The best proof that appearances can be deceiving is that, if we tell you that Cordyceps is an obligate parasitic fungus, you may tend to think of it in a pejorative way. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the so-called “Tibetan treasure” is a mushroom that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since time immemorial to increase energy, treat respiratory diseases or enhance sexual desire, among many other benefits. The aim of this post is to show you why it is so coveted.
- 1 What is ‘Cordyceps’?
- 2 Get to know the habitat of ‘Tocheikasa’.
- 3 Brief notes on breeding and cultivation
- 4 The origins of its preventive and therapeutic use
- 5 Some interesting facts about the ‘Tibetan treasure’.
- 6 What is ‘Yarcha gumba’ for?
- 7 Biochemical profile
- 8 Are there any known side effects?
- 9 What about contraindications?
- 10 How to take the capsules of this Tibetan parasitic fungus?
- 11 Here are the combinations that work best?
- 12 Studies and References:
What is ‘Cordyceps’?
It is a genus of fungi belonging to the broad division of ascomycetes (the most populous of the kingdom Fungi) and is divided into three families: Cordycipitaceae (in which the main species, Cordyceps sinensis, fits), Clavicipitaceae and Ophiocordypitaceae.
The genus Cordyceps comprises some 400 species, including ongisegmentis, larvicola, militaris and sinensis, the latter being the focus of our analysis.
This species, known on the Asian continent for thousands of years for its amazing healing properties, is undoubtedly the most popular and most exploited of its kind and was originally named yartsagumbu.
As mentioned at the beginning, it is a fungus that lives as an obligate parasite and needs the bodies of various invertebrates, mainly ants, caterpillars and spiders, on which it feeds voraciously until its life is over.
Fearsome to ants
In the particular case of ants, the spores spread by sinensis attach themselves to their skeleton, causing them to begin to inflict a progressive deterioration caused by the expansion inside their organism, which leads them irremediably to an agonising death. This cruel process takes place without any need to damage their ‘vital organs’.
Once it takes control of its brain, it subjects it to a kind of “neural deprogramming”, causing the ant to lose its sense of direction and become erratic for hours. The result? It couldn’t be more striking or more flattering for the Cordyceps, as it bites into the fungus itself and leaves its jaw stuck there, dying paralysed.
As for the phenomenon that takes place on the caterpillar’s body, which appears as a larval stage of the so-called Himalayan bat moth (an insect of the Lepidoptera family), we will tell you more about this fascinating process later on.
Get to know the habitat of ‘Tocheikasa’.
Although the 400 or so species of the genus Cordyceps have a cosmopolitan distribution, they are mostly recognised as indigenous to Asia, especially the Himalayas, Japan, the Korean peninsula, China and parts of Southeast Asia.
If we stick to the sinensis variety, its habitat is located in the high plateaus of the Himalayan range, which includes the region of Tibet, northern India, Nepal and certain southern provinces of China. However, it has also been reported from the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Kenya, Russia and Tanzania.
In Tibet, it grows spontaneously on ledidoptera larvae, but because it is expensive to cultivate and harvest in the traditional way, requiring time and specific culture media, its price is tremendously high. For this reason, other ways have been found in which its production can be increased and marketed in large quantities, so that people all over the world have access to its extracts and tablets.
Brief notes on breeding and cultivation
If we tell you that Cordyceps sinensis takes 6 years to complete its growth in the wild, together with the enormous economic benefits that its exploitation produces (as we will explain later), you will understand why this natural resource has been overexploited and has even been classified as an endangered species by the Chinese authorities.
This also explains why most of the Cordyceps marketed worldwide comes from a programmed culture. The methodology to achieve this comes from a solid medium and liquid medium culture:
- In the first case, a cereal or soya bean substrate can be used, although the predominant method in China (the country of its cultivation par excellence) is liquid state fermentation. It consists of the formulation of a sterile liquid medium in which all the ingredients required for its rapid growth come into play.
- In the second method, mainly used in Japan and the United States, fermentation is carried out in a solid state. The mycelium container in this case can be plastic bags or glass jars that almost always use a sterilised cereal grain as a substrate, usually rice, but also wheat or rye.
The origins of its preventive and therapeutic use
Originally and for a number of centuries, the Tibetan mushroom has been an indispensable substance in the apothecary of traditional Chinese medicine, as a remedy of choice for the treatment of respiratory, liver, heart and kidney health problems.
However, beyond its undisputed healing properties, it has been used as a powerful argument to explain the astonishing longevity characteristic of the Chinese population, as well as their better tolerance to fatigue and the higher performance of their physical work.
Furthermore, the sources of Chinese philosophical knowledge have historically reported that Yasra Gumba acts as a balancing factor between body and soul, giving it the ability to restore harmony between the organs of the body, which is fully accepted by Chinese medical knowledge.
For centuries, taking Cordyceps was also considered a privilege reserved for the elite classes, until the arrival of the 1980s was the turning point for it to become a powerful focus of attention for the international scientific community.
