Mushroom 2 – Cordyceps (Caterpiller fungus)

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Reference to this herb goes back thousands of years in Tibet, China and Japan. Because of its rarity it was reserved for use by the emperor and royalty.

The literal translation of Dong chong xia cao is “winter bug summer herb” or “summer grass winter worm”. It was described as transforming from animal to plant and back to animal again. Sounds yummy doesn’t it.

The cordyceps fungus colonizes the larvae of the Thitarodes genus of ghost moths. It completely infects and devours the hose insect and then grows its stalk to release new spores and start the process again. The remnant of the caterpillar and the fruiting body (mushroom) are collected and used. Gentle cleaning and drying give it a mushroom flavor after cooking with no hint of the original insect.

There are actually 3 different cordyceps based on their location of habitat. The Tibetan (xi zang)is the best quality and is gathered in July. Qing hai cordyceps is gathered in June. It is smaller and slightly less potent than the Tibetan. Sichuan cordyceps is the smallest variety and the least effective. Its color is brown while the others are golden yellow.

Environmental issues such as its preference for extreme altitude (over 10,000 ft) and the fact the it is over-harvested have made it an extremely costly ‘wild’ fungus. It is possible to buy the cordyceps sinensis fungus and cultivate it though. Rather than using a caterpillar it can be grown in other hosts such as rye grain, millet or rice. Rye or millet produces a higher quality product than rice. It is best for the natural areas and protection of wild source to only buy products cultivated from C. sinensis or C. mycelia.

In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to treat deficiencies in both Kidney yin and yang. This can also be called adrenal burnout, and used for excessive physical exertion or chronic illness. Cordyceps restores the life essence (jing), controls fluid metabolism (Spleen and Lung), promotes healthy sexual functioning and nourished bones and hearing. Many of these conditions are those that you see developing as one grows older, the back and knees hurt, the hearing is not as good and libido diminishes. All signs of Kidney deficiency.

Safety and Use:

Some fungus scientists feel it is safer to use products derived from C. sinensis and C. mycelia to minimize the potential for contamination from mold and bacteria found in imported products.

No serious side effects have been reported, however, some people may experience nausea, diarrhea or dry mouth. Cordyceps should not be used by pregnant or lactating women or children, as it has not been studied enough in these patient categories. Cordyceps is considered a non-toxic fungus. No known drug interactions have been found, but due to cordyceps’ effect on blood glucose, diabetics should carefully monitor their blood sugar during use. Cordyceps is a red blood cell progenitor; therefore, it should not be used by people suffering from myelogenous (bone marrow) cancers.

Some sources say to not take cordyceps if you are on immunosupressive drugs such as cyclosporine. A small study in 1995 with patients who had kidney transplants and were on cyclosporine showed that it actually helped prevent the nephrotoxic (kidney damaging) side effects of the drug.

There are a variety of products out there. I would recommend getting yours from your licensed acupuncturist. They can evaluate all the supplements and medications you are taking and prescribe safely for you.

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