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Cordyceps Fungus: The Ultimate Guide (Including CS-4, Sinensis & Militaris)

Have you heard of the famous and widely-sought-after Cordyceps zombie mushroom yet?

The Cordyceps Mushroom is a highly-revered medicinal mushroom that has been used in human history for millennia, and now making a strong resurgence in modern times.

Alongside other key medicinal mushrooms such as Turkey Tail, Chaga, Reishi & Lion’s Mane - Cordyceps forms one of the pillars of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

If you don't know much about it, you're about to discover that its origin story is like something from a sci-fi novel.

In this guide, we'll take you through the countless health benefits these humble fruiting bodies can offer, where you can get high-quality extracts and dive deep into how to use them properly.

So, if you're eager to learn all about the Cordyceps sinensis, CS-4 & militaris mushroom, then settle in and read on!

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Cordyceps Mushrooms

What Are Cordyceps and Where Do They Grow?:

Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that grows and proliferates inside of insects!

There are hundreds of different species of naturally-occurring Cordyceps, all of which require a different and unique insect host! As such, you’ll encounter many different names for Cordyceps mushroom including (but not limited to)

  • Chinese Caterpillar Fungus
  • Caterpillar Mushroom,
  • Cs-4
  • Champignon Chenille
  • Dong Chong Xia Cao
  • Dong Chong Zia Cao
  • Hsia Ts'Ao Tung Ch'Ung
  • Ophiocordyceps sinensis
  • Tochukaso
  • Yarsagumba

Research has found that after the spores infect an organism, the mushroom begins to grow inside its head eventually consuming the whole insect and turning into mycelium.

In some cases, once this change occurs, the cordyceps fungus/insect hybrid will continue to grow into a mushroom, which we know as cordyceps.

The formation of this mushroom is undoubtedly one of the most mind-blowing naturally occurring processes and the inspiration for countless Sci-Fi and horror movies!

Do yourself a quick favour and spend the next 3 minutes watching the king of the jungle (David Attenborough) show you exactly how this happens with bullet ants!

It’s important to note that Cordyceps is not only safe for humans but also contains a suite of health benefits and enhancements that we will discuss in great depth as you read on.

Types of Cordyceps

Cordyceps mushrooms are a fascinating group of fungi that exhibit incredible diversity, with a wide array of types and species. However, two of the most prevalent and well-known varieties are Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris. 

What Is Cordyceps sinensis?

Cordyceps sinensis (or Ophiocordyceps sinensis) is a specific species that infects and grows on the Hepialus moth caterpillar. This species of caterpillar lives in Tibet, China, and a few other Asian nations and is associated with the incredible health and performance benefits that this mushroom is famous for.

Appearance

The mushroom is a long, thin cordyceps species that are brown or orange in colour. It is subtly sweet and is similar in flavour to the cep mushroom many chefs use for cooking.

Uses

This particular species is powerfully medicinal and has been primarily used in traditional Chinese medicine for its energy-boosting, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The Chinese call it dongchongxiacao and in Tibet, it is known as yarsagumba.

Value

This species is often referred to as Himalayan gold due to its scarcity driving it to a high price. The natural habitats in which it grows are disappearing and suffering from over-cultivation. As of 2007, there had been a decrease in the amount of naturally-occurring Cordyceps sinensis of about 90% within a 25-year period, according to the National Institutes for Health. This scarcity has led to a dramatic increase in its price.

As of 2023, the price of Cordyceps sinensis has continued to rise due to its medicinal properties and high demand in traditional Chinese medicine. The current market price is even reaching up to 140,000 USD per kilogram, making it one of the most expensive fungi in the world. The high price is also a reflection of the challenges associated with cultivating this fungus, which requires specific environmental conditions found in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas.

Cordyceps Sinensis

What is Cordyceps militaris?

Cordyceps militaris is really the only other species that is widely used for its health benefits - both traditionally in modern times. It shares a very similar appearance and chemical composition to sinensis, however, is reported by many manufacturers as being easier to cultivate so is becoming more and more common.

Appearance

Cordyceps militaris is easily recognizable due to its vibrant orange colour and club-shaped fruiting body. It typically grows on insect larvae, producing a fruiting body that emerges from the host's body. The fruiting body is small, typically between 1 to 3 inches in length, and has a dry, velvety texture.

