Medical Mushroom Series – Cordyceps


Medicinal Mushrooms are fairly closely related to us, evolutionarily-speaking.  We share about 30% of our DNA with mushrooms, and both species use enzymes to break down nutrients to sustain ourselves.  Most mushrooms break down plant matter externally, and in the process, create soil and access to nutrients which Nature uses to create new life.   We humans take food inside our bodies where our digestive system uses enzymes to break down nutrients which we can absorb.


In an earlier version of  his book, Jeff Primack, author of Conquering ANY Disease, The Ultimate High-Phytochemical Food-Healing System wrote:


“In rural Tibet, wild cordyceps have become the most important source of income.  Prices vary dramatically depending on quality.  In 2008, a kilogram of high quality wild cordyceps sold between $3,000 and $18,000.  Exactly what do cordyceps do, and why are people willing to pay so much for them?”  


It’s your lucky day!  If you haven’t done so before, it’s your TIME to take a closer look at this powerful Fungi, and–spoiler alert—you’ll find the price has come down to earth.


  • Dizzy? Got Tinitus? (no known Western Cure)
  • Want more Sexual Prowess or Fertility, Better Athletic Performance?
  • Need more ENERGY?
  • Got Liver or Lung Issues?
  • Plagued with Heart Irregularities or High Blood Pressure?
  • Want to Slow Down the Effects of MS?
  • Got Chronic Tracheitis or Allergic Rhinitis?
  • How about Adrenal Fatigue? Low Platelet Count?
  • Want a better Cholesterol Balance?
  • Got Leukemia? Other Cancer?
  • Night sweats?


THIS MUSHROOM MAY BE FOR YOU.    Ask your Doctor of Chinese Medicine.



Often referred to as the Chinese Caterpillar Fungus (a botanist may tell you it is a specialized fungus, not a true mushroom), the first written, medicinal descriptions of Cordyceps were found in Asian material dated in the 1500’s, and they are the only known mushroom species which consume live creatures rather than decaying plant matter.    They are diabolically parasitic.  Remember the “Little House of Horrors”?  Well, maybe not quite that bad, but still cleverly predatory.


Cordyceps were initially discovered growing out of the heads of caterpillars in the high-mountain plateaus of Tibet.  This mushroom can also grow on other insects such as wasps and is found in caves growing on arthropods such as spiders and scorpions.  This feeding approach is unique among the fungal world, the rest of which consumes plant matter, and there are now over 700 identified species of this mushroom found primarily in Asia (e.g., NepalChinaJapanBhutanKoreaVietnam, and Thailand). Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid, temperate and tropical forests.


When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium (its root structure) invades and eventually replaces (consumes) the host tissue.  The elongated fruit body may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape, and the mushroom fruiting head bears many small, flask-shaped structures containing “asci” (somewhat like seeds).  These, in turn, contain thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective when the spores are jettisoned out into the environment.


But the weirdness doesn’t end with the mushroom’s takeover of the host body.  One species, the Cordyceps Sinensis, creates an obedient zombie of its victim, commanding its host to climb to the top of a plant and anchor itself there right before it dies.  This way the mushroom has a greater range for dispersal of the “seeds” of the next generation when the spores fly.


Don’t worry too much about the poor victim insects.   With the tremendous rise in recent years of the popularity of these fungi, humans have learned to cultivate them on grain substrates, somehow convincing this mushroom species to feed on plants.  Careful scientific testing has proven the compounds in the mushrooms to be identical, as best we can tell.  So the amazing medicine they create is preserved and made more accessible for larger, far more economical harvests.



In Chinese Medicine, Cordyceps are used most for treating:

  • Lung, Liver & Kidney Disorders
  • Heart Disorders
  • Sexual Function (the Kidney is related to sexual performance in Chinese Medicine)
  • Athletic Performance

We will cover those topics and more.   For those of you with a serious science bent, many studies are listed in the Resource and References section at the end of the article.  Several  are from Medicinal Mushrooms – A Clinical Guide, pages 55-56.

