Cordyceps benefits: Himalayan gold

Cordyceps benefits: Himalayan gold

Team ErbologyErbology

Found in the highlands of Tibet, India, Nepal, and the Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces of China, cordyceps is a medicinal fungus with a fascinating life cycle. Traditional Chinese medicine has made use of this mysterious mushroom for thousands of years to nourish both yin and yang, while in the West cordyceps is now becoming more and more popular as a health food. Let’s take a look at what traditional wisdom and modern science have to say about cordyceps benefits for your health.

April 27, 2022 4:48 pm

What is cordyceps?

Cordyceps is a fungus. Practitioners of traditional medicine have used it for generations to treat a range of ailments across different countries and cultures. Its Latin name is Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

When growing in the wild, it looks a bit like a collection of thin, yellow-brown fingers. However, it’s often dried when used for medicinal purposes. In this form, it looks quite like dry autumn leaves.

Cordyceps has been used as a traditional remedy for thousands of years, dating back to 620 AD. Back then, many thought of it as a magical creature with the ability to change from an animal to a plant.(1) It’s a beautifully poetic way of describing cordyceps’s unique life cycle, which we’ll talk about more below.

In literature, cordyceps made an important appearance in a key Chinese medical text, Ben Cao Bei Yao, in 1694. It has been one of the most important herbs in traditional Chinese medicine ever since.(2) → See Medicinal Mushroom Products

Cordyceps grows in popularity

In Nepal, meanwhile, reported cordyceps benefits include the treatment of diarrhoea, headache, cough, rheumatism and liver disease. In fact, the locals value cordyceps so much that it has acquired the nickname of ‘Himalayan Gold’.(3)

However, this has not necessarily been good news for the famous fungus.

A survey in 2007 revealed that the yield of natural Ophiocordyceps sinensis had decreased by 90% in the previous 25 years. This was mostly due to the restriction of its natural habitat.(2)

The decline in the amount of cordyceps also led to a spike in its price. In India, for example, a kilogram of wild cordyceps could set you back 100,000 rupees, or around £1,056.(3)

Partly to protect the remaining wild cordyceps, and partly to answer a growing demand, a lot of the cordyceps available on the market now is cultivated rather than foraged.

You may just be glad of that fact, as you read on…

The cordyceps fungus: fiend of nature?

As medicinal mushrooms go, cordyceps certainly has the most impressive origin story. It’s not for the faint of heart!

Most mushrooms are saprophytes. This means that they consume decaying matter, which is hugely important for the ecosystem. Saprophytes effectively gather up the nutrients from fallen plants and make them available again to organisms that come along and, in turn, eat them.(4)

Not cordyceps.

Cordyceps has a fascinating life cycle which makes it unique in the world of nature. Rather than growing on decaying matter, it makes use of a live host: moth larvae.

The spores of the cordyceps fungus infect the moth larvae during the summer, when they are underground. The spore grows inside the larva, using it for food during the winter.

When spring arrives, the fungus directs the larva to the surface of the earth. There, the larva dies and the fungus emerges from it in the form of a stalk.

This led to Tibetan locals naming it ‘yartsa gunbu’, which translates as ‘winter worm, summer grass.’ In English, Cordyceps sinensis is known as ‘caterpillar fungus’.(5)


cordyceps sinensis

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Cordcyeps cultivation

Fortunately, no caterpillars were harmed in the making of our 100% Organic Cordyceps Powder!

As mentioned above, the vast majority of cordyceps on the market today grows in carefully controlled conditions. Part of the cultivation process involves choosing a specific substrate for the fungus. To replace the fungus’s usual source of food, modern producers tend to grow cordyceps on a  liquid or lignocellulosic (wood-based) medium. This provides the fungus with all the nourishment it needs to grow, without having to depend on any unfortunate moth larvae.

This commercially-grown version of cordyceps is called Cs-4. It only produces the mycelium (the thread-like branches of fungi) without the cap.

Cultivating cordyceps not only saves the lives of many a terrified caterpillar, but also helps protect the rare wild fungus from over-foraging.

So, now we know about where this fantastic fungus comes from, let’s take a look at cordyceps benefits for your health. → See Medicinal Mushroom Products

"Locals value cordyceps so much that it has acquired the nickname of ‘Himalayan Gold’."

Cordyceps has potential as a dementia treatment

One of the biggest health issues we face is dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s a condition which impairs the sufferer’s memory and cognitive function, and there is currently no known cure.

Finding viable treatments for dementia is an area of intense scientific research. Many different substances have been examined to see if they can help protect against the disease. Among them is Cordyceps sinensis.

Research around the fungus’s efficacy at treating dementia is still in its very early stages. However, there are a few encouraging results from scientific studies.

In one study, researchers used cordyceps to treat memory-impaired mice. At the end of the study, they found signs that their memory loss was improved.(1)

Another study looked at the effect of cordyceps on mice who had been artificially aged using a substance called d-galactose. The researchers then examined the mice as they went through the water maze test. (This commonly-used lab test involves placing the mouse in water and allowing it to swim until it locates an invisible platform in the water. Once it has located it, the mouse is able to climb out.)

The study found that mice who had been given Cordyceps sinensis extract made fewer mistakes. They also managed to find their way out of the maze faster than the others.(6)

It’s an exciting area of study. However, much more research is needed before we can conclude that cordyceps is an effective treatment for dementia. → See Medicinal Mushroom Products

It may boost energy

Scientists are also investigating cordyceps for its ability to reduce fatigue and improve endurance, in both humans and animals.

In one experiment, mice were once again returned to the swimming pool to see if cordyceps helped them to swim for longer. After three weeks of taking cordyceps, the mice were able to swim for significantly longer than their peers. The higher the dose of cordyceps, the more marked the effect.(1)

The study put the results down to an increased heartbeat strength, reduced constrictions in the mice’s tracheas, and better relaxation of their vascular smooth muscle (found in the walls of blood vessels).

Another study examined whether cordyceps would work in a similar way on human beings.(1)

A double-blind, placebo-controlled study was undertaken at Beijing Medical University Sports Research Institute. The aim was to see if cordyceps could improve athletes’ performance.

The study showed that participants who had been given a product containing cordyceps were better able to clear lactate from their cells.

Your body produces lactate (the ionised form of lactic acid) during anaerobic respiration. This usually occurs during intense exercise when oxygen supplies are short. If too much lactate builds up, you can suffer from lactic acidosis. Symptoms include nausea, weakness and muscle cramps(7). So, athletes certainly want to avoid too much lactate in their systems.

The study concluded that cordyceps could help athletes improve their anaerobic performance.

So, if you’re building up for an intense gym session or a long run, cordyceps might just help you push that little bit further.

It may have anti-aging effects…

Let’s return once more to our friends, the mice, and their swimming pool.

In the same study cited above, where the mice went into the water maze, researchers also noticed a few other interesting effects of cordyceps.

Firstly, the researchers discovered that cordyceps had an effect on age-related enzymes in the mice. They found that it improved the activity of three enzymes in particular (superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and catalase) and reduced a process called ‘lipid peroxidation’. This is the process by which free radicals steal electrons from the lipids in your cell membranes, causing cell damage.(6)

They concluded that cordyceps was having an anti-ageing effect on the mice.

…and boost your sex drive

Not only that, but the same study found that cordyceps improved the sex drive of rats. It may have startled the researchers, but it would