A Beginner's Guide to Cordyceps

A Beginner's Guide to Cordyceps

Latin name: Cordyceps sinensis Origin: Cordyceps are native to the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, West-Sichuan, SW-Gansu & NW Yunnan), and the Himalayas (India, Nepal, Bhutan) 
Alternative names:
Caterpillar Fungus/Mushroom
Himalayan Viagra
Yatsa Gunbu
Keera Jhar
Dong Chong Xia Cao meaning "Winter Worm
Summer Grass" in Chinese
Parts used: Mycelium and stroma (fungal fruit body)


Immune System

Alongside other medicinal mushrooms, Cordyceps is a powerful immune booster. It stimulates the immune system by increasing the number and boosting the activity of natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell), which protect the body from viruses and bacteria. A recent study showed that Cordyceps increased the levels of these cells by 74% in healthy individuals. A number of polysaccharides found in Cordyceps are also believed to play an important role in enhancing the immune system by increasing its defensive power.

Respiratory System

Discovered by the Yak herders of Tibet, Cordyceps has since been found to enhance cells’ ability to utilise oxygen, thus assisting the herders at high altitudes where oxygen is in shorter supply. This effect is thought to protect the lungs, make it easier to breathe and improve respiratory function in general. Extensive studies in humans have proven it useful for; bronchitis, asthma, coughs and emphysema.

Enhances Athletic Performance

Another benefit of increasing the cells’ ability to utilise oxygen is the effect it has on athletic performance. This was famously seen at the 1993 Chinese National Games, where the Women’s Field and Track team broke 9 world records – not just by a little bit but by startling amounts! The governing sports authorities suspected some performance enhancing drugs had been used, however it was freely admitted by the coach that the secret to their success was the Cordyceps he had been giving the team. Recent research has confirmed that Cordyceps usage also increases cellular ATP levels, the molecule that actually releases energy into the cell. The double effect of the increased ATP and better oxygen utilisation go hand in hand to increase energy and stamina, giving more fuel to burn and more oxygen to burn it with.

Promotes Longevity

Powerfully antioxidant, Cordyceps increases the action of Super-Oxide-Dismutase (SOD), a potent antioxidant in the body. SOD will quench the free radicals and other toxins that can cause premature aging and degenerative diseases.

Liver & Kidney Health

Cordyceps benefits the liver by increasing the efficient function of this important organ. Studies have found it normalises liver enzymes, can inhibit steatohepatitis and retard cirrhosis. There is one particular study consisting of 22 patients stricken with post hepatic cirrhosis. After consuming 6-9 grams of Cordyceps per day for 3 months, all of the individuals in the study experienced dramatic liver function improvement. Renal function has also been shown to be improved by supplementation with Cordyceps - a study with 51 patients suffering chronic renal failure showed that the administration of 3–5g per day of Cordyceps sinensis significantly improved the kidney and immune functions of the patients.

Sexual Health

Also known as “Himalayan Viagra” and “The Sexual Potentiator”, Cordyceps highly influences the release of testosterone by increasing the blood circulation, thus enhancing erectile function, virility and stamina. It is especially good for women who may be in the menopause or post-menopausal - this is partly because it enhances the biosynthesis of the steroid hormones cortisol, estrogen and testosterone.

Folklore and history

According to legend, yak herders in the Himalayas of Tibet and Nepal noticed that when their yaks grazed on a certain mushroom, they suddenly become very energetic and playful. The herders investigated what they were eating and the strange and mysterious Cordyceps caterpillar-mushroom was discovered.

The first written record of Cordyceps was made during the Tang Dynasty (620AD). It quickly became prized by the ruling emperors of China for its healing and longevity properties. Physicians of the Ming dynasty are said to have used this fungus to make powerful tonics. From the 1400's onwards, Tibetan scholars wrote extensively about Cordyceps.

Cordyceps were brought to Europe by a French priest - residing as a guest of the Chinese Emperor, he was introduced to Cordyceps and their revitalizing powers. In 1757 Cordyceps made its first appearance in a European medical text - New Compilation of Materia Medica. From that point on, scientists have been fascinated by the health properties of Cordyceps.

Cordyceps Sinensis is just one member of the massive Cordyceps family, comprising of over 400 members. All Cordyceps are endoparasitoids, meaning the spores infect a host insect, taking over the body, culminating in the fruiting body sprouting from the insects brain. Each species will only invade a single species of insect. Cordyceps Sinensis invades the larvae of the Chongcao bat moth which hibernates for the winter underground in a cocoon. Its mycelium mummifies the body of the larvae whilst it is asleep and when the spring comes a single thin stroma sprouts from the head and pushes upwards like a single blade of iridescent blue grass. Land rich in Cordyceps can apparently be easily identified - that's where the yaks prefer to graze!

Traditional use

Whilst only gaining popularity in the Western World over the last 20 years or so, Cordyceps has been widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. Of the many benefits most closely associated with this weird and wonderful fungus, it was mainly used to protect the liver, improve kidney function, alleviate symptoms of respiratory illness and to enhance libido. It was also recommended as a tonic for “all illness”, with the ability to improve energy, endurance, stamina, appetite and disrupted sleep patterns.

Typical use

A typical dose of Cordyceps is 1 to 3 grams up to 3 times a day. 


Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to Cordyceps, mold, or fungi. Cordyceps may cause dry mouth, nausea, loss of appetite, diarrhea or dizziness.
Cordyceps is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women due to a lack of available scientific evidence. Cordyceps is possibly unsafe for pregnant women as it may affect steroid hormone levels.

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