Uses

Cordyceps militaris has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly in Asia. It is known for its antioxidant properties, ability to inhibit inflammation, and potential cancer prevention properties. 

Value

While Cordyceps militaris is less expensive than its relative, Cordyceps sinensis, it is by no means cheap. The cost of Cordyceps militaris is driven by the complexity of its cultivation process, which requires a specific set of conditions to mimic its natural growth on insect larvae.

Moreover, the increasing demand for Cordyceps militaris, driven by its growing popularity as a dietary supplement and a key ingredient in traditional medicines, has led to a surge in its market value. Despite its price, many consumers are willing to invest in Cordyceps militaris due to the range of health benefits it offers. As such, it is not only a valuable health supplement but also a significant commodity in the health and wellness market.

Cordyceps Products Australia
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What Are the Cordyceps Benefits?

Let's dive right into why these mushrooms are taking the health world by storm:

Exercise

These fruiting bodies gained much fame in 1993 during the Olympics when Chinese runners had record-shattering performances. When asked, their coach partially credited the superior exercise performance of the athletes to cordyceps, which, of course, caught the interest of participants who wanted to get fit and have better athletic performance.

There have been studies testing the effects in VO2 max through exercise capacity in older and younger adults. Over a span of 6 weeks, participants were either given 3 g of the mushroom per day or a placebo. The VO2 max of the product group increased by 7% in older adults, and 11% in younger adults, while the VO2 max of the placebo group showed no change.

Traditional and Modern Uses

To really understand the potential health benefits of cordyceps, you have to go back to ancient Chinese herbal medicine. It was in traditional Chinese medicine that cordyceps and other herbs found their innovative uses as a tonic for treating issues with kidney function and supporting lung improvement.

In China, it is still used as an immunosuppressive treatment for a kidney transplant. They also use it to combat exhaustion and to improve sex drive. In general, traditional Chinese medicine viewed this as an elixir of life that could treat an array of health problems, and that carried over into modern times.

In fact, modern uses don't stray too far from traditional uses. Some of the effects of Cordyceps include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help it combat many ailments. It is also a natural energy booster and provides a lift to the immune system. Many participants claim it can serve as a natural athletic performance booster to increase exercise performance and even slow ageing in healthy older adults.

There is some evidence that it could potentially protect against a slew of other health issues, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • High cholesterol
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic Kidney disease
  • Depression
Cordyceps australia

Cordyceps Militaris vs Sinensis Benefits

Among the various species, Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris stand out due to their extensive therapeutic benefits. While they share the Cordyceps name and many medicinal properties, each brings a unique set of benefits to the table. 

Cordyceps Sinensis Benefits

Cordyceps sinensis contains several bioactive compounds, including cordycepin and polysaccharides, which have been linked to a range of therapeutic effects. For instance, cordycepin has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour properties. Additionally, the polysaccharides in Cordyceps sinensis have been shown to possess antioxidant and immunomodulatory effects.

Cordyceps Militaris Benefits

On the other hand, Cordyceps militaris shares many of the same health benefits as Cordyceps sinensis, but it is particularly known for its potential to enhance athletic performance. 

Scientific Studies on Cordyceps Health Benefits

The National Institutes of Health explain that because it is an alternative medicine, there is no FDA approval for cordyceps, however, there have been various high-level and well-reviewed studies into what it can do.

Performance Studies

Studies have shown in regards to boosting athletic performance, cordyceps did help to improve the abilities of healthy older adults. Another study showed it helps to increase oxygen intake in young adults and supports athletic recovery while also having anti-fatigue effects, which all can aid with athletic performance.

Diabetes

Cordyceps is a traditional treatment in China for diabetes as it's said to lower blood sugar levels. While scientists don't typically study on people, research done on diabetic mice shows that, aside from reducing blood sugar levels, it can improve cholesterol and reduce weight.

Cancer

Early test-tube studies showed promising results that it might offer some protection against cancer cell growth. Specifically, there is a claim for fighting colon cancer cells, breast cancer cells, and lung cancer cells, and has also been used for fighting leukaemia. Studies have shown that cordyceps has anti-tumour effects for lung cancer, lymphoma, and melanoma in mice.

