When most people think of tea, they don’t picture drinking boiled caterpillar-like fungus. I have never tried it, nor do I expect to (unless I win the lottery), but believe me, it’s a real drink. At about $550 for a bag of 25, these worms are also really expensive. I would consider cultivating them, but they cannot be farmed. The “golden worm” only occurs naturally in the high-alpine meadows of Tibet.
Why so much money for worm tea? These creatures aren’t really worms. They are ghost moth larva that live underground. What makes the situation unusual is that a parasitic fungus, called Ophiocordyceps sinensias, infects the larva. (Sounds pretty delicious, I know.)
People ingest this remedy to reap all sorts of health benefits, including relief from back pain, impotence, jaundice, fatigue, high cholesterol, tuberculosis, anemia, and bronchitis, just to name a few. Studies have shown that it contains an immune-system modulator and an anti-viral agent. According to National Geographic, one cancer patient claims that it helped her become physically and psychologically stronger.
The truth is that this is not the first instance in human history in which people have decided to boil weird things in water. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, people have made tea from bear gall bladders. In fact, the Asiatic Black Bear faces extinction as a result of such activities. Similarly, although the Yartsa larva-fungus is already dead when it is picked from the ground, it has been gathered so much that it does not have time to fully replenish itself. It takes a little time for the fungus to grow large enough to devour the body of the caterpillar and erupt from its head.
National Geographic August 2012
Endangered Species Handbook