Erbology
Cordyceps sinensis vs militaris: which one should you go for?

Cordyceps sinensis vs militaris: which one should you go for?

Team ErbologyErbology

So, you’ve read up on cordyceps mushroom and researched all of its fantastic health benefits. You’re ready to try it out for yourself - and then you discover there is more than one type of cordyceps! In this article we’re going to compare the two commonly available types of medicinal cordyceps so you can find the best one for your needs. Join us as we discover the differences between cordyceps sinensis vs militaris.

April 27, 2022 4:18 pm

A quick recap on cordyceps

If you’ve got to the point of trying to choose between Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris, you probably already know quite a bit about this special fungus.

For those who are newer to the topic, a quick intro. 

Cordyceps is a fungus which has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. Recently, it has gained a modern following thanks to its impressive medicinal properties. 

Like many medicinal mushrooms, cordyceps has benefits for your immune system (more on that later). However, it is also traditionally linked with helping to energise you and supporting your athletic performance. 

So much so, that the Chinese Olympic team famously used cordyceps as part of their preparations for the Beijing Olympics in 1993. 

On top of this, cordyceps is also thought to act as an aphrodisiac. 

If you’d like more information on cordyceps, its origins and its benefits, head over to our article on cordyceps mushroom.

How cordyceps supports your immunity

Perhaps the biggest draw of medicinal mushrooms in the modern day is their ability to help support your natural immunity. 

Scientists credit one particular type of polysaccharide found in medicinal mushrooms, called beta-glucans. 

There is scientific evidence to suggest that beta-glucans can provoke an immune response, helping to strengthen your defences against germs. 

We have listed a few studies with encouraging results in our article on beta-glucans, so feel free to check there if you’d like more information.

For now, let’s head on to find out about the different types of cordyceps.

 

Cordyceps family history

You might be wondering why two different fungi can go by such near-identical names.

This is due to the way that fungi are categorised according to the taxonomic system developed by Carl Linnaeus.(2)(3) As you can see, the two types are fairly closely related, separating only at family level. 

 

Cordyceps militaris Cordyceps sinensis 
Kingdom Fungi Fungi
Phylum Ascomycota Ascomycota
Sub-phylum Pezizomycotina Pezizomycotina
Class Sordariomycetes Sordariomycetes
Order Hypocreales Hypocreales
Family Cordycipitaceae Ophiocordycipitaceae
Genus Cordyceps Ophiocordyceps
Species Cordyceps militaris Ophiocordyceps sinensis

 

Along with the militaris and sinensis species, there are a whole host of other species of Cordyceps. Many of these are also being investigated for their pharmacological properties, but they are less well-known. They include Cordyceps sobolifera, Cordyecps cicadicola and others.(3) Other species with as yet unknown medicinal potential have also been found. 

If you were wondering, the phylum that both belong to – ascoymyctota – contains fungi which produce their spores in little sacs (asci). 

In recent years, Cordyceps sinensis was renamed as Ophiocordyceps sinensis as a new family – Ophiocordycipitaceae – was identified. This family tends to produce dark pigments rather than the brighter ones found in other cordyceps species.(5) 

You might hear it referred to by both names, but they refer to the same fungus. 

What is Cordyceps sinensis

This type of cordyceps is the one with the longest tradition in Chinese medicine. 

Growing in the wild, Cordyceps sinensis infects an insect host and grows out of its head, using the unfortunate larva as a food source. 

Foragers in China and Tibet would collect the larva and fungus, seemingly fused into one body, and consume them together. 

There, traditional practitioners would recommend taking Cordyceps sinensis for a variety of ailments. These include tuberculosis, erectile disfunction, bronchitis, chronic pain and many more.

It’s also common to take Cordyceps sinensis in a cup of milk as an aphrodisiac.(1)

What is Cordyceps militaris?

As we know, adherents of Traditional Chinese Medicine have been using Cordyceps sinensis for a very long time. As a result, demand began to outstrip supply, and over-harvesting was beginning to threaten the fungus. 

Attempts to cultivate it had proved tricky, so scientists began to look for alternatives. Ideally, they were looking for a mushroom that could offer a similar chemical profile and health benefits to Cordyceps sinensis, but which was easier to grow.

To their delight, they found that a close cousin of Cordyceps sinensis could tick all those boxes: Cordyceps militaris. Like Cordyceps sinensis, in the wild it acts as a parasite, growing on insects or other fungi. However, in a controlled environment, it can grow quite happily on substrates such as rice. 

It’s relatively easy to cultivate Cordyceps militaris, solving the problems related to over-harvesting and supply and demand. 

However, it’s important to remember that Cordyceps militaris essentially only gained popularity as a replacement for Cordyceps sinensis, which was trickier to cultivate. It doesn’t have the same long history of use. 

Furthermore, the choice of some suppliers to use this type of cordyceps rather than Cordyceps sinensis is likely driven by the ease and cost-efficiency of producing it, rather than because of its intrinsic quality. 

