That wonderful little worm
Depending on their size, quality and arrangement in perfect shapes, they can cost tens of thousands of yuan, sometimes 9,000 yuan to 15,000 yuan (US$1,317-2,195) per 500 grams.
These are famous energy-reinforcing tonics for the weak, the elderly, for people who want to build their immune systems and cure just about anything ails them. Sore back and knees, cough, impotency? No problem, try a worm.
These tonics make very nice presents, especially if you want to impress someone and show off your wealth.
You can also buy tonics in smaller quantity or select them loose. These are much more affordable.
In coming weeks we will discuss a variety of famous, fundamental TCM herbs.
These include cordyceps ()(also called aweto, caterpillar fungus, Chinese caterpillar, or "summer worm, winter grass"); varieties of bird's nest (the nests of some swiftlets are made solely of saliva); dendrobe plant (orchid stems dried and wrapped in balls) and varieties of well-known ginseng root.
Cordyceps, a little dried yellow-brown worm, is famous in TCM and traditional Tibetan medicine and is exported worldwide. It is "neutral" in energy and reinforces both yin and yang energy.
It is commonly called aweto, dong chong xia cao (summer worm, winter grass) and caterpillar fungus. It's known in the West as a "medicinal mushroom."
This looks like segmented caterpillars with rings, 16 feet and a long darker growth extending from the head.
Aweto comes mainly from the Tibetan Plateau, Qinghai Province, western Sichuan Province, southwestern Gansu Province and northwestern Yunnan Province.
The creature is the result of a parasitic relationship between the fungus cordyceps and the larva of the ghost moth (thitarodes). The fungus germinates in the larva, kills and mummifies the insect host, and then the cordyceps grows from the head of the insect.
The larva is infected in winter and the fungus grows in summer, hence the name "summer worm, winter grass."
The dried brittle larva is 3 to 5 centimeters long, up to 0.8 centimeter thick with a coarse yellowish-brown surface. The slender sporophore growing from the head is dark brown and longer than the larva, 2-8 centimeters long. It smells like an earthy, fishy mushroom. The taste is rather sweet.
The fungus only grows above 5,000 meters. It is usually picked in summer and autumn and sun-dried to be used as herbs, says He Liqing, staff of Leiyunshang Pharmacy on Nanjing Road W.
Aweto is famous worldwide and was exported to Japan and southeast Asia as early as the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Demand is greater today.
It is sometimes sold in capsules, but it is difficult to guarantee the quality in this form and there are many fakes. It's best to buy your own and grind it to powder.
In TCM, aweto is "neutral" in energy and reinforces both yin and yang energy at the same time °?- yin energy in the lungs and yang energy in the kidneys (especially the reproductive system).
It is considered a powerful aid to the immune system. It reinforces essence and bone marrow, helps stop bleeding, resolve phlegm and relieve coughing. Its benefits were recorded in "Bencao Congxin" ("Materia Medica") by Wu Yiluo of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in 1757. The book describes 720 kinds of medicine.
Aweto travels through the lung and kidney meridians to take effect. It is used to treat, among other things, sore back and knees, impotence, night sweats, coughing, asthma and general weakness from long illness and old age. It helps women recover from childbirth.
Modern research confirms its benefits, notably its immune-boosting functions. It helps decrease blood fat, sooth nerves and is anti-bacterial.
Aweto can be used alone or with other herbs. It can be made into soup, tea or wine.
If you suffer from a sore back, impotence, ringing in the ears or poor memory, try cooking aweto soup with du zhong () (eucommia bark from the hardy rubber or gutta-percha tree).
If you are weak, easily catch colds and suffer from night sweats, cook aweto soup with chicken, duck, beef, pork or mutton.
It is not necessary to eat a lot at one time since the body cannot absorb it all, says pharmacy lady He. Usually, 3-5 grams a day is enough, but for immune benefits should be taken consistently for up to two months.
The best aweto is said to come from Yushu City, Qinghai Province.