|Nguyen Thi Hong, 35, cultivates a valuable medicinal herb for sale at competitive prices in the domestic and export markets. — Photo tienphong.vn
HA NOI (VNS) — Nguyen Thi Hong, 35, cultivates a valuable medicinal herb for sale at competitive prices in the domestic and export markets.
She has two production units in Thanh Oai District of Ha Noi and Da Lat City in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, where the cultivation of cordyceps militaris brings an annual revenue of VND12 billion (US$555,000).
Cordyceps is of the fungi genus that includes about 400 species. All Cordyceps species are parasites of mainly insects and other arthropods , while a few are parasites of other fungi. From late fall to early winter, the parasites live in pathogens. In summer, when temperatures rise, the mushroom grows into a plant.
Each month, Hong's workshop produces one tonne of fresh cordyceps, 200kg of dried cordyceps and 1.5 tonnes of powder.
Her products are exported to Japan, Singapore and Germany.
The cordyceps produced at her workshop were cheaper than the ones imported from Japan and the United States at VND180 million ($8,200) per kilogram, while the original product from China was worth VND1.8 billion ($8.2 million)per kilogram, Pham Tuan Anh, one of Hong's colleagues, said.
Last year, Hong's workshop started selling cordyceps seeds to people who wanted to plant them.
In 2003, after graduating from the College of Ha Noi Natural Science's biotechnology department, Hong worked for a person who studied several types of fungi.
She read many documents about lingzhi mushroom.
"One day, I saw a report in an English newspaper about cordyceps militaris. I thought it was very interesting," Hong was quoted as saying by Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper.
She decided to study the fungus, with which no one had achieved success at that time.
Hong began working on the methods of cultivating cordyceps militaris after researching documents for six years.
She asked friends to buy samples from Japan and South Korea, but could not succeed in planting them.
In 2009, she visited China to buy cordyceps bottles, worth VND5 million ($231), to plant them.
She studied the fungi and created a compound that has a structure identical to the silkworm species with which cordyceps often has a parasitic relationship.
She sold a piece of her land on a street and bought a larger plot in a village to build a workshop.
"Everyone thought I was not in my right mind because many people want to have a house near the street, and I do not," Hong said.
Unfortunately, she failed to cultivate the crop on a large scale.
In early 2012, a strange insect destroyed all 5,000 bottles of cordyceps, worth VND300 million ($13,900). By the end of that year, she planted more than 10,000 bottles again, but still failed, losing VND600 million ($27,700).
"More than 10,000 bottles of cordyceps broke, leading to an awful smell in the whole room. No one wanted to enter it," Hong said.
Not ready to give up, she studied the causes of her failure.
Tuan Anh, her colleague, went to China, and South Korea to consult experts about the reasons for fungi death. She had to spend a lot of money on each trip, Hong said.
She continued to invest more in research by taking loans from banks, and doing a research course.
In 2013, Hong tried to cultivate the fungus in 20 bottles only and this time, there was no failure. But she failed again when she cultivated on a much larger scale.
She discovered that the fungus seed she had bought for $231 from China was in poor condition. So she spent VND50 million ($2,300) on another sample.
After creating an artificial environment comprising a clean air system, and maintaining moisture and temperature suitable to cultivation, she succeeded..
"I felt the same joy as in welcoming the birth of the first child," Hong said.
Despite her success, no one believed her product was true cordyceps.
Hong offered her product for free to some people for two years to gain wider acceptance.
Now her products are sold in the market and have received positive feedback.
Hong's project has been expanded to Ha Noi, Da Lat, Vinh Phuc and the northern Son La mountain province.
Da Lat is a good place to produce fungi on a large scale.
Cordyceps is used to treat several diseases, apart from being used to strengthen the immune system, improve athletic performance, reduce the effects of aging and promote longer life, besides improving liver function in people with hepatitis B.
Its value as a medicinal mushroom is much more than gold due to its unique healing qualities. — VNS