How does it feel?
The tincture of Cordyceps is initially sweet and mildly acrid in taste. Energetically, this medicine is warm and moist in nature. The dried or powdered mushroom is similar in taste with more earthy undertones.
What can I use it for?
Cordyceps can be used to support through times of acute or chronic stress, as a mildly relaxing adaptogen (a substance that supports the body’s resilience to the damaging effects of stress). It would therefore be useful where a directly calming effect is required.
High levels of stress hormones can reduce immune function, disturb hormonal balance and metabolism.
As an adaptogen, Cordyceps helps to restore natural balance and metabolic function during times of prolonged stress, protecting the most susceptible physical systems.
A well loved tonic of the lungs, specifically for conditions where there is presence of a dry cough, excess phlegm and for asthmatics. Reducing tension in the bronchi of the lungs.
Traditionally used in cases of low libido, raising vitality and virility in both men and women. Nowadays many people use it as a supplement to enhance energy levels.
Into the heart of Cordyceps
A deeply nourishing mushroom, rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, Cordyceps packs its therapeutic punch on a number of levels.
A herbalist will usually always use a combined approach, with a number of plants that work together to create the desired effect. Cordyceps is a foundation on which a deeply regenerative medicine can be created.
In such times the stresses and demands of modern life can create disharmony in our body. Incorporating medicinal mushrooms such as Cordyceps in our daily lives, whether in capsule or tincture form, or mixed into broths, can offer huge support to our detox systems and and the systems which maintain hormonal balance, helping to reduce the risk of burnout.
Energetically Cordyceps is moist, which is reflected in its rich fatty acid content, its warmth is reflected in its ability to raise the circulation and bring cellular balance.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Cordyceps is esteemed as a medicine that brings harmony to the lung and kidney channels. The Kidneys and lungs are considered connected by their relationship in holding balance of air Qi. In TCM, it is believed that normal breathing requires assistance from the kidneys and that kidney disharmonies may result in respiratory problems, in particularly chronic asthma.
Believed to restore vigour and promote longevity (3), cordyceps has been long used as a tonic to raise energy and vitality, bringing a higher level of function and wellbeing on a cellular level (17). Cordyceps is a well known adaptogen (substance that supports the body’s resilience to the damaging effects of stress), also used in the convalescence stages of long term illness and stress exhaustion (5).
Therapeutically in the energetic understating of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), the action of this medicine is related to the kidney and lung channels. The kidneys being the organ that manages elimination and blood quality, Cordyceps has been prescribed in TCM to counteract various types of anaemia, also increasing blood production and quality (6).
In Chinese Medicine, cordyceps is considered a supportive medicine for asthma sufferers, with its ability to relax smooth muscle (i.e. of the lungs) (7).
Known as Yartsa Gumbu in Tibet, Cordyceps has been used as a tonic for more than 500 years, specifically as a tonic for male virility. Male impotence and premature ejaculation being among some of the traditional applications mentioned in the Chinese Pharmacopeia (6, 8).
Traditionally, cordyceps is also used in recovery from opium poisoning and addition (3, 6).
Adaptogens are strengthening herbs that help us adapt to stress by interacting with the endocrine system. They help normalise metabolism and nourish the tissues. Examples include Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera), Rhodiola root (Rhodiola rosea) and Ginseng root (Panax ginseng)Anti-inflammatory
Anti-inflammatory herbs reduce inflammation in the body. There are different systems in the body that anti-inflammatory plants target. For example for the gastrointestinal tract chamomile, fenugreek and meadowsweet are useful. For the musculoskeletal system rosehips, turmeric and celery seed are useful. For inflammation against immune mediated inflammation gotu kola (centella asiatica), rehmannia (rehmannia glutinosa) and feverfew (tanacetum parthenium) can be useful.Antioxidant
Antioxidant substances that protects against oxidation and degradation from free radical damage. Plants rich in antioxidant include bacopa (bacopa monnieri), bilberry (vaccinium myrtillus), green tea (camelia sinensis) and thyme (thymus vulgaris).Immunomodulants
Immunomodulants restore balance to a dysfunctional immune system. These are often used in chronic autoimmunity, such as Crohn’s and multiple sclerosis. Many immunomodulants are adaptogens, and vice versa. Examples include Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus), Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Siberian Ginseng root (Eleuthrococcus senticosus), Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera) and Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis).