Some interesting facts about the ‘Tibetan treasure’.
Its many medicinal benefits have brought this humble parasitic fungus, which has been elevated to the status of a medicinal jewel, into the spotlight from all corners of the globe. For this reason, we thought it would be a good idea to tell you some interesting facts about it.
Why is Cordyceps referred to as the ‘Tibetan treasure’?
Cordyceps sinensis is one of the most popular natural remedies in traditional Asian medicine. According to the FAO’s “Edible Wild Mushrooms – An overview of their use and importance to the population”, this mushroom is a fungus that is “eaten” solely and exclusively for its health benefits.
It remains a resource of exceptional value both for its medicinal properties and for the impressive economic benefits it brings to its collectors.
Did you know that it is worth more than its weight in gold?
The qualities of Cordyceps are so highly prized that it is said to be a medicine worth more than its weight in gold. In fact, it may even be worth three times its weight in gold.
Some sources have reported that a single specimen can cost around two euros in a local market and that its value can be multiplied by a factor of forty in specialised markets.
The result of a captivating biological process
In Asia, it is known as “winter insect, summer grass”, a name related to its development and fruiting.
In summer, the fungus spores invade the caterpillars of many species of moths in the grasses of the high plateaus of the Himalayas, more than 3,800 metres above sea level.
During the winter, the larvae carrying the fungus bury themselves in the soil in order to hibernate, while their mycelium invades their bodies.
The arrival of spring brings with it the reactivation of the mushroom mycelium, which begins to bear fruit, giving rise to an elongated cylindrical shape that makes its way through the grasses in order to receive sunlight. Each specimen of Yarcha Gumba can reach a length of 4 centimetres.
Many names for a single ‘Cordyceps sinensis’.
Although its scientific name is Cordyceps sinensis, the truth is that this particular fungus is called by many different names. Thus, you may hear it referred to in many different ways, but they all refer to the same thing!
- Their local names: Yasra gumba, Yarcha gumba
- Its common Nepalese names: Jeera jhar, Jeevan buti, Keeda ghass, Chyou kira, Sanjeevani bhooti
- Its common name in China: Dong Chong xi cao
- Its common names in Japan; Tocheikasa or TochuKaso
- Its English name Caterpillar fungus
Yartsagumbu would be understood as the result of the parasitic relationship between the insect Hepialus armoricanus (Himalayan moth) and Cordyceps sinensis, which makes it a somewhat more complex term than the simple name of the Tibetan mushroom.
What role do the ‘jaks’ play in your story?
The energising properties of Cordyceps are linked to Tibetan pastoralism. Legend has it that the arrival of the first snow and thaw allowed herders to take their cattle up to the higher elevations of the mountains, so that they could feed on the fresh grass, as well as the so-called “brown grass” later identified as Cordyceps sinensis.
After ingestion, the shepherds noted that their< yaks, sheep and goats became stronger and more robust. Moreover, it seemed that their behaviour was similar to that of the rutting season. Thus, the first medicinal uses of this fungus were related to improving the reproductive capacity and vitality of livestock.
Discover the first mentions of its medicinal properties
Among the approximately 400 known species, the sinensis variety is one of the most appreciated and widely used in traditional medicine.
As a traditional mushroom, we find the first references to it in the Qing dynasty in China. Specifically, we are talking about the treatise Ben-Cao-Cong-Xin, translated as “New Compilation of Medical Material”, in the 18th century.
In the West, we owe its first reference to the French Jesuit and historian Du Halde, who experienced its invigorating effects at first hand and wanted to tell the world about them.
More than 2,000 scientific articles endorse its properties
If there is one thing that can be said about Cordyceps, it is that it is one of the most studied medicinal mushrooms. For example, more than 2,000 scientific articles have been written about it since the 1980s.
A high percentage of them have been used to determine their renal, genitourinary, hepatic, immune, respiratory and energetic properties.
What is ‘Yarcha gumba’ for?
El recurso al Cordyceps se ha usado masivamente en la medicina tradicional tibetana y china durante siglos. Ello no significa que la sociedad occidental haya permanecido ajena a sus bondades y, de hecho, la industria farmacéutica multinacional se ha valido de sus contactos para integrarla entre sus materias primas más selectas. En esta línea, constituye la base de ciertos fármacos con alto valor terapéutico, como algunos de los destinados a combatir el cáncer o el SIDA, por ejemplo.
Its main component is a substance known chemically as 3-deoxyadenosine, which has a series of mechanisms that allow it to act, sometimes decisively, in various chemical processes related to inflammation, tumour metastasis, platelet aggregation in blood coagulation, cell signalling, apoptosis or cell death, etc.
Although in principle it develops the mechanisms of action of a natural antibiotic, its effects extend to a wide range of organic functions.
Main health properties
- Anti-viral effect, specifically against the virus that triggers AIDs.
- Regulating the immune system, stimulating the interferon production (natural anti-viral agent) and cytokines.
- Improving the heart function and lung ventilation, which improves the breathing process.
