Cordyceps sinensis, also known as Dong Chong Xia Cao in Chinese name, is one of the most valued tonic herbs in TCM. Along with natural ginseng (Ren Shen) and deer antler (Lu Rong), they have been hailed as the top three tonics. China has a long history on Cordyceps application, which can date back to Ben Cao Cong Xin (New Compilation of Materia Medica), compiled in the 18th Century. And during mid-Ming Dynasty this herb was initially introduced to the world. To be specific, in the year of 1723 a French people stumbled on this amazing herb during its adventure for biological samples, and the rest is history.
What is Cordyceps?
This herb means the complex of Cordyceps fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. parasitizing in the stroma or corpse of the insect larva in the family Hepialidae. That’s to say, once the Cordyceps fungus locates the right host, it would launch an attack on it. As a result, in the end the host tissue will be totally superseded by the mycelium. It is a common sense that this herb belongs to a specific genus of ascomycete fungi, or sac fungi for short, in which there are approximately 400 known species. However, the latest finding by nuclear DNA sampling in the year of 2007 indicated Cordyceps sinensis has nothing to do with most species in this genus. Hence, it was given a new name of Ophiocordyceps sinensis and classified into the new family of Ophiocordycipitaceae. Even so, the traditional name of Cordyceps is still widely used for all ordinary needs.
It has quite a few different common names in different languages, such as yartsa gunbu in Tibet, yarsha gumba in Nepalese, caterpillar fungus in English, Dong Chong Xia Cao in Chinese, and so on. Medicinally besides of Cordyceps fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc., the sporocarp and polypide of Cordyceps militaris (L.) Link. can also be used as medicine. In China, Cordyceps mushroom is mainly produced in the upstream of Jinsha, Lancang and Nujiang rivers. Its habitats stretch eastward to Liangshan Mountain in Sichuan province, westward to Pulan County in Tibet, northward to Minshan Mountain in Gansu Province, and southward to Himalayas and the Dragon Snow Mountain in Yunnan Province. And the Cordyceps production output from Tibet accounts for about 40%, from Sichuan about 40%, and from Yunnan and Qinghai about 10% respectively.
It is composed of the insect body and the connected fungal stroma that grows from the insect head. The former part looks like silkworm, 3 to 5cm long, and 0.3 to 0.8cm wide. Surface is from deep yellow to yellow-brown, and with 20 to 30 rings, in which the ones closer to the head are smaller. Head is reddish brown. Feet are 8 pairs, in which the central 4 pairs are more obvious. It is brittle, easily broken, with yellowish white, slightly flat cross section. Stroma is pliable and tough, slender and cylindrical, 4 to 7cm long, about 0.3cm in diameter, and with a slightly swollen upper part and an off-white cross section. Stroma surface is from dark brown to sepia, and with fine longitudinal wrinkles. It has the slight smell of fish and bitter taste.
Main chemical constituents include 25.32% crude protein, 8.4% fat, cordycepic acid (D-mannitol), vitamin A, C, B12, nicotinic acid, nicotinic amide, ergosterol, uracil, adenine, adenine nucleoside, ergosterol peroxide, cholesteryl palmitate, water-soluble polysaccharide (galactomannan), many trace elements, alkaloids, and so on. And recent experiment on isolating the stroma part obtained amino acids, mannitol, hypoxantine nucleoside, thymine, uracil, and a small amount of mixture of guanine and hypoxanthine. In addition, from the insect body part it got amino acids, mannitol, hypoxanthine, guanine, adenine and adenosine.
As mentioned at the start, this herb is a well-known Chinese tonic herb and its price is pretty steep. As a result, many similar species are mixed, consciously or unconsciously, with the genuine. And the main counterfeits include Cordyceps militaris(L.) Link, Cordyceps Hawkesii Gray, Cordyceps liangshanensis Zang, Liu et Hu, Cordyceps sp., Cordyceps ramosa Tenu, Stachys geobombycis C. Y. Wu., Stachys sieboidii Miq., and so on. So, extreme care should be taken to identify them when you are buying Cordyceps.
