Updated: Jun 2
This strange looking orange fungal club is known as Cordyceps, also known as 'caterpillar mushroom' is one of the gnarliest of the medicinal mushroom world. There are hundreds of varieties of cordyceps, but the main species are 'Cordyceps Sinensis' and 'Cordyceps Militaris'.
All cordyceps species are actually parasitic. This means that they need a living host to grow, however, the 'cordyceps sinensis' variety has an unusual requirement from its host to grow. Regular victims of the wild cordyceps sinensis include ants, locusts and beetles but the famous host is the Tibetan ghost moth caterpillar. Hence the term, 'Caterpillar Mushroom'. The fungi attacks its host from the inside, causing the insect to essentially turn into a zombie, controlling it to advance upwards before the fungi completely takes over, the insect dies and the cordyceps sprouts its fruits from the head of the host. I know, crazy right!?
David Attenborough gives a fascinating insight into the journey of the cordyceps fungus in this BBC documentary Planet Earth from 2008 here:
So you might be thinking, that these mushrooms aren't sounding particularly appetising, seeing as traditionally in Asia they come with the host still attached to the mushroom. But, the cordyceps sinensis variety has been used as a tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, often as an aphrodisiac and a nourisher for the liver and lungs and is still used today.
fresh wild cordyceps sinensis
As it is extremely difficult to find natural sinensis in the wild to harvest, as prices of this rare variety have skyrocketed as consumer demand increases across the world and environmental conditions deteriorate. In Asian supermarkets you can find 100g cordyceps sinensis for around £500. Yes, £500.
So, let's dive into the other, slightly less gnarly species of cordyceps, the one we use in our Altai Mountain Shilajit Mushroom Blend, 'Cordyceps Miltaris'. This variety can be conveniently grown in controlled conditions from a bed of rice and soy and can be mass produced to make extracts used in supplements, whilst still offering the same health benefits as the cordyceps sinensis variant. Cordyceps miltaris resembles a flatbed of cheetos and looks much less intimidating than its wild bug snatching brother.
5 Benefits of Cordyceps:
1. Athletic Performance
Cordyceps has a stimulating effect and has become a popular choice for coffee/caffeine replacement. Prepared in a tea, it gives a long lasting boost of energy without a crash. The use of cordyceps were trialled in relation to sports performance and endurance in 30 male participants. Over a period of 6 weeks the participants taking cordyceps showed twice the oxygen intake than the participants taking the placebo. Oxygen intake is vital for supplying the body with enough energy to perform high output activities and reduce lactic acid in the muscles. A separate study in China also shows that 30 elderly participants taking cordyceps showed a 10% increase in their aerobic activity.
2. Increased Libido
Cordyceps has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, used by the Emperor's families to aid fertility and libido. Cordyceps is still used for this reason up to the present day in the Far East, with wild cordyceps being available in traditional pharmacies and supermarkets. In addition to increasing the male libido by supporting blood circulation and sperm mobility, it is also beneficial for the female reproductive system.
3. Hormone Balancing
Cordyceps is an adaptogenic mushroom, and you know we love a good adaptogen around here. If you've read many of our previous blog posts you'll know that adaptogens have a strong influence on homeostatic balance in the body. This means that they move the body in the direction of its natural homeostatic set point. For example, if stress hormones are too high, they lower to stabilise them, and if stress hormones are too low, they raise to stabilise them. Having natural and healthy hormone levels effect sleeping patterns, mood, libido, cognitive performance and motivation.
Research has shown that cordyceps can prevent the formation of peroxide and lipids and prevents or decreases the formation of oxidised enzymes in the brain. In other words, it can help to scavenge and remove free radicals within the body whilst increasing the levels of natural anti-oxidants. This action slows down the ageing process, slowing the onset of wrinkles, grey hair, and degeneration of muscle tissue, a theory which has been tried and tested by the Chinese in their herbalist practices for thousands of years.
5. Respiratory Function
As we mentioned earlier in the post, in Traditional Chinese Herbalism, cordyceps has been regarded as a highly functional tonic for respiratory issues including chronic bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, and phlegm. As an anti-inflammatory, cordyceps helps to relax the bronchial walls which allows more oxygen to be utilised. Studies on patients with asthma showed the participants given cordyceps had a massive 81% improvement in their condition over 5 days compared to 61% given conventional antihistamines.
So that concludes our 4 part series 'The Magic of Mushrooms'.
If you haven't tried our Altai Mountain Shilajit Mushroom Blend, containing 5 world class adaptogens, Shilajit, Chaga, Lion;s Mane, Reishi and Cordyceps, please visit our online store here and feel the magic of the mushrooms for yourself.