We offer these brief descriptions of health issues treatable with Cordyceps:   

LUNGS – Treats respiratory ailments such as allergies, asthma and COPD, Consumption & TB.  Cordecepsin relaxes bronchial muscles.  It dissolves phlem (although there is disagreement between two studies I read regarding whether or not it is an expectorant).  It stops bleeding.   You can understand why Cordyceps can be helpful in treating Bronchitis and the lung-ripping effects of severe coughing.

LIVER – Multiple studies (including studies with alcoholics experiencing Cirrhosis of the Liver) have shown the ability of two kinds of Cordyceps to inhibit lung fibrosis & inflammation and help restore liver function. (Cordyceps militaris and sinensis).

HEART – The drug Adenosine, administered via IV’s in emergency care centers, is actually named for one of the phytochemicals (plant chemicals) found in Cordyceps.  It helps regulate the heart and open vascularity.   Both cordyceps and reishi have adenosine, and both are 100% non-toxic, even at high doses.

SEX – Cordyceps is probably best known for sexual therapy.

  • Double Blind Study: 200 Men with Impotence:  Performed at Beijing Medical University in China.  64% of men had success in regaining sexual function (1)
  • Double Blind Study: 21 Women with Sexual Frustration:  90% reported improvements in libido and sexual activity following use, compared with none in control group. (2)
  • Fertility – Used by leading fertility specialists to increase sperm count and increase the success of Invitro Fertilization procedures.

NOTE:  Anything that’s good for Fertility is good for General Energy & Sense of Wellbeing.  Can you say “Anti-Aging”?

ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE – In 1993, the Chinese won three Gold Medals and broke five world records for women’s running.   The team was widely accused of using steroids.  Test results were negative, but the coach later admitted to giving the team Cordyceps Mushrooms.  Why the effect?  ATP energy is increased by adenosine and hence, cordyceps are used by athletes to improve performance.


Cholesterol studies from 1985-95 showed that Cordryceps inhibits formation of LDL (by 50% in a study using rats.)


Cordyceps has been shown to enhance Natural Killer cell activity in leukemia patients by 400%.  Similar improvements were found with melanoma cancer.  (3)


Improves Brain Function + High Antioxidant for Liver, Lungs and Heart Cellular Health:   “Experimental evidence based on polysaccharide extracts indicates that O.sinensis genus is also able to improve brain function and antioxidative enzyme activity (superoxide dismutase increased by 40-51%, glutathione peroxidase and catalase), which, together with its beneficial effect on cardiovascular function, makes it an excellent supplement for the elderly.”   – Medicinal Mushrooms, referring to a study from 2009. (4)

Increase Cellular Energy!  Cordyceps increases cellular energy thru increased ATP synthesis, (the basic unit of energy production), which promotes better oxygen efficiency, faster energy recovery, and reduced fatigue.    In a clinical study with elderly people experiencing fatigue who took Cordyceps supplements for 30 days, 92% showed reduction of fatigue, 89% were less cold, and 83% were less dizzy.  – Conquering ANY Disease, (5)


Keep reading….more info in the last section in conjunction with a standard MS drug.



As indicated earlier in the article, there are even more health issues this mushroom addresses such as Adrenal Fatigue, Trachial and Allergic inflammation, etc.



This is a real concern with the Mushroom family, as some are very toxic.  Good news for us:  The toxicity profile of this mushroom is extremely low.  Mice can take up to 250 times the human dose before showing any ill effects.  However, it is toxic to some “bad bugs”.   Staphylococcal (Staph) and Streptococcal (Strep), and a few other bacteria are targeted with a special mushroom-created antibiotic.


MUSHROOM  VS. DRUG …and the Whopping Price Difference!

Wikipedia states:

Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties,[8] like cordycepin; the anamorph of C. subsessilis (Tolypocladium inflatum) was the source of ciclosporin—an immunosuppressive drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it inhibits rejection.[9] Fingolimod, a sphingolipid used to treat Multiple Sclerosis, is modified myriocin which was isolated from Isaria sinclairii, the anamorph stage of Cordyceps sinclairii.  (6)


Now that’s heavy reading.  Clearly this mushroom has unusual effects on us humans.  It can inhibit rejection of organ transplants, for example.  The MS piece is a bit harder to understand, so let’s take a moment to translate, and to get an understanding of the huge chasm between pricing of drugs and natural medicine.



