Image: Yarshagumba fungus
Devendra Man Singh  /  AFP - Getty Images, file
Yarshagumba, which in Tibetan means "summer plant, winter insect" and has been dubbed the "Himalayan Viagra".
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/16/2011 6:44:45 AM ET 2011-11-16T11:44:45

A court in northwestern Nepal has convicted 19 villagers for the beating deaths of seven people from a rival community in a dispute over foraging for a rare fungus known as 'Himalayan Viagra.'

The Manang district court, in a remote area of the country, said six of the defendants were sentenced to 20 years in prison, while the remaining 13 were sentenced to two years.

Residents of Naar village attacked the seven rivals in June 2009 after they came to nearby mountainous areas to collect yarsagumba, a rare fungus that grows on the corpses of caterpillars.

It can fetch thousands of dollars per pound for its reputed effects as an aphrodisiac.

A report in the Himalayan Times said the perpetrators had buried the bodies of their victims but later exhumed and dumped into the Marsyangdi River.

Yarsagumba is widely regarded as an aphrodisiac in China and is considered a medicinal mushroom in Asian medicines.

In the the Himalayas, many poor villagers see it as a vital source of income but, according to a BBC report the trade has become so lucrative that the district government now operates a permit system for those who want to collect it. The substance is sometimes viewed as a curse.

In certain areas, the permits are more expensive for people from outside the region, the report said, while in other areas outsiders are completely banned from searching for the drug.

The court reached its verdict on Monday but details only emerged early on Wednesday.

Msnbc.com staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report

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