Ageing

Another animal study has indicated that mice who take cordyceps may live slightly longer than those not taking it. The same results occurred in a fruit fly study, which is promising when it comes to the anti-aging benefits. These fruit bodies contain antioxidants, meaning they are made up of molecules that fight cell damage by neutralising free radicals. This can aid in combating disease and slowing ageing.

Other Studies

An asthma study in China showed the fungi could relax airway constriction while a study in rats has shown cordyceps could help reduce heart injuries. There have even been studies regarding benefits for chronic kidney disease.

Cordyceps contains the compound cordycepin, which can help to relax blood vessels, improve circulation, and lower blood pressure. There are proven results in scientific studies on humans showing results such as helping heart health, increasing exercise performance, and improving kidney function or kidney disease.

There have also been many discoveries in studies that show various properties of cordyceps that are identical to known drugs or substances on the market.

Cordyceps Sinensis health benefits

Is It too Good to be True?

It’s important to note that most studies on all medicinal mushrooms are animal studies, and there is rarely enough evidence in our opinion to make any direct or conclusive statements on how impactful they can be on humans.

What this means for you is that even if these animal studies can show very promising results, the translation over to the effects on a human body isn’t necessarily the same.

Cordyceps Products Australia
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How to Take Cordyceps

Due to the natural, alternative medicine state of cordyceps, there are no formal recommendations from experts on how much to take. In general, you should always follow the cordyceps product label which differs between manufacturers - but typically suggests a dosage of 1,000 to 3,000 mg per day.

However, how much you can take will heavily rely on the potency and type of cordyceps you are taking. That is why you should read and follow the label, or consult a doctor, above all else. The manufacturer will have the specific information needed to formulate a safe and effective dosage.

You should note that all research studies on the health benefits cordyceps have, show that a short-term and consistent routine will produce the best results, meaning you will need to use this supplement every day if you really want to reap the supported benefits of it.

how to use cordyceps mushroom

Is It Safe to Take Cordyceps?

Generally speaking, limited research indicates that it is likely safe for humans to consume cordyceps without issue. Anecdotally, cordyceps has been used safely in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.

That being said, everyone reacts differently to new substances and you should always contact your doctor or GP before consuming it. Even then, start with a small dose and increase slowly over time as your body adapts to avoid any unintended side effects.

Cordyceps Mushroom Side Effects

as we’ve mentioned above, typically, cordyceps is incredibly safe to take and produces no side effects. However, in the rare cases they do occur, the most common include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach ache
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea

The side effects cordyceps cause will go away when you stop using the product. If you wish to keep taking it, you can sometimes control the side effects by taking it after eating. If the symptoms persist, it is important to seek medical advice from your doctor.

In some people, there is a lasting side effect that causes a metallic taste in the mouth. This is very rare, however, and not something most will experience.

Another rare side effect is that cordyceps has been reported to increase anxiety in some people.

Cordyceps mushrooms

Where to Get Cordyceps Mushroom

Cordyceps is fast becoming a very popular health supplement here in Australia and around the world.

It’s generally produced as a concentrated extract in liquid, powder or capsule form that can be taken directly, or mixed in with food and drinks.

If you’re interested in buying whole cordyceps mushrooms, be cautious as most are not authentic due to how rare they are.

Whether you’re Australian, European, from the U.S. or further abroad - there is a high-quality cordyceps supplier that you can buy from.

Read the Label

When it comes to buying any supplement, you need to read the label and to research each manufacturer so that you can ensure you get the purest, highest-quality extract available. The explosion in popularity of cordyceps has unfortunately led to a large number of dodgy manufacturers and low-quality (even dangerous) products.

It is common for many brands to include ‘fillers’ in their blend (such as rice or other non-medicinal mushrooms) to reduce their costs, which will obviously not provide you with the full cordyceps benefits.

Lower quality products may contain contaminants, such as heavy metals, toxins, or moulds. Many of these products do not list all the ingredients, so you will never really know what you are consuming.

In addition, if a supplement is yeast-free, it will usually be of higher quality. This label helps you to know that it likely does not have mould in it.

A good manufacturer will be transparent with their sourcing principles and testing results so you can be sure you are purchasing the highest-quality cordyceps possible.

What to Expect

Generally, most Cordyceps sinensis and cordyceps mushroom extracts are not naturally grown cordyceps. Most are cultures that are manufactured in labs.

