What are Cordyceps?
Cordyceps sinensis is a Chinese herb that has been used for centuries and is currently being studied in depth for its broad pharmacological effects and properties. In Chinese it is called dong chong xia cao which means, "winter worm, summer grass". It contains a fungus that grows on caterpillar larvae and mainly grows at 3500-4500 meters on the plateaus of Sichuan, Qinghai, and Tibet in China. The herb is part of traditional Himalayan and Chinese medicine, and unlike many other herbs, it can be prescribed as a single herb or used in a formula.
What are Cordyceps Used For?
According to research done on cordyceps, the herb has been found to have the following properties:
- Anti-stress and anti-fatigue
- Positive effects on the lungs and kidney
As well as enhancing respiration, healing fibrosis of the lung, and used to benefit those with chronic kidney disease (CKD) .
How Does Cordyceps Work?
While many medicinal mushrooms help boost natural killer (NK) cells in the body to promote an immune response, cordyceps specifically also propagates helper T cells, which aide in killing cancer cells, meaning cordyceps also has anti-tumor properties .
Studies show that cordyceps increases longevity in animals by virtue of its high antioxidant properties, making it anti-aging as well. Traditionally, this herb has been used in many cultures local to where it grows to boost memory, support sex drive, and increase longevity and vitality .
Additionally, research shows that the herb boosts exercise performance by improving the way the body uses oxygen, especially during exercise . One study showed that sedentary participants on cordyceps for two weeks performed better while doing exhaustive physical exercises than those who did not take the herb, and these results have been reproduced . The researchers found less fatiguability and measured more efficient oxygen utilization.
Cordyceps in Traditional Chinese Medicine
From a TCM point of view, cordyceps is considered a Kidney Yang tonic. The Yang of any organ is said to be its activity and function, and in TCM the Kidneys rule “growth, reproduction, and longevity”, and are associated with the bones, teeth, and signs of aging. In addition, they also play a role in respiration along with the Lungs.
An important function of the kidneys is to “grasp the qi,” or breath. In TCM, while the Lungs control exhalation, the Kidneys control inhalation. Cordyceps increase the availability of qi to both the Lungs and Kidneys. Because of this, this herb is often prescribed to anymore experiencing asthma, wheezing, allergies, and prone to catching colds. In this sense, cordyceps have long been used to boost immunity.
Comparing the use of cordyceps sinensis in TCM with the ones concluded from Western medical studies show that the functions are similar with clear overlaps: they both aide in respiratory function, increase immunity, and have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties . For this reason, cordyceps turns out to be highly synergistic herb in Eastern and Western medicine, with simply our understanding of the organ systems and their energetics, functions, and explanations that differ.
- Chen, John K. “Chinese Medical Herbology & Pharmacology.”