 

Related reading

"Cordyceps are thought to increase the body’s production of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is essential for delivering energy to the muscles."

The gamechanger: cultivating Cordyceps sinensis

Fortunately, refining cultivation techniques means that it is now possible to grow Cordyceps sinensis in a controlled environment, just like Cordyceps militaris

In fact, both types of fungus are likely to be grown in very similar ways for the supplement market. 

Generally speaking, producers of cordyceps grow the fungus on a nutritious substrate which provides all the food they need without the need for them to parasitise insects or other fungi. 

The substrate itself may vary between suppliers, but it’s common to use rice or another starch. 

The substrate debate

If you’ve done a lot of research on medicinal mushrooms, it’s likely that you will have come across the debate surrounding substrates. 

Generally speaking, we recommend choosing a supplier that does not use a starch substrate to grow medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, lion’s mane and other mushrooms. 

This is because some suppliers ‘bulk out’ the final product by including the starchy substrate in the final powder. This dilutes the amount of mushroom in the final product and therefore reduces its health benefits. Instead, we like to use a wood or liquid medium to grow our mushrooms, as it’s easier to separate them out at the end and ensure that only mushroom ends up in the final product. 

However, as Cordyceps sinensis is so notoriously tricky to grow in controlled conditions, it is necessary to use a starchy medium. Most suppliers of Cordyceps militaris also use starch as their substrate.

 

How do I know my Cordyceps is high quality? 

When producing our Cordyceps sinensis powder, we take steps to separate the mushroom from the substrate to ensure you’re getting as much mushroom as possible. 

But how can you tell whether the final product is going to have those all important health benefits?

When it comes to cordyceps, scientists have identified two key nutrients which they think are responsible for many of its health benefits. These are polysaccharides called beta-glucans and an important secondary metabolite called cordycepin.

To make sure you’re buying a high quality product, ask the supplier what levels of these nutrients are present in their product. 

At Erbology, we send our mushrooms to an independent laboratory, where they are tested for their beta-glucan content. Among all our mushrooms, our Organic Cordyceps Powder actually has the highest level of beta-glucans – around 47%. This is extremely high, especially considering it’s a natural whole food powder and not an extract. 

We also test for cordycepin. Our Organic Cordyceps Powder contains on average 8mg cordycepin per 1g of powder. 

What is CS4?

Some suppliers grow their Cordyceps sinensis in a slightly different way. This method is particularly common in products sourced from China. 

It involves growing only the mycelium of the fungus in a liquid medium. When grown this way, the fungus is called ‘CS4’. 

Many suppliers use CS4 as it has a similar chemical makeup and apparent health effects as Cordyceps sinensis.(6)

However, we made a conscious decision not to use CS4. This is because, when you only use the mycelium of the fungus, you are missing out on the benefits of using the fruiting bodies (which also produce beneficial secondary metabolites). 

If your supplier is using CS4, this information should be available on the label or in the product information. Don’t be afraid to ask if you’re unsure.

So, which is better?

The differences between Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris are slight in terms of their health benefits. In essence, they’re both a good choice!

A study comparing the ability of both species of cordyceps to fight free radicals found that both fungi excelled in different areas. Cordyceps sinensis was better at protecting proteins from free radical damage, while Cordyceps militaris was better at protecting liposomes (little vessels made of the same stuff as your cell membranes).(7)

Both have demonstrated similar health benefits in scientific studies. 

Across different suppliers, you may find that different cordyceps products contain more or less of those all-important bioactive compounds. So, make sure that you check with your supplier so you can feel confident in the quality of the product. 

Why has Erbology chosen Cordyceps sinensis over Cordyceps militaris?

When we add new products to our range, we always look at all the options available to find the best possible ingredients. 

After carefully considering our two options, we decided to go with Cordyceps sinensis. There are a couple of reasons for this. 

Firstly, while studies have shown that both types of cordyceps can provide health benefits, Cordyceps sinensis is the one which comes with thousands of years of traditional use. 

Secondly, the popularity of Cordyceps militaris seems to have come about because it’s more convenient  and cheaper for the supplier to grow, rather than because it’s a superior product. 

We already take extra steps such as growing our products in an organic environment and having our mushrooms tested at an independent lab to ensure their quality. So, we weren’t looking for the most convenient option for ourselves. Rather, we went with the product which we felt offered the best quality and health benefits, based on both scientific studies and traditional use. 

For us, Cordyceps sinensis pipped Cordyceps militaris on both counts. It’s the better option, in our opinion, although both types of cordyceps are a great addition to your routine. 

 

Want to find out more about our mushrooms?

We know that medicinal mushrooms can be intimidating when you’re first looking into them. There’s so much information out there that it can seem a bit overwhelming!

To help you find the key information quickly and easily, we’ve put together a free guide to medicinal mushrooms. Just click the link to access our free mushrooms ebook to find out more. 

 

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