A Guide to Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis, Cordyceps militaris)
In the wild, Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) can be found growing out of larvae and arthropods during the early summer months. This parasitic fungus thrives in high altitudes and is commonly found in the Himalayan Plateau of Tibet and China. Often referred to as “Caterpillar fungus,” Cordyceps spores can infect an insect at various stages of its life cycle and feed off the nutrients within. Once the host is essentially mummified, the fruiting body is produced.
Because of the high elevation in which they grow, Cordyceps sinensis is considered rare and has become overharvested. Luckily, there is another species of Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) with similar medicinal benefits that can be cultivated on a substrate such as rice, soybean or grain. Learn more about how we source Cordyceps for our mushroom powders and tinctures here.
This functional mushroom has been traditionally used to boost energy, endurance, and stress relief. Let’s dive into the folklore and different uses of Cordyceps.
History of Use
Cordyceps has been used for millennia in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to fortify strength and energize the body. The first recorded use of Cordyceps was during the Tang Dynasty in China, around 620 AD. The fruiting body and the larvae it grows on are both considered healing foods.
Folklore has it that herders in the Himalayas noticed their animals were growing stronger and had more energy after grazing on Cordyceps. The herders began to ingest the mushroom themselves to experience its benefits. Soon enough, this fungus became a popular traditional medicine.
Benefits of Cordyceps
Energy & Exercise Performance
Research has shown that the use of Cordyceps increases adenosine triphosphate in the body(1). This organic compound drives energy to our cells, supporting elevated energy and endurance. In one study, participants took 3g of Cordyceps daily for 6 weeks. By the end of the study, the participants increased their V02 max by 7% compared to those who took a placebo and showed no change(2). V02 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during exercise, and increasing it means having more endurance.
Cordyceps mushrooms produce valuable polysaccharides that are shown to enhance immune function. This can prove invaluable for those who are immuno-suppressed or immuno-deficient(3). The compound cordycepin is shown to inhibit replication of cancer and tumor cells. It can slow down their growth while keeping white blood cell counts high, even during radiation(1).
Optimal Organ Function
This mushroom can support the healthful function of the liver, kidneys and lungs. One small study showed improvements in liver function after taking 6-9g of Cordyceps daily for 3 months(1). There are many studies that have shown Cordyceps can enhance kidney function(4). In TCM, Cordyceps is seen as a guardian of respiratory health by increasing the efficiency of oxygen uptake(5). It can also support those with asthma by soothing inflammation and tracheal contractions(1).
How to Take Cordyceps
Powders and tinctures are the easiest ways to incorporate Cordyceps into your routine. At Harmonic Arts, we use 100% fruiting body mushrooms in our Concentrated Mushroom Powders. They are water-soluble, and easy to add to coffee, smoothies, or your favourite recipe. Our Cordyceps mushroom powder has an extraction ratio of 8:1. This means that 8 grams of fruiting body mushroom can be found in 1 gram of our concentrated powder. Our Mushroom Tinctures contain both fruiting body and mycelium. They are handmade on Vancouver Island, BC and formulated by Clinical Herbalists.
Curious to learn more about functional fungi? Our Modern Mushroom Webinar shares an abundance of information all about the world's top 5 mushrooms. Watch the replay here.
- Holliday, J. C., & Cleaver, M. P. (2008). Medicinal Value of the Caterpillar Fungi Species of the Genus Cordyceps (Fr.) Link (Ascomycetes). A Review. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 10(3), 219–234. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v10.i3.30
- Yi, X., Xi-Zhen, H., & Jia-Shi, Z. (2004). Randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial and assessment of fermentation product of Cordyceps sinensis (Cs-4) in enhancing aerobic capacity and respiratory function of the healthy elderly volunteers. Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine, 10(3), 187–192. doi: 10.1007/bf02836405
- Wang, S.-Y., & Shiao, M.-S. (2000). Pharmacological Functions of Chinese Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps sinensis and Related Species. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 8(4), 248–257
- Z hang, H. W., Lin, Z. X., Tung, Y. S., Kwan, T. H., Mok, C. K., Leung, C., & Chan, L. S. (2014). Cordyceps sinensis (a traditional Chinese medicine) for treating chronic kidney disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. doi: 10.1002/14651858.cd008353.pub2
- Shashidhar, M., Giridhar, P., Sankar, K. U., & Manohar, B. (2013). Bioactive principles from Cordyceps sinensis: A potent food supplement – A review. Journal of Functional Foods,5(3), 1013-1030. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2013.04.018