Cordyceps sinensis benefits
More and more its magic effects have been discovered by modern science. And it is said that this herb is able to help testosterone, blood pressure, diabetes, fertility, and more. On the whole, this amazing herb not only regulates the function of various internal organs of the body but also directly resists viral attacks.
Modern pharmacological actions
1. It has sedative, anticonvulsant, cooling and other effects on central nervous system;
2. It strengthens humoral immune function;
3. Cordyceps extract by water and alcohol can inhibit the growth of mouse tumors like sarcoma;
4. Its fermentation broth can resist the ST-T changes of myocardial ischemia in rabbits;
5. It protects, to some degrees, the rats from irritable myocardial infarction;
6. Its water extract can significantly protect rats from acute kidney failure.
Top ten Cordyceps sinensis health benefits
According to medical science analysis, this herb contains cordycepic acid, vitamin B12, fat, protein, and so on. Clinical studies have showed that it has many identified health benefits, among which the following ten are most notable.
Regulate immune system
So to speak, the immune system is the guardian of the body, which takes on the jobs of fighting against cancer and removing aging, necrotic tissue inside and resisting the attack of viruses, bacteria and other microbial infections outside. In fact, the mutations of the tumor cells happen almost on daily basis in human body. Normal functional immune system can protect people from cancer while malfunctioning immune system fails to get the job done and in the end the tumor is thus developed. More often than not, Cordyceps sinensis mushroom serves as a tuner to tune the immunity in its best shape, which helps increase the immune system cells and the number of organizations, promote the production of antibody, increase the number of phagocyte and killer cells, enhance its functionality, meanwhile reduce the function of some certain immune cells.
According to Lvdi, the director of “Chinese Cancer Treatment and Protection Network”, the anti-tumor effect of Cordyceps is achieved by regulating the body’s immune system and lowered immunity is main culprit for tumors’ forming, development, metastasis, and recurrence. And cordycepin contained is the key active ingredient that fights cancer. Clinically cordycepin usually serves as the adjuvant treatment for many malignant tumors, such as nasal cancer, pharyngeal cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, cerebral cancer, liver cancer, and so on. According to statistics, improvement was seen in more than 91.7 percent of subjects.
Increase cell energy and resist fatigue
This herb can improve the energy of mitochondria, the body’s energy plant. Therefore, it improves the body’s ability to withstand freezing while reducing fatigue.
Adjust cardiac function
It may improve cardiac hypoxia tolerance, reduce the oxygen consumption of the heart, and control cardiac arrhythmia.
Regulate liver function
It may reduce the liver injury by toxic substances and resist the liver fibrosis. Besides, the regulation of immune function can enhance the anti-virus capabilities, which thus is beneficial for the treatment of viral hepatitis.
Improve respiratory system function
It can dilate the bronchial tube, relieve asthma, eliminate phlegm, and prevent emphysema.
Adjust kidney function
It can reduce the renal lesions in chronic kidney disease, improve kidney health, and reduce the damage to the kidneys by toxic substances.
Regulate hematopoietic function
It can enhance the bone marrow’s ability of producing platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells.
Adjust blood lipids
It can reduce blood’s cholesterol and triglycerides, increase the high-density lipoprotein that is beneficial to human body, and reduce atherosclerosis.
It can still directly fight against virus, regulate the central nervous system, help improve erectile dysfunction, and more. Due to so many health benefits this herb gives to human body, no wonder it has long been accredited as the “god’s herb”.
Proven Cordyceps related herbal remedies
In the eye of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), this herb is sweet and warm or neutral in properties. It covers lung and kidney meridians. Its key functions are protecting lung Qi, reinforcing striae, and nourishing the kidney and strengthening the essence. Key Cordyceps sinensis uses and indications are lung deficiency induced cough and asthma, consumptive bloody sputum, spontaneous sweating, erectile dysfunction due to kidney deficiency, nocturnal emission, waist and knee pain, and so on. Recommended daily Cordyceps sinensis dosage is from 5 to 10 grams in decoction.
