Botanical: Cordyceps sinensis
Family: Clavicipitaceae (antler fungus)
Other common names: Deer Fungus, Caterpillar Fungus, Vegetable Caterpillar, Semitake,
Dong Chong Xia Cao (Summer Grass/Winter Worm or Summer Herb/Winter Bug)
Used exclusively in the Emperor's palace of ancient China, Cordyceps Mushroom has been employed as an aphrodisiac and therapy for impotence. Ancient records claimed that it was beneficial for the heart, circulatory system, liver, kidneys, respiratory system and sex organs; and modern research claims that it can be used as an immune system stimulant for those who are debilitated or have undergone surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. Athletes are said to particularly favor its energy-boosting and endurance-enhancing properties, and its many qualities have earned Cordyceps a reputation as a "Cure-All."
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Cordyceps Mushroom is a plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to restore energy, promote longevity, stimulate the immune system and to improve quality of life. Cordyceps literally means "winter worm, summer grass," when translated from the Chinese Dong Chong Xia Cao. It is an antlered fungus that grows in insect larvae, usually before the insect's cocoon is formed, thereby earning one of its common names, Deer Fungus. The mushroom has a short, sticklike appearance with a fat, round, yellow-white cross section and is gathered in the early summer for use in herbal medicine. It is naturally found in mountainous areas of China, Tibet and Nepal at very high elevations where there is good drainage. Cordyceps Mushroom is said to be a native of China, and may also be found in Japan and the Atlantic seaboard of the United States, but it is very difficult to collect from the wild and is, therefore, usually grown in laboratories in tissue cultures. In ancient China, the scarcity of Cordyceps kept it in the exclusive domain of the Emperor, and it has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat kidney problems, cancer, high cholesterol and ringing in the ears. It has also been called an aphrodisiac and therapy for impotence. In 1957, the chemical constituent of Cordyceps was determined, and a crystalline substance was isolated and named Cordyceps acid, which was later identified to be D-mannitol by Sprecher and Sprinson. Further studies were performed to determine additional constituents, and cordycepin, a compound commonly used in Chinese Medicine since the 1950s, when the first scientific papers were published on the subject, has demonstrated significant pharmacological effects in the area of cancer treatment. Chemical substances in Cordyceps include protein, amino acids, D-mannitol, galactomannin, mycose, ergosterol, uracil, adrenine, adenosine, cholesterol palmitate and Fatty acids: oleic, linoleic and stearic acid.
Cordyceps Mushroom may be very helpful in boosting the body's defenses against infection. The herb appears to delay the diffusion and division of infected cells. It is also thought to prolong the survival of lymphocytes (white blood cells that help the body fight infection), enhance TNF-alpha and Interleukin-1 production, as well as increase the activity of the immune system's crucial T-cells and macrophages, the immune cells that surround, digest and destroy foreign materials and invaders that cause serious malignant disease. Other reported effects have included the inhibition of production of DNA and RNA synthesis in cancer cells (Plageman and Erabe, 1971).
In 2009, scientists at Britain's University of Nottingham re-investigated what was once a promising cancer drug (cordycepin extracted from Cordyceps Mushroom). Although cordycepin had demonstrated effiicacy, it was degraded quickly in the body and needed another drug to combat this effect. The new research has developed a method to test how effective cordecepin acts in new preparations and combinations with other drugs, which might solve the problem of degradation more satisfactorily. The research team believes their work could help make the drug more effective, and useful for treating a wider range of cancers.
Further supporting the immune system, Cordyceps Mushroom is said to strengthen the immune systems of those who have undergone surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. It is also believed to help people convalescing from long-term illnesses or suffering from exhaustion and debilitation.
Cordyceps Mushroom is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to restore balance between the lungs and the kidneys. It is said to contain inhibitor substances that attack damaged lung cells and may slow down the degeneration of the lungs and open up the bronchioles to produce greater oxygenization. It is often used to slow the progress of lung degeneration in ailments such as bronchitis and emphysema.
Athletes favor Cordyceps and claim it enhances energy levels and increases endurance and stamina. Interestingly, at the 1993 Chinese National Games, the women’s team broke world running records, and it was discovered that the team had been given a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) cocktail that included Cordyceps Mushroom. Several studies have since been done to provide evidence for the effects of the fungi on human performance, and one study, published in the Sports & Exercise Journal, concluded that a compound in the fungus supports normal fat mobilization and beta-oxidation, thereby preserving glycogen usage during prolonged exercise. In another study, led by Morrissey in Beijing University, blood samples taken before, during and after exercise from human males, those that were given the highest levels of a formula containing Cordyceps improved lactate clearance due to improved lactate energy metabolism within the cell. The author concluded that the Cordyceps herbal formulation would enhance lactate clearance and allow athletes greater anaerobic performance.
With respect to good heart health, Cordyceps is said to promote the heart's strength, while slowing the pulse. It is also thought that the adenosine and other related nucleosides raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol) levels, while lowering total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) levels. This action is believed to inhibit cholesterol plaques in the arteries (clotting), which helps to promote overall circulation and may reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis, stroke or heart attack. Adenosine also acts to dilate the coronary arteries, further leading to improved coronary function.
Cordyceps Mushroom has been considered helpful in relieving tinnitus that is caused by fluid accumulation in the inner ear, but not tinnitus associated with auditory nerve disorder.
Those who have hormone-sensitive disorders, such as breast cancer or prostate cancer should not use Cordyceps Mushroom Herbal Supplement, and it should be used only by adults. People who use any prescription medications, but particularly anticoagulant or immuno-suppressant drugs, should consult their physicians before using the herb. Some animal studies show proliferation of progenitor red blood cells; thus, Cordyceps should not be used by those with myelogenous type cancers. There have been reports of upset stomach and dry mouth. Blood glucose should be monitored in diabetics using Cordyceps due to possible hypoglycemic effect.