As referenced above, once again, Nature provides the basis of a pharmaceutical medicine.  In September 2010, Gilenya (Novartis), which has been proven to cut MS relapses by 50%, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as a first-line treatment for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis, thereby becoming the first oral disease-modifying therapy to be approved for multiple sclerosis (MS) in the United States. It is a synthesized drug based on the Cordyceps’ own compound “Myriocin”, a fatty acid compound which occurs chiefly in the cell membranes of our brain and nervous tissue. (7)    This drug works directly on the central nervous system and specifically on neural cells by “regulating migration” of certain immune cells, thereby blocking neurologically-destructive action which occurs in MS.


Hmmm…I Say

….Why not use the real thing—the actual mushroom compounds–as has been done for thousands of years in China?  It’s likely cheaper, I thought.  So, I went to the Internet.  Here’s what came up:


Current Cash Prices for a One-Month Supply of MS Medication

Drug Name (Manufacturer) Dose Walmart
Gilenya (Novartis) 0.5MG CAP (28) $5,372.18



How much do mushrooms cost?  Hot-water-extracted medicinal mushroom products, including Cordyceps, created using the methods of possibly the world’s leading, living Mycologist, Paul Stamets, usually retail for less than $75/mo.    Now, I’m not an expert in the drug Gilenya, but I do know Cordyceps have been used effectively in Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.  Come in for a consultation at the clinic to learn more about medicinal mushrooms.

“Ask your Doctor of Oriental Medicine if Medicinal Mushrooms are for you!”

Lastly, you’ve earned A Prize because you read all the way thru.  Check out this short BBC Wildlife video:

Other articles in the Medicinal Mushroom Series:

Cordyceps the Conquerer

Lion’s Mane for the Brain and Nerves

In Praise of Fungi,

Dr. David and Deb Martin
And all the Providers at Lotus Blossom Clinic

Serving the Greater Fort Myers area with Chinese Medicine, Food Healing Science, Energy Healing, Natural Esthetics/Facials, Emotional Breakthrough Coaching and more.



Medicinal Mushrooms, A Clinical Guide, by Martin Powell, 2010 and 2014.

Conquering Any Disease, The Ultimate High-Phytochemical Food-Healing System, by Jeff Primack, updated 2015.

Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, by John K. Chen & Tina T. Chen; Copyright 2004 by Art of Medicine Press, Inc.; ISBN:  0-9740635-0-9

The Scientific Rediscovery of a Precious Ancient Chinese Herbal Regimen:  Cordyceps sinensis.Jai-Shi Zhu, M.D., PhD., Georges M Halpern, M.D., PhD., and Kenneth Jones; The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 4, Numbers 3 and 4, 1998, pp. 289-303 and 429-457.

Planet Earth, Richard Attenborough BBC Wildlife:


SPECIFIC REFERENCES correspond to article numbers in (  ):

  1. Scientific Chinese Medicine: Cordyceps sinensis: J Altern Comp Med 1998, 4(3)
  2. Sex hormone-like effects of JinShuiBao, Chinese Trad Pat Med 1988: 9
  3. The Scientific Rediscovery of a Precious Ancient Chinese Herbal Regimen: Cordyceps sinensis.Jai-Shi Zhu, M.D., PhD., Georges M Halpern, M.D., PhD., and Kenneth JonesJournal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 4, Number 3, 1998, pp. 289-303.
  4. Antiaging effect of Coryceps sinensis extract. Ji DB, YeJ.LinCL, Wang YH, Zhao J, Cai SQ, Phytother Res. 2009;23(1):116-22.
  5. Cao A, Wen Y. J applied Traditional Chinese Med 1993; 1:32-33
  6. Chun J, Brinkmann V. A Mechanistically Novel, First Oral Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis: The Development of Fingolimod (FTY720, Gilenya). Discovery medicine. 2011;12(64):213-228.
  7. Fingolimod (FTY720): discovery and development of an oral drug to treat multiple sclerosis.