[cȯr-di-səps] / Ophiocordyceps sinensis
Use Cordyceps to:
+ Perform better (both athletically and in the bedroom)
+ Increase energy
+ Alleviate asthma or bronchitis
Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom valued primarily for its extraordinary ability to increase energy and reduce fatigue. It’s been a centerpiece of traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1,300 years, with the first known record of its use dating back to the Tang Dynasty in AD 620.
If historical lore is to be trusted, yak herders in the Himalayas of ancient Tibet and Nepal first noticed the effects of cordyceps when their animals became significantly more frolicky and frisky after grazing in areas where it grew. What those yaks were grazing on is another interesting tidbit: cordyceps’s stoma and fruiting body grow out of the mummified carcasses of insect larvae, usually caterpillars—hence its English nickname, the “caterpillar mushroom.”In the wild, cordyceps spores inhabit and kill their insect host, stealing all its nutrients to survive. While some strains of cordyceps now grow in other locations (the mountainous regions of Peru, for example), the original celebrated strain of cordyceps grows only on the Himalayan Plateau, at roughly 12,000 feet above sea level, so harvesting them from the wild is both extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive. This in part explains why cordyceps was so valuable in ancient China as one of the best medicinal mushrooms—it was as rare as it was effective. Today, a Himalayan harvester hopes to find about ten small specimens per day. These treasures may then appear on the shelves of a local apothecary and sell for $500 to $1,300 an ounce—wild cordyceps can cost as much as $20,000 a pound!—meaning that a good harvest year can make a huge difference in the life of the field worker. In fact, some experts estimate that the harvesting of wild cordyceps represents up to 90% of the cash income in the areas of Tibet where cordyceps grows, and about 40% of all rural area cash income in Tibet. It’s a huge business, albeit not a very sustainable one. But don’t worry—there’s cordyceps that have been cultivated in a vegan-friendly way through liquid fermentation (the mycelium is strained and dual extracted to create a mushroom extract that is as potent as the wild variety).
Considered as one of the most popular healing mushrooms, cordyceps is most notable for its energizing effects, due to its beta-glucans. Those present in cordyceps, like all other beta-glucans, deliver oxygen to the body on a cellular level, which not only decreases the occurrence of disease but also increases energy and stamina. Cordyceps also significantly boosts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) levels in the body. ATP is the body’s main energy supply source and is required for all cellular processes. Cells need energy to activate our muscles and keep us moving. Think of ATP acting on our bodies the way batteries do in a flashlight. When our ATP levels dip, our energy levels take a dive as well. When ATP is recharged, by cordyceps, for example, we shine bright again, moving with ease and alacrity. Because it is so effective at increasing energy and decreasing fatigue, cordyceps is a popular and effective mushroom supplement for the elderly who are seeking to counteract the lethargy that often accompanies aging and for athletes who are looking to perform at peak levels.
Here’s a notable example. Cordyceps first came under the spotlight of mainstream culture in 1993 when China’s Olympic women’s track-and-field team broke three world records in a single week. The athletes were tested for banned substances and none were detected. Ma Junren, the team’s legendary coach, eventually disclosed that the secret to the team’s success was a “secret elixir made from the Cordyceps sinensis mushroom.” Those results are probably a bit more extreme than what you and I will experience, but the fact is that everyone can benefit from using cordyceps as a general rejuvenator, particularly when your body is recovering from illness.
Because of cordyceps’s unique ability to boost oxygen flow and increase ATP, it can also have a tremendous impact on respiratory issues, such as asthma or bronchitis. I had a friend who had suffered from asthma since he was a young boy, but as an adult, he started using cordyceps, taking 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams in capsule form daily. After about a month of consistent use, he no longer needed his inhaler or prescription asthma medications.
Cordyceps’s anti-inflammatory properties mean that it can help with blood flow, overall heart health, and lowering cholesterol. Its beta-glucans and another chemical compound called cordysepic acid have been known to shrink tumors and directly stimulate lymphocyte production, to kill foreign bodies in the immune system. Among the many other benefits of this medicinal mushroom, there’s the interesting fact that cordyceps has been known to help with libido. This perk is attributed to both the cordysepic acid as well as deoxyadenosine, another chemical acid. Both help with erectile dysfunction by boosting testosterone levels and increasing blood flow by getting things moving in all the right places. Just as it affected those frisky animals in the Himalayas, cordyceps can help out humans in the bedroom. No wonder it’s earned the rather unimaginative, yet fitting, nickname “cordysex.”
If you happen to be in the Himalayas during a harvest period, you’ll recognize cordyceps by the dark brown “tail” (fruiting body) growing out of the carcasses of dead caterpillars. And if you are there for such an event, be careful, since there is a lot of competition for this highly valued fungi; fights over foraging rights can get ugly.
The Insane Power of Fungi
Cordyceps is part of the Ascomycetes fungus family, which also includes truffles and morels; Penicillium, the mold that naturally produces penicillin; and ergot fungus, the source of the most potent hallucinogen in the world, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). The fact that members of the same family can be used in such different manners—as prized culinary mushrooms, or as one of the most prevalent and prescribed antibiotics in the history of Western medicine, or as a powerful mood-altering illegal substance—perfectly illustrates the incredible dichotomy of the fungi kingdom.