A Tale of Two Cordyceps
It’s an oddity, but one of the most common mushrooms – called Cordyceps -- used in health supplements is also one of the rarest. Cordyceps is fascinating. The original species used in the ancient royal courts of the great Chinese dynasties was a wild variety called Cordyceps sinensis. It occurred primarily in the high regions of Tibet and reputed to impart tremendous sexual stamina. This permitted the emperor to engage nearly every day with at least one of his concubines, thus producing so many heirs that overthrowing his line would be nearly impossible.
This Cordyceps was in such high demand that commanded prices of up to $35,000 per kilogram. At this price, it could never have become a supplement “of the people.”
As China opened up to the outside world, western nations began to learn the wonders of medicinal mushrooms. This triggered such a surge in the popularity of Cordyceps that demand was simply impossible to meet. As a result, other species of Cordyceps came under investigation, and one in particular proved as beneficial as the original. This newer strain is Cordyceps militaris. All real, fruiting body Cordyceps supplements – including our MyPure™ Cordyceps (4x) and MyPure™ MYcoMune™ (4x) employ this strain.
The name cordyceps comes from the Latin words for “club” and “head,” effectively describing the matured form of the mushroom.
History of Cordyceps
Cordyceps has been used as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries. Initially, local herders observed that animals, like goats and sheep, consuming C. sinensis while grazing in mountain forest grew robust and stout. This observation paved the way for the discovery of its medicinal value. Cordyceps became so valuable that few outside the royal family could afford it.
If there’s one thing you might already know about cordyceps sinensis, you probably know how it grows. Fondly referred to as the Caterpillar fungus, this wild Cordyceps strain grows out of caterpillars or ants. Cordyceps spores infect insect larvae i.e., caterpillars. As they germinate, they grow through the host body, absorbing all the nutrients, and eventually taking over. Because of this unique growth cycle, the Chinese refer to cordyceps as “Dong Chong Xia Cao,” which literally translates to “Winter Worm, Summer Grass.”
Cordyceps militaris, on the other hand, grows in a substrate in organic farming stations. Thus, it is bug-free, vegan friendly, consistent in quality, and vastly more available. This availability means it’s affordable for all. Nutritionally, it contains more cordycepin – a key Cordyceps nutrient – than Cordyceps sinensis.
FUN FACT: Cordyceps are not just renown in the medical community – a 2013 videogame, “The Last of Us” tells the story of a couple characters trying to survive during the CBI – Cordyceps Brain Infection – outbreak caused by a mutated strain of cordyceps. (Don’t worry, it’s completely science-fiction.)
Traditional Tibetan healers recommended Cordyceps as a tonic for “all illnesses,” claiming that it improved energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns. And it’s common for traditional healers to use it to increase longevity and cure erectile dysfunction. Modern herbalists use Cordyceps to support healthy stamina and physical energy levels. Laboratory studies suggest that it may be helpful with cancer, asthma, bronchitis, diabetes, jaundice, and BHP.
How can Cordyceps accomplish all that? Cordyceps mushrooms are loaded with adenosine, cordycepin, cordycepic acid, essential amino acids, vitamins A, B, C, E, & K, polysaccharides, superoxide dismutase (SOD), trace essential elements, proteins and extremely beneficial polysaccharides called Beta (1,3)(1,6) D-Glucans. These components are responsible for Cordyceps’ many benefits.
Adenosine promotes enhanced oxygen utilization efficacy, which may help with respiratory issues. It also supports blood circulation to the heart, brain, and sexual organs. It also supports healthy blood pressure, pulse rate, blood platelet clotting. Beyond that, it is famed for increasing physical energy.
Cordycepin is the reason for cordyceps’ potent antioxidant properties which allow it to fight free radicals and protect the body from damage caused by them i.e., ageing and oxidative stress. In laboratory studies, Cordycepin has reduced tumor size. It may also support healthy blood sugar levels. Like all medicinal mushrooms, it is an absolute superstar in supporting a healthy immune response.
Polysaccharides are bioactive substances that support the kidneys, liver, and heart, serve as powerful immune modulators and support antioxidant and detoxification processes. More specifically, Cordyceps contains Beta (1,3)(1,6) D-Glucans which are known to support immune function, overall wellness, and healthy cell growth.
Both C. sinensis and C. militaris are ripe with benefits, but arguably, C. militaris is more beneficial due to its higher concentration of cordycepin. The only thing one might want to be concerned about is finding quality product. Because Cordyceps are so popular, you’ll find many products that are not really mushrooms at all, but mycelia grown on grain. Studies show that Cordyceps fruiting bodies contain far more Cordyceps nutrition than grain grown mycelia.
When purchasing Cordyceps supplements, look for those that are “100% Organic, non-GMO, whole fruiting body extracts.” Avoid products that claim the mushroom is full spectrum, myceliated brown rice (or other grain), or mycelial biomass. While, these days, we’re all somewhat suspicious of China, they do grow the world’s finest medicinal mushrooms.
We source our Cordyceps through our partner, Nammex, an American owned company that has been actively involved in mushroom cultivation in China for many years. Every lot is tested for purity, potency, pesticides, heavy metals, etc. in third party labs. They are the world’s finest medicinal mushrooms.
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 Shaoping Nie, Steve W. Cui and Mingyong Xie. “Cordyceps Polysaccharides”. Bioactive Polysaccharides, 2018, Pages 143-204.