- Lowering the cholesterol and triglyceride levels, limiting the LDL or bad cholesterol.
- Protecting the hepatic and renal functions.
- It slows down the synthesis of proteins called kinases, which are involved in responding to chemical and physical signals received by cells.
- It acts on the central nervous system, with a marked antidepressant and anti-stress tendency, and is considered an adaptogen.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Increasing the resistance against asthenia and fatigue.
- Helps to combat annoying recurring ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.
- Stimulating the libido and improving the fertiliy.
- Good remedy against anemia.
- It may be an antimetastatic agent in certain cancers, but trials are not yet fully conclusive, and research is still in its infancy.
The conglomerate of attributes that Cordyceps boasts can only come from the substantial array of active ingredients in its chemical composition.
- Cordycepin (0,28 %).
- D-mannitol or cordyceptic acid (8 %).
- Antioxidant superoxide dismutase enzyme.
- Vitamins B1, B2 and E.
- Ergosterol (Vitamin D precursor).
- Beta-carotene (precursor form of vitamin A).
- Macro-minerals and trace elements: zinc, manganese, selenium, chromium, phosphorus and potassium.
- Functional polysaccharides such as beta-glucans (excellent immunity boosters), galactomannans (soluble fibre designed to delay glucose and cholesterol absorption) and proteoglycans (modulators of signals generated in the communication between the cell and its environment).
- Obstructing the degradation of integrating lipids in the myelin sheaths of neurons.
- Inhibiting the activity of monoamine oxidase, the enzyme responsible for masking certain neurotransmitters, which play a key role in the functioning of the nervous system, such as serotonin.
Consistent with them, this enzyme is a weapon to combat the deterioration of neurological functions and to support mood.
Are there any known side effects?
The first thing you should know for this purpose is that Cordyceps is quite well tolerated by the body, so there is no significant record of side effects, as long as it is routinely supplemented in the diet.
What about contraindications?
Another issue is the question of contraindications. For example, if you are undergoing treatment with psychotropic substances, bronchodilators or anticoagulants, or if you are taking serotonin, you should consult your doctor about the advisability of taking it before starting Cordyceps supplementation.
On the other hand, there are indications that its most important active ingredient, cordycepin, may interfere with antithrombotic drug treatments, so if you do take them, you should avoid taking Tibetan mushroom supplements.
This is similar in the field of organic defences, as it plays a significant role in the functioning of the immune system, and supplementation is therefore not recommended in cases where immunosuppressive drugs are administered.
How to take the capsules of this Tibetan parasitic fungus?
The usual way for you to benefit from Cordyceps’ repertoire of properties is in the form of a dietary supplement of Cordyceps mycelium extract.
The recommended daily amount seems to be around 0.5-1.5g per day of the mycelium extract mentioned above.
Here are the combinations that work best?
As we have already said, Cordyceps has an interesting range of beneficial properties for the body, but what about using it in synergistic combination with other substances?
Make a note of the best combinations!
- With Reishi and ginseng. As soon as you learn that in the world of natural remedies they have been christened “the imperial trio”, you will become aware of their synergistic potency in terms of detoxifying capacity, which is present in all three on a large scale.
- With Ginkgo biloba. You won’t find a better ally than Cordyceps to display its slowing effect on cellular ageing. In addition, both provide strong cell membrane permeability, which is crucial for the prevention of degenerative diseases.
- With astragalus. Also called tragacanth and Cordyceps, they form an outstanding combination for the treatment of kidney diseases.
- With acacia flower honey. Combines Cordyceps (preferably organically grown), with acacia flower honey, to focus on energy recovery in situations of wear and tear.
Tibetan treasure, parasitic fungus or Tibetan Viagra. Whatever you want to call Cordyceps sinensis, the important thing is that you benefit from a natural jewel that is increasingly being attributed with therapeutic properties, and finally at an affordable price!
Studies and References:
- Ashok Kumar Panda and Kailash Chandra Swain. Traditional uses and medicinal potential of Cordyceps sinensis of Sikkim. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2011 Jan-Mar; 2(1): 9–13.
- Carlos Illana Esteban. Cordyceps sinensis, un hongo usado en la medicina tradicional china. Rev Iberoam Micol 2007; 24: 259-262
- M.G.Shashidhara, Giridharc, Udaya Sankar. Manohar. Bioactive principles from Cordyceps sinensis: A potent food supplement – A review. Journal of Functional Foods Volume 5, Issue 3, July 2013, Pages 1013-1030
- Guo P, Kai Q, Gao J, Lian ZQ, Wu CM, Wu CA, Zhu HB. Cordycepin prevents hyperlipidemia in hamsters fed a high-fat diet via activation of AMP-activated protein kinase. J Pharmacol Sci. 2010;113(4):395-403.
- Cordyceps sinensis (un medicamento chino tradicional) para el tratamiento de la nefropatía crónica. Cochrane
- Bao-qin Lin and Shao-ping Li. Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition.