Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao)Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao)

Botanical Name: Cordyceps sinensis, C. militaris, C. ophioglossoides

Cordyceps is a fungus that lives on certain caterpillars in the mountains of China. It is now cultivated in laboratories. Cordyceps is a powerful adaptogenic and immune building herb, considered to have excellent anti-aging properties. It is also frequently used to treat chronic fatigue, kidney disorders, and male sexual disorders. Athletes use Cordyceps to build endurance.

Below is an overview of Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao).

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Western Name: Cordyceps

Also Known As: Caterpillar Fungus, Caterpillar Mushroom, Yarsha Gumba, Semitake

Organs/Systems: Respiratory, Cardiovascular, Endocrine, Reproductive

Key Actions: Adaptogen, Anti-inflammatory, Anticancer, Tonic, Antioxidant, Anti-aging, Antimicrobial

Medicinal Uses: Stress, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, lupus, diabetes, leaky gut, asthma.


Pin Yin: Dong Chong Xia Cao (translates as Chinese Caterpillar Fungus or Winter-worm and Summer-grass)

Also Known As: N/A

Meridians: Kidney, Lung

Key Actions: Tonifies Yin. Tonifies Yang. Tonifies the Kidneys. Transforms Phlegm. Stops Bleeding. Augments Lung Yin.

Medicinal Uses: Infertility, erectile dysfunction, chronic fatigue, kidney stones, renal failure, colds, flu, bronchitis, low back pain, lupus, Crohn’s disease, proteinuria, weak extremities, consumptive coughs with blood in the sputum; cleanses the kidney and liver, protects the lungs and kidneys, builds stamina.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Cordyceps is a genus of parasitic fungi (ascomycete or sac fungi) that grow on the larvae of insects, in particular caterpillars. There are more than 400 species of Cordyceps.

When these fungi attack their host they replace its tissue and sprout long, slender stems that grow outside of the host’s body. The remains of the insect and the fungi are hand-collected and dried.

Cordyceps (Dong Chong Xia Cao)Parts Most Frequently Used: Mushroom

Flavors/Temps: Sweet, Warm

Caution: Considered safe.

History/Folklore: Cordyceps stimulates cells and specific chemicals in the immune system, helping to support overall immunity and helping to prevent illness, including cancers. Cordyceps is used by athletes to build stamina and strength. It contains adenosine, a nucleic acid that increases the production of the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is at the core of delivering energy to muscles.

The herb has been used for thousands of years to improve energy, appetite, stamina, and libido. Traditional healers in Indian and ancient Chinese and Tibetan cultures have used Cordyceps as a tonic to treat a wide variety of ailments, including diabetes, infertility, and erectile dysfunction.

The constituents d-Mannitol Cordycepin and 3-deoxyadenosine are in part responsible for various physiological functions that help control insulin and blood sugar levels. Animal studies have shown the herb combats high blood sugar levels while simultaneously reducing insulin levels, helping to protect against insulin resistance.

Cordyceps is being studied for its ability to help lower LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels, helping to prevent the arteriosclerosis that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. Cordyceps may also help in reducing high levels of triglycerides, which can also be a cause of heart disease.

Cordyceps has long been used to fight coughs, colds, other respiratory infections, and chronic autoimmune disorders. It is also used to treat asthma, tuberculosis, and chronic bronchitis by helping to protect the lungs.

In Oriental medicine, it is considered a Yang tonifying herb used to protect the kidneys during transplants, as well as to treat renal failure and restore the kidney damage caused by toxicity. It is also used to restore liver function caused by either hepatitis B and C.

It is especially effective at countering those ailments that are associated with inflammation, including arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease, cardiovascular issues, and even Alzheimer’s.

Cordyceps sinensis is a root-like structure with dark brown fruiting spores and white tendrils, called mycelium. C. militaris is the cultivated version and is just white or yellow mycelium. The chemical makeup of the natural or wild-harvested and the cultivated variation of Cordyceps is also different. For example, the lab-grown variation, C. militaris, is mostly made up of the constituent cordycepin, while the wild variation is mostly adenosine. It is adenosine that is known to enhance athletic performance. While some levels of beneficial compounds have been amplified in the lab, some bioavailability and efficacy of other compounds have been reduced or changed.

Commercially produced Cordyceps can also be diluted with rice fillers. Many commercial producers of Cordyceps use brown rice flour or other grains to grow the Cordyceps on, and these grains can be ground into the powder that is sold as Cordyceps. While this is not a harmful practice and indeed helps to make Cordyceps affordable for purchase, it can alter the chemical properties associated with wild-harvested Cordyceps. Wild-harvested Cordyceps can cost up to 10,000 USD per pound.

The name Cordyceps comes through Latin from Greek words meaning club and head.

One of the first written records of Cordyceps dates to the Tang dynasty 620 BCE, where it is noted to be a mythical and magical creature that can transform from an animal to a plant throughout different seasons. In the winter it grows as a parasite feeding off the body of insects, particularly caterpillars, and then emerges in the summer as a mushroom.

The mushrooms are harvested in early summer when the fungus has emerged, but before the larval body has disintegrated. Good quality Cordyceps is intact with a short stick-like fungus and a bright yellow, fat, full, and round insect part with a yellowish white cross-section.

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Key Constituents:

Polysaccharides, Nucleosides, Cyclosporines, Cordysepin, Cordycepic acid, Adenosine, d-Mannitol cordycepin, 3-deoxyadenosine, Ergosterol, Bioxanthracenes, Hypoxanthine, Superoxide dismutase, Protease, Dipicolinic acid, Lectin.

Did you know?

Yin and Yang

In Oriental medicine, Cordyceps is understood to tonify both Yin and Yang. Due to this balance, it can be taken safely over long periods of time and is commonly used as a tonic herb.


$10,000 Soft Gold

Natural Cordyceps sinensis is harvested by hand and carries a price tag of 10,000 USD per pound, making it the most expensive mushroom in the world. It is sometimes referred to as “soft gold.”

Fun fact!

5-12 g per Day

A typical general daily dose of C. militaris is 5 to 10 g is used to build strength and boost immunity.


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