The cost of wild cordyceps is extremely high, and it is also very difficult to find wild-grown cordyceps due to over-harvesting. There is an argument because of this that its unethical to be consuming wild cordyceps.

What you will usually get is termed: Cordyceps Cs-4.

This is a cultured cordyceps that Chinese scientists created. The cordyceps Cs-4 process does not produce an actual mushroom. It only produces a mycelium liquid culture, which much research shows has the same effects as the cordyceps extract.

Another possibility is the Cordyceps militaris. This is a type of cordyceps grown in mushroom form. Some manufacturing methods don’t separate the mushroom from the grain very well making it diluted, however, if cultivated and extracted correctly - Cordyceps militaris can be an excellent cordyceps supplement.

Furthermore, there are many other laboratory-made versions of Cordyceps sinensis that go into supplements. Some have better results than others in duplicating the effects of the mushroom. If you are serious about reaping the benefits of cordyceps, do your research on your favourite suppliers and stick with them!

Choosing a Supplement

As we’ve mentioned, you want to be very careful when choosing cordyceps supplements.

I’ve taken Cordyceps for years now - researching and testing many quality manufacturers. My favourite supplements without question for cordyceps in Australia (and worldwide) are:

You’ll find banners and links throughout this article directing you to them - these are the 4 that I keep going back to and trust for their transparency, potency, quality standards and rigorous testing.

They all have subtle differences in their manufacturing and sourcing methods, but all are quality nonetheless.

I’ve listed them again below for you, check them out individually for yourself:

Cordyceps Products Australia
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FAQs:

Just to clear up any quick questions we’ve missed, check out the FAQ below:

Is Cordyceps Edible?

Yes, Cordyceps is edible. Most people add cordyceps powdered extracts to broths, soups and hot drinks - however, if you’re lucky enough to come across whole ‘true’ cordyceps mushrooms, they can also be added to food.

Is Cordyceps Vegan?

In short - it depends. Wild cordyceps grows on ants, caterpillars and other insects destroying them in the process and is not considered vegan by many because of this. However, most cordyceps you find is lab-cultured cordyceps (such as CS-4) and is vegan friendly.

Is Cordyceps Dangerous to Humans?

Cordyceps is not dangerous to humans. There are always exceptions and some people may react differently, but thousands of years of use in Chinese Medicine has shown no dangerous effects when dose guidelines are followed. Cordyceps has not been found to ‘infect’ humans.

How Long Does Cordyceps Take to Work?

The length of time it takes for Cordyceps to work can vary depending on each individual's needs and body chemistry. However, research studies have suggested that significant changes in energy levels and endurance may be noticed within one week of consistent use. For maximum benefits, it's recommended to take Cordyceps daily for at least 2-3 months.

Does Cordyceps Give You Energy?

Yes, Cordyceps is known to give a sustainable boost of energy without the jittery feeling associated with caffeine. The functional mushroom improves energy reserves on a cellular level, which leads to long-lasting endurance and stamina. Cordyceps also helps to reduce muscle fatigue during exercise, allowing for optimal performance.

As a natural supplement, Cordyceps is a healthier alternative to energy drinks or sugary snacks that offer only temporary energy. However, it's important to note that consistent use may be necessary to see the desired effects.

Cordyceps cs-4

Wrapping Up

It's hard to deny that the beginnings of Cordyceps sinensis are interesting, bordering on off-putting.

A fungal infection in the head of an insect certainly doesn't seem like it could grow into something that provides impressive health benefits, but science and traditional medicine shows otherwise.

As you begin to look deeper into this ancient medicinal mushroom, you will learn that not everything is as it seems. With the outrageous prices for true, wild Cordyceps sinensis, you need to become a savvy shopper to ensure your cordyceps supplement fits the bill and will offer you the health benefits you seek.

We hope this has piqued your interest in this incredible mushroom and given you all the info you need!

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan

Holding a Bachelor Of Science (Hons.) combined with close to a decade now in the health food and wellness industry, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to provide a depth of knowledge and first-hand experience on emerging health products, trends and ideas! From greens powders and medicinal mushrooms through to protein powders and workout nutrition - I'm particularly interested in what modern science can uncover about what human cultures have been using to treat ailments for millennia!

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