

    Glen Davidson

  50. 50
    John Morales

    [meta]

    WMDKitty, you refer to vitiligo, I suspect.

  51. 51
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    @Glen Davidson — Okay, not so veiled.

    @John Morales — Thank you, I thought that’s what it was called. (I wanted to get my thought down before it went “poof” and disappeared into the ADHD “ether”.)

  52. 52
    jeremygoard

    I eat fermented skate, which smells of ammonia and anaesthetizes the shit outta your tongue. Can’t say that it affects hardness one way or the other, so much as ensures that nobody else gets close enough to use the hardness with…

  53. 53
    chigau (違う)

    jeremygoard

    I eat fermented skate,

    Why?

  54. 54
    left0ver1under

    My first thought can be summed up in two words: The Stuff.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0090094/

  55. 55
    rrpostal

    Thank goodness it’s not tigers or gorillas or something that would make me sick in another way.

  56. 56
    seanhart

    The fungus’s reputation is powered by the anecdotal reports of consumers as much as by ancient tradition: In other words, it appears to work.

    That certainly wins the prize for most credulous thing I have read this month.

  57. 57
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Well there are worse things to eat and drink I guess. I’m not keen to try one but it doesn’t make me overy squicked out. Beats eating tiger penii and rhino horns – as I’m person number 101 to point out here.

    Cockroaches are a malayasian delciacy apparently. People all over the planet do eat strange things. [Shrug.] Surprised PZ is quite so grossed out by this.

    @1. stonyground : 11 March 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Reindeer eat lichen that has halucigenics in it, you can experience all kinds of wonderful things if you can hold your nose and drink reindeer piss, now that is revolting.

    Er, you know this *how* exactly?!? ;-)

    Wonder who was first to try that!?

  58. 58
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Weird fungi have notheing on ambergris for repulsive ‘aphrodisiacs.’
    @ring tailed lemurian
    Yeah, the hallucinogen is amanita muscaria. You can eat the mushrooms yourself if you boil or dry them first, and human purine will also carry the chemicals. It’s my understanding that people get 3-4 highs out of the same batch of mushrooms.

  59. 59
    John Morales

    [meta + OT]

    Dalillama,

    It’s my understanding that people get 3-4 highs out of the same batch of mushrooms.

    Taking the piss gets you off?

  60. 60
    Brain Hertz

    All right, is there nothing so disgusting that someone somewhere won’t eat it in the belief that it will make their penis hard?

    No.

    Glad to be able to be able to clear that up. I’ll be here all day if you need anything else…

  61. 61
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    @59
    That’s it in a nutshell, yes.

  62. 62
    joedelaney

    Why isn’t there more of an effort to promote sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil (Viagra-type drugs) as conservation tools? Cheap, effective, and far more replaceable than tigers or rhinocerii.

  63. 63
    Ring Tailed Lemurian

    WMDKitty –

    As a MJ fangirl (lifelong!), I’m sitting here wondering if that wasn’t a veiled reference to, uh, that skin condition where your skin pigmentation is slowly destroyed.

    A “veiled” reference? *giggles*

  64. 64
    keenacat

    I can’t help it. All I can think of now is:
    Helloooo I’m an aphrosidiac!
    You’re welcome.

  65. 65
    jayarrrr

    “What was the first person to pick up one of these and chew on it thinking? “I’m desperately starving and about to die”?”

    Good point. What happened then?
    “I’m still starving, but my GAWD, I got a Boehner a cat couldn’t scratch!”

  66. 66
    JeffreyD

    I eschew drugs when possible. I prefer the good old fashioned way to arousal = Terminator/Watership Down crossover slash/horror fanfic illustrated porn.

    Or is that TMI?

  67. 67
    chigau (違う)

    Terminator/Watership Down crossover slash/horror fanfic illustrated porn
    ooohh!
    Link?

  68. 68
    JeffreyD

    chigau –

    Link?

    Nah, keeping this one private to keep the weirdo’s (present company excepted) out.

  69. 69
    WharGarbl

    @StevoR
    #57

    Er, you know this *how* exactly?!? ;-)

    Wonder who was first to try that!?

    Probably from this:
    7 Species that get high more than we do.
    See #4

  70. 70
    w00dview

    If this becomes a craze it may stop the idiots from killing rhinos and tigers, that would be a good thing.

    Species going endangered because of habitat loss or being tasty is tragic enough but species in danger of extinction because of woo? Words can not describe how pissed off that makes me. New-agers ranting about the evils of western medicine really need to see the damage alternative medicine has done to biodiversity.

  71. 71
    TonyJ

    Species going endangered because of habitat loss or being tasty is tragic enough but species in danger of extinction because of woo? Words can not describe how pissed off that makes me.

    I like Anthony Bourdain’s idea of giving everyone shopping for rhino horn or tiger penis a free sample of Viagra and saying “Check it out, unlike your ‘aphrodisiacs’, this stuff actually works. Now knock it off with the rhinos and tigers!”

  72. 72
    JeffreyD

    Odd, I thought I made a post in this thread earlier today. Did anyone see me earlier?

    Apparently time for my meds.

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