Asthenic disease after the illness
Prepare 3 to 5 Dong Chong Xia Cao and 1 old male duck, gut the duck, split the duck head, place the Cordyceps inside, seal it with wire, season it with sauce and wine as usual, and stew it until well cooked. -From Ben Cao Gang Mu Shi Yi (Supplements to Compendium of Materia Medica)
Dyspnea of deficiency type
Dong Chong Xia Cao, 5 Qian to 1 Liang, combines with 1 old male duck. And then stew them well. -From Yun Nan Zhong Cao Yao (The Yunnan Chinese Herbal Medicine)
Anemia, impotence and nocturnal emission
Dong Chong Xia Cao, 5 Qian to 1 Liang, stews with pork or chicken. -From The Yunnan Chinese Herbal Medicine
As what mentioned before, this herb is ideal for enhancing immunity or the recovery after the surgery and labor. However, people tend to fail to make full use of its nutrition due to they have no idea how to consume it properly. So, what are the better ways to consume Cordyceps for the sake of maximizing its health benefits, concentrate, capsules, tincture, extract, powder, or decoction? In terms of dietary therapy, here are some simple but effective recipes for your reference.
Cordyceps cistanche stewing lamb
Health benefits: This soup is a women tonic for beauty, mainly used for black eye, dizziness, and muscae volitantes.
Ingredients: Cordyceps 10g, prepared Radix Aconiti Fischeri 10g, cistanche 10g, lamb 100g, and ginger 2 slices.
Directions: put lame in boiling water for 5 minutes, take it out and clean it, wash all the ingredients and put them all into a steaming pot, add appropriate amount of water, cover with the lid, stew for 3 hours, and season it with salt. Period!
Cordyceps black-bone chicken soup
Health benefits: reinforcing qi and nourishing blood
Ingredients: Cordyceps 5g, black-bone chicken 1, sun cured ginseng 10g, epimedium 10g, astragalus 10g, trichosanthes root 10g, mushroom 50g, and appropriate amount of wolfberry, red dates, wine, onion, ginger, salt, and monosodium glutamate.
Directions: 1. Put sun cured ginseng, epimedium, astragalus, and trichosanthes root into a gauze bag, soak them in water for one hour, and soak and clean mushroom and Cordyceps. 2. Kill the chicken and remove the feathers and viscera. Scald the chicken with boiling water for a few minutes for the sake of getting rid of the smell. 3. Place all the above mentioned ingredients into a casserole, add in wine, onions, and ginger, simmer them for 2 hour with low heat, remove the herbal bag after done, and then season the soup with salt and MSG.
Cordyceps bletilla porridge
Health benefits: this recipe is ideal for consumptive cough, dry throat with scanty sputum, and hemoptysis.
Ingredients: Cordyceps 6g, bletilla 10g, polished round-grained rice 50g.
Directions: grind the above two herbs into fine powder, add water to rice and boil into gruel, place the powder and crystal sugar when the rice is nearly well cooked, and continue to cook until the porridge becomes thick enough.
Cordyceps sinensis side effects, toxicity and drug interaction
So, what are the potential Cordyceps side effects? The animal experiment can tell the details. All mice died by intraperitoneal injection with Cordyceps sinensis water extract in the dose of 30-50g/kg. But no deaths were found in the dose of 5g/kg. Symptoms of poisoning include quiet, deep and slow breathing, consequential spasms, respiratory depression and death in the end. Small dose causes varying degrees of sedation, and even sleep, which can be maintained for a few hours. The infusion is of low toxicity – only part of mice died in the dose of 5g/kg and all died in the dose of 30-50g/kg. Toxic symptoms response with initial excitation and later inhibition. And then mice died due to the followed convulsions and respiratory depression. This infusion, by IV or SC, showed inhibition to rabbits and mice. Large dose can lead to the quickened breathing and pulse, and death finally because of cramps. However, both its infusions and alcohol extract showed no toxicity after boiled. TCM wise, use Dong Chong Xia Cao with care in the case of patients with superficial pathogens. By the way, this herb is incompatible with radish.