What practitioners say
Endocrine system: a widely used adaptogenic plant, that supports function of the adrenal glands, lending itself in excellence for the support of those experiencing prolonged periods of stress.
Adaptogenic medicines such as cordyceps modulate our physiological responses to stress by helping to support and regulate the interconnected neuro-endocrine (neural-hormonal) and immune systems.
The prolonged exposure to stress hormones can reduce our bodies ability to repair cell damage and lower our immune function, adaptogenic medicines reduce these effects whilst modulating physiological stress response (3, 6).
Reproductive System: In male reproductive health, cordyceps is often considered an aphrodisiac to improve cases of hyposexuality, male impotence and premature ejaculation, also increasing production of sperm (9, 6, 8). In female reproductive health, there are references of use for regulating the menstruation and also improving cases of hyposexuality (2, 9).
Respiratory System: There is a strong thread of reference that suggests Cordyceps is used as supportive treatment for chronic respiratory conditions. Especially in the presence of a persistent dry cough, excess phlegm and respiratory inflammation. By its action in relaxing smooth muscle of the lungs, cordyceps is used to support those with asthma and bronchitis (3, 7).
Immune system: Cordyceps can be used to modulate the function of the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. Increasing the growth and activity of a number of important immune cells that support the body in its ability to activate and defend during infection and viral recovery (12, 13).
Eliminatory system: Kidneys – cordyceps is traditionally used to support kidney function, removing waste from the blood and maintaining mineral and fluid balance in the body (10, 11). Traditionally used in supportive treatment for degenerative kidney disease, combined with nettle seed and rehmannia (3). A medicine which holds therapeutic value in treatment of disease of the liver, improving liver function and supporting its function in detoxing the blood (10, 11, 14, 15).
Metabolism: Enhancing cellular energy stores and lowers blood cholesterol levels. As an antioxidant agent Cordyceps also helps to prevent cell damage and aid in cell repair caused by oxidative stress (3, 9, 13). By enhancing the cellular energy levels, cordyceps helps to increase overall well-being and the energy levels (17).
Cordyceps has clearly been of great interest among the scientific community. A number of research papers are able to offer some clarity around the known therapeutic values of this medicine.
By the number of analytical assays to identify the active compounds present in cordyceps. Findings confirmed that there is a strong case for the presence of antioxidant activity and potentially cytotoxin inhibitory effects. This same assay suggests a definite presence of compounds likely to be responsible for its protective effects on kidneys (13).
In a systematic review, there was found to be extensive research into the Antitumour effects of cordyceps. The Immunomodulatory action of this medicine is also also well covered, with a large number of compounds having been isolated (14, 15, 17).
Cordyceps has also been found to have a protective effect in liver patients, including those with viral hepatitis A, chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C and hepatic fibrosis. It enhances cell immunological function, improving liver function and inhibiting hepatic fibrosis (14, 15).
In a systematic review, cordyceps is found to stimulate mitochondrial ATP generation (cellular energy), leading to the enhancement of cellular antioxidant status. Also possessing clear immunomodulatory properties, boosting weak immune functions and suppressing overreactive or unbalanced immune response (17).
Did you know?
Because of its rarity, in ancient China, cordyceps was reserved for use only by the Emperor and royal family. In China, cordyceps is used as a stuffing in a roasted duck. This preparation considered to be a delicacy, the mushroom would infuse the duck meat, which was believed to promote longevity, prevent illness and restore vitality.
Belonging to the family Ophiocordycipitaceae, cordyceps is a parasitic fungi that grows mainly on insects and other arthropods, primarily on lepidopterous (butterflies and moth) caterpillars.
Cordyceps thrives in high altitude, cold, grassy, alpine grasslands of the Tibetan, Nepalese, Bhutanese, and Indian Himalayan areas.
