My Mushroom Movement continues with cordyceps, an amazing food that is a perfect supplement to your diet at this time of year, the season of the metal element (lungs/Large intestine). Sun Potion: Transformation Foods, one of my favorite purveyors of adaptogenic herbs and spices, recommends consuming cordyceps any time you are “looking to activate Fortitude, Sensuality, and Endurance.” What is behind this magical entity?
First of all, cordyceps is not a mushroom in the traditional sense: in fact it’s a fungus that grows on caterpillars found at high altitudes in Sikkim, a state in northeast India that borders Tibet. The fungus essentially replaces its host’s (the caterpillar) tissue with its own and so what you end up with is a very singular combination of caterpillar and mushroom. I may have lost you to squeamishness at this point. And I get it! But let me at least attempt to convince you of the wonders of cordyceps and you might just be able to shake off your qualms.
According to an article in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, the benefits of cordyceps were first discovered when the northern Sikkim people noticed their livestock becoming very stout and strong after grazing on it in the forest. Once they started feeding it to their cattle purposefully (blended with jaggery, unrefined can sugar used in many Asian and South-Asian cuisines), they saw increased milk production, improved reproductive capacity, and vitality of their yaks, goats and sheep. Since that time (thousands of years ago), cordyceps has been used in the Sikkim culture–and other nearby cultures–as a curative for over 21 diseases and ailments, including infertility, arthritis, erectile dysfunction, the common cold and heart disease, to name a few.
Still not convinced enough to eat a half-mummified caterpillar strangled by a mold? More locally, there have been numerous promising studies done on certain compounds extracted from cordyceps and their effectiveness to combat autoimmune diseases and even cancer. The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine found that H1-A, a compound found in cordyceps, helped inhibit the “mesangial proliferation” that was evident in mice infected with lupus nephritis. Indeed, in TCM, cordyceps is a special herb that enriches the lung yin and yang, protects the lung-kidney organ system, and resolves phlegm and hemostasis–so it makes sense that it would be effective in treating lupus nephritis (an inflammation of the kidneys).
A 2016 summary study posits that C. sinensis exhibits antibacterial, function, reduced asthma, lowered blood pressure and strengthened the heartbeat. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine discovered an exciting aspect in Cordyceps’ ability to improve exercise performance in older people. And to top it all off, the fungus has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, apoptotic (anti-tumor) and organ-protective functions.
Anti-cancer, immune- and respiratory-boosting, and anti-inflammatory: is that enough to get you to eat a mummified caterpillar? Don’t worry: you don’t have to! Companies like Sun Potion sell cordyceps sinensis as a powder and link to a delicious recipe for “Cordyceps Morning Tonic,” replete with coffee (or black tea), maca, cacao, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. I’m also dying to try a savory cordyceps recipe, using this Cordyceps Broth from Clean Cuisine.
Cordyceps Benefits in a Nutshell:
- Lung Tonic
- Athletic Endurance
- Sexual Energy
- Muscle Tone
- Immune System
- Mental Stamina