Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) belongs to Ascomycetes family. It is a physiotherapeutically crucial member of the Cordyceps genus of about 400 members. It is indigenous in the humid areas of China’s and Tibet’s altitude regions of over 3000 m. It is an extremely popular fungus, on one hand due to its great taste, and on the other hand it has energy-enhancing, vitalizing, immune-enhancing properties.
The history of Cordyceps goes back to the 15th century, as the first written record from Tibet took place that time. It was mentioned as an aphrodisiac, but later several other beneficial properties were found, many of which were backed by scientific studies.
It grows in a special way, it is extremely valuable
The botanical name of Cordyceps is derived from the composition of the Latin cord, ceps, and sinesis, so from a Chinese words, referring to its unique appearance and origin.
Cordyceps is a kind of parasitic fungus (endoparasite). It settles in dead or living insects (mostly in moths), as its name suggests. For the development of the fungus, the spores of the mushroom cover insect body in the early developmental stages (e.g. pupa, imago) during the autumn-winter period which slowly penetrate the insect protective chitin due to the enzymes. Subsequently, hyphaes growing from the spores gradually fill the inside of the host, leaving only the outer layer. Then sporophore of Cordyceps develops, which is typically brownish, orange-tinged, jutting, finger-shaped, forming a mushroom of 4-11 cm. The overall development usually takes 5-6 years. In China, due to this unusual development process, Cordyceps is referred to as ’insect in winter, grass in the summer’.
Of course, Cordyceps does not grow in this form, so we do not have to fear that the fungus we eat is the result of this process.
Cordyceps is the most popular medicinal fungus in the eastern countries. Its value is outstanding; its price is much higher than truffles. Its use has therefore become a status symbol in the Far East.
Its most important ingredients
Its 60% lipid content stands out from other fungus species. It consists predominantly of unsaturated fats (linoleic acid, oleic acid), and its saturated fat content (palmitic acid) exceeds 40%. Cordyceps also contains 30% proteins and is also rich in antioxidant polysaccharides, minerals (e.g. phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and calcium), and trace elements, vitamins (e.g. B1, B2, B12, E and K). It has high antioxidant content.
However, bioactive compounds are also found in Cordyceps such as polysaccharide called galactosanan, adenosine, guanosine and uridine, various phytosterols (e.g. ergosterol, vitamin D2 precursor). One of the most important components is beta-glucan, as an anti-cancer compound.
Its effects on human body
Traditional Chinese medicine and Tibetan medicine consider it as a healing fungus. Cordyceps together with other plants (e.g. ginseng), are used as powder, tea, soaked in alcohol, or as a tincture. First of all, after long-lasting illness, it is recommended to use for the weakened body. Other traditional uses include strengthening the lung and kidney function, coughing, reducing lung and bronchial discharge, toning tuberculosis, haemorrhage, impotence, irregular menstruation, age-related weakness, reducing back pain, night sweats and the nervous system.
Its positive effects:
- Helps the body’s defence mechanisms: it activates the so-called killer cells (NK cells) by immunomodulatory activity, and increases the level of T-cells that fight against infections that play a major role in controlling harmful microorganisms.
- Antineoplastic effect: the anti-tumour activity can also be attributed to the activity of killer cells. Some tumour types (breast cancer, lung cancer) were observed to slow or stop tumour cell division. As it also improves immune-suppression, it also has a good effect on the condition and recovery chances of patients with cancerous disease.
- Enhances performance by increasing the body’s energy level and vitality. Cordyceps enhances the body’s oxygen supply, increases cellular energy production and improves blood circulation.
- Enhances sexual performance
- Has antioxidant effect, i.e. protects against harmful oxidative processes of the body, reduces the chances of developing various diseases and slows down aging processes.
- Effectively relieves stress-induced anxiety.
- Reduces abnormally high blood fat level: it can reduce total cholesterol levels by 10-21%, triglyceride by 9-26%, while increasing good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) by 27-30%.
- Has a good effect on the respiratory system: it has been effective in solving the bronchial cramps; it also helps relieving the blocked mucus, thereby facilitating breath.
- Yung-Chia Chen, Ying-Hui Chen, Bo-Syong Pan, Ming-Min Chang, Bu-Miin Huang (2017): Functional study of Cordyceps sinensis and cordycepin in male reproduction: A review. journal of food and drug analysis 25 (2017) 197 -205. p.
- Kazuki Nakamura, Kazumasa Shinozuka, Noriko Yoshikawa (2015): Anticancer and antimetastatic effects of cordycepin, an active component of Cordyceps sinensis. Journal of Pharmacological Sciences 127 (2015) 53-56. p.
- Pohleven, J., Korosec, T., Gregori, A. (2016): Medicinal mushrooms. Published by MycoMedica
- Steve Chen, M.D.,Zhaoping Li, M.D., Ph.D.,Robert Krochmal, M.D.,Marlon Abrazado, B.S., Woosong Kim, B.S., Christopher B. Cooper, M.D. (2010): Effect of Cs-4® (Cordyceps sinensis) on Exercise Performance in Healthy Older Subjects: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. THE JOURNAL OF ALTERNATIVE AND COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE, Volume 16, Number 5, 2010, pp. 585–590. p.
- Babulka Péter: A XXI. Század gyógyítói a gombák
- Dr. Zhu at the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 1998
- Reference 1, Chapter “Effects on blood lipid metabolism and arteriosclerosis”, pages 299 – 301