The spores of cordyceps are spread by wind over the soil and onto plants, where they come into contact with the larvae, particularly when the caterpillars emerge to feed on roots and herbaceous vegetation.
Larvae were observed eating tender roots of alpine meadow species such as Polygonum, Astragalus, Salix, and Rhododendron.
The infected hosts live underground where they can spend up to 5 years before pupating. Cordyceps spores enter the bodies of their host either through the mouth or the respiratory pores. The mycelium then invades the caterpillar’s body, filling its cavity, killing the insect, and eventually completely replacing the host tissue. The dead caterpillar appears yellowish to brown in colour.
The cylindrical club-shaped fruiting body, 5-15 cm long and orange brown to reddish brown in color, grows up from spring to early summer, protruding and developing out of the caterpillar’s head.
The length of the dried mushroom spans from 3 to 10 centimetres.
In Chinese cordyceps translates as Cord (club), ceps (head), sinensis (from). Catapillar fungus, club head fungus, yartsa gunbu, dōng chóng xià cǎo (winter insect, summer grass)
Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs – may increase risk of bleeding
Testosterone drugs – may increase testosterone levels
For those with autoimmune diseases – Cordyceps may enhance immune activity
Surgery – may increase risk of bleeding
For those who are unsure, consult a Medical Herbalist or healthcare provider before using Cordyceps.
- Dried / Powdered Mushroom
Tincture (1:4, 1:5): 20 – 40 drops up to three times per day
Decoction: Add one – half a tsp of powdered mushroom or mycelium to 300ml water, decoction (simmer) for one hour. Take one or two cups a day.
Plant parts used
Mushroom, mycelium. However, more than ten related species as well as artificially cultured mycelium are today used as substitutes in commercial preparations. C. ophioglossoides, C. capita, and C. militaris are the most common species in commerce (1).
- Polysaccharides -galactomannins, Cordycepic acid (2, 3)
- Amino acids (2, 3)
- Glycoproteins (2)
- Fatty acids – 31.69% oleic, 68.31% linoleic (2, 3)
- Polyamines (3)
- Ecdysterones (2)
- Sterols – Ergosterol (4)
- Cordycepin- ergosterol (4)
- Yue QC, Ning W, Hui Z, Liang HQ. Differentiation of medicinal Cordyceps species by rDNA ITS sequence analysis. Planta Med 2002;68:635-39.
- Ying J. et Al, 1987. Icones of Medicinal Fungi from China. Translated by X Yuehan. Beijing: Science Press.
- Winston and Maimes, 2007. Adaptogens, Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company.
- B NG and H.X Wang, 2005. Pharmacological Actions of Cordyceps. A Prized Folk Medicine. Journal of Pharmacy and Phamacology.
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- Zhu J.S, Halpern J.M, Jones K. 1998. The Scientific Rediscovery of Ancient Chinese Herbal Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis. Volume 4. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine.
- Zhang et al. 1991
- Zhou et al, 1990
- Yuh C.K et al 1996. Cordyceps sinensis as an Immunomodulatory Agent. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. Vol 24.
- Hong Kong et al 2021. Antioxidant and Cytotoxic Effects and Identification of Ophiocordyceps sinensis Bioactive Proteins Using Shotgun Proteomic Analysis. Food Technology and Biotechnology. Vol 59.
- Zhou et al. 2009. Cordyceps fungi: natural products, pharmacological functions and developmental products. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology Volume: 6.
- Hui-Chen Lo et al. 2013. A Systematic Review of the Mysterious Caterpillar Fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis in Dōng Chóng Xià Cǎo and Related Bioactive Ingredients. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine. Volume 3. Issue 1.
- Jin Jung et al. 2019. Immunomodulatory effects of a mycelium extract of Cordyceps (Paecilomyces hepiali; CBG-CS-2): a randomized and double-blind clinical trial. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume: 19 Issue: 1.
- Ko, K. and Leung, H. (2007). Enhancement of ATP generation capacity, antioxidant activity and immunomodulatory activities by Chinese Yang and Yin tonifying herbs. Chinese Medicine, Issue 2, volume 2.