Cordyceps was a well kept Chinese secret until the Beijing Olympics in 1993 when the world got to know how cordyceps had boosted the performance of some of the Chinese athletes and enabled them to break world records. However, this wasn’t always a secret, as ancient Chinese texts have always extolled the virtues of cordyceps and outlined its amazing medicinal properties.
There are over 400 species of cordyceps, but for our purposes, we will consider cordyceps sinensis to understand how it can be beneficial to us. Cordyceps sinensis is commonly known as the caterpillar fungus. It is typically found in China, Tibet, Nepal, and the Himalayan regions of India. The caterpillar fungus germinates in living organisms, typically larvae, kills the insect, and then mummifies it, after which the cordyceps emerges from the body of the insect.
Cordyceps sinensis has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for various purposes. In Chinese, it is known as dong chong xia cao, which means ‘winter worm, summer grass’ – a perfect explanation for describing how the cordyceps sinensis starts out as a worm in the winter to become a plant in the summer.
Cordyceps sinensis has a number of benefits for overall general health, but there are some specific reasons as to why it is favored by many. Here are some of the benefits provided by cordyceps sinensis:
- Improved Immune system – Cordyceps sinensis is commonly used to boost the immune system and make people stronger. Chinese medicine practitioners believe that cordyceps increases the white blood cell count and thus protects the body against viruses and bacteria that cause illnesses. The elderly in Chinese society also use it as a form of ‘super ginseng’ to improve their stamina and health.
- Better physical performance – In the context of the Chinese athletes in the Olympics, cordyceps was used to improve their performance and to build up muscle. The results of their performance were there for the whole world to see. Cordyceps helped these sports people by increasing their stamina and energy levels and is now a popular supplement in the sports community.
- Improved libido – Here’s good news for those who think they need Viagra. Cordyceps stimulates the production of sex hormones in men and improves sexual function as a result. The regular intake of cordyceps also ensures that female fertility is boosted.
- Anti-aging functions – Cordyceps has plenty of antioxidants which prevent the free radicals from oxidizing the cells and thus prevent aging. Also interesting to note is that the composition of cordyceps essentially affects gene clusters and actually reverses the effects of aging. For older patients, cordyceps is a good supplement to keep their minds fresh and revived.
- Reducing fatigue – Another amazing function of cordyceps is that it soothes the nervous system and promotes sleep so that people can feel refreshed. It lowers anxiety levels and helps you feel at ease.
- Respiratory functions – Cordyceps is an anti-inflammatory substance and can relax the bronchial walls. This makes it a great option for preventing coughs and other respiratory diseases.
- Boosting organ performance – Cordyceps ensures that the blood flow to organs such as the liver and kidneys is increased, thereby making them perform better. Due to this, these organs are able to fight diseases better by keeping chronic kidney disease and hepatitis at bay.
- Fighting cancer – Cordyceps affects the development of cell proteins and prevents the formation of mRNA molecules which are essentially required by cancer cells to survive. When these basic needs are eliminated, cancer cells are effectively terminated. It’s interesting to note that cordyceps was used as part of a cancer treatment drug called Cordycepin in the 1950s; however, it did not prove to be that effective.
The amount of research that has been conducted on cordyceps is still rather minimal, so it’s definitely not safe for pregnant women or nursing mothers to consume cordyceps. Also, it’s not advisable to give it to children. One of the effects of cordyceps is that it induces weight loss, which might not be viewed as a bad thing by many people. Since cordyceps causes the immune system to become more active, people suffering from autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis may find the symptoms to be more pronounced.
Cordyceps supplements are easily available for those who want the benefits without the hassles. These supplements make it easier to consume the mushroom. However, cordyceps can be converted into a powder as well, which can be used as part of a capsule. Traditionally, cordyceps mushrooms were boiled with chicken and made into a soup. Today, however, it’s easier to sprinkle the brown powder over chicken soup or broth to fortify it immeasurably.