Cordyceps Militaris: The Ultimate Mushroom Guide
About The Cordyceps Militaris Mushroom
Cordyceps Militaris is one of many species of Cordyceps mushroom that has been used in Eastern holistic tradition for centuries. Cordyceps Militaris supports the immune system, promotes energy and endurance, supports normal blood sugar and respiratory health.
It is a rare and strange mushroom that grows in the grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau above 3,000 meters (almost 10,000 feet).
Cordyceps Militaris grows in a way that is quite different from other mushrooms, leading to it being nicknamed the Zombie Mushroom. Its spores infect the larvae of a species of bugs called ghost moths. They grow inside the caterpillars underground, eventually killing them. Then the mushroom’s bright tendrils grow out of the caterpillar’s head and up through the soil. Other Cordyceps species mature in a similar manner, growing inside-out from other insects’ bodies.
What Are the Two Types of Cordyceps?
Cordyceps sinensis mushrooms, now technically called Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is one part caterpillar and one part stroma. The stroma, which eventually allows for the sporing of the fungus, is the upper part of the mushroom and tends to be black or dark brown (though when fresh you may see it yellow). The other type of cordyceps mushroom is the Cordyceps militaris. This one is distinguished by its club-shaped head and solid orange hue.
While both types of mushrooms are different, they each have been found to provide the same benefits. They have the same bio-active compounds, and one study revealed that both cordyceps varieties have the highest amino acids compared to other mushrooms such as Shiitake and Oyster.
Cordyceps Militaris Price
In recent years, Cordyceps has become a big business. Wild Cordyceps sinensis has always been scarce, but the demand has gotten so high that over-harvesting has made the mushroom harder than ever to come by. As a result, the price of wild Cordyceps Militaris in China topped $50,000 a pound in U.S. dollars in 2016.
It’s estimated that a million people in Tibet actively seek Cordyceps to sell, and it makes up over half of many people’s incomes. This demand has been largely attributed to the libido-boosting effects of the Cordyceps, which has led to it being nicknamed “Himalayan Viagra.”
Because of how expensive wild Cordyceps is, commercial suppliers have adopted a few different ways of meeting Cordyceps demand. Unfortunately, these may be confusing to consumers, at best, and totally fraudulent at worst. Like many examples where big profits are involved, the Cordyceps market has sometimes been plagued by counterfeiting and even murder.
The problem is that in Cordyceps most of the bioactive compounds we want aren’t as abundant in the mycelium, lessening their potential benefits. The logic, though, is that it’s better to have a less potent version than none at all since most people would not be able to afford supplements made with pure fruiting bodies.
People have also tried growing Cordyceps outside of the Tibetan Plateau, not using caterpillars but plant media like millet and rye, or using techniques like liquid fermentation.
So far, though, the cultivation of Cordyceps has only produced mycelium, which was studied and found to be very different from the wild fruiting body. More on cultivation and fruiting bodies vs. mycelium can be found in this article.
Consumers definitely need to be careful when navigating the Cordyceps market so they know what they’re really getting.
Cordyceps Militaris Health Benefits
The authors in a 2001 study found that the efficacy of Cordyceps on arrhythmias had been proven beyond a doubt and that the specific mechanism by which it is attained may involve a stable membrane, reduction of Ca2+ overload and the reduction of free radicals.
Cordyceps has traditionally been used to strengthen the kidneys and the lungs, and help reduce inflammation in the airways, reduce phlegm, while also restoring their function. It may increase the production of adrenal cortex hormones and help expand bronchial smooth muscles.
A 2006 study looked at the effects of Cordyceps on the cellular immune functions of asthmatic children. In two groups of 40, both groups were given inhaled glucocorticoids, but the treatment group was also given Cordyceps. After 3 months, 75% of the treatment group had no symptoms, normal physical signs, and lung function.
Traditional Chinese Medicine attributes poor nutrition, irregular schedules, poor bowl habits, and stress/anger to atherosclerosis. Cordyceps increase the immune response of red blood cells, reduces inflammation, reduce circulating cholesterol and improves the activity of white blood cells.
In a study done in 2000, Cordyceps reduced lipid peroxidation in LDL by collecting and removing free radicals thus hindering cholesterol build up on the aorta’s wall. In a 2005 study, the authors concluded that “reduction of RBC immunity is one of the most dangerous factors in atherosclerosis and Cordyceps may be a promising anti-atherosclerosis medicine that is worthy of further research.”
Cordyceps Militaris can help strengthen the immune system by stimulating natural killer cell activity. Uniquely, Cordyceps Sinensis has also shown the ability to impose bi-directional control, calming overactive immune systems and improving autoimmune diseases such as diabetes and lupus.
A Japanese study in the 1990’s showed Cordyceps Miltaris to help against autoimmune disorders by calming and quieting the cells of the immune system. Additionally, the study reported significant sugar-lowering effects from the cordyceps test group, with improvement in 95% of the test subjects.
Cordyceps Militaris regulates the immune system and decreases the inflammation present in the lungs, stops coughing and eliminates phlegm. A 2004 study found that Cordyceps helped with chronic bronchitis except for those who exhibited concurrent heart disease
Cordyceps has been shown to reduce the growth of cancer cells in cases of sarcomas, melanomas, and lymphomas. While the mechanism is still unknown, Cordyceps has continually been shown to increase immunity, which fights cancer reproduction. In one study done in 1993, researchers found that Cordyceps had a direct impact on laryngeal carcinoma cells, with higher concentrations of Cordyceps reduced growth rate.
In 1998, a Cordyceps extract was found to have a strong inhibitory effect on both spontaneous liver metastasis of Lewis lung carcinoma and B16 melanoma cells in mice. In one study, an orally administered hot-water extract from Cordyceps sinensis (CS), protected mice from bone marrow and intestinal injuries after total-body irradiation (TBI). According to WebMD, “Cordyceps might improve immunity by stimulating cells and specific chemicals in the immune system.
It may also have activity against cancer cells and may shrink tumor size, particularly with lung or skin cancers. *Cordyceps may increase estrogen and testosterone, and therefore should not be used with hormone-dependent cancers (breast and prostate).
Cordyceps have been found to lower blood glucose levels and increase blood serum levels, however, the mechanism remains unknown. In 2000, subjects were given Cordyceps and other herbs 5 minutes before meals for a period of 6 months. The results found that 48.3% of the subjects showed marked improvement, 41.9% showed improvement, and only 9.7% showed no improvement.
Cordyceps are best known for their ability to increase stamina and as an anti-fatigue supplement. They increase oxygen in the body, which is much different than a stimulant. The difference is that you find yourself being able to keep a pace all day long without crashing but still sleeping soundly.
For this reason, they are very popular with athletes who want to increase their endurance. In a 2004 study, researchers found that Cordyceps improved the capacity of a subject to exercise and increased resistance to fatigue. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Traditional Chinese Medicine is looked at as a dysfunction of the organs, most notably the liver.
The liver is connected to the sinews, and when the liver stops working correctly, muscle fatigue sets in. Negative emotions affect the liver, which in turn affects the lungs, heart, kidneys, and spleen.
Erectile dysfunction and female libido
Traditional Chinese Medicine looks at erectile dysfunction due to kidney dysfunction caused by excessive fear, as well as heart and spleen deficiency caused by excessive thinking and worry. Cordyceps have been used for ED for an estimated 2000 years. It has been shown to act as a kidney tonic, thus improving erectile function and replenish sperm count.
In 1995, one impressive study found that 66% of subjects given Cordyceps showed improvement for impotence vs. 23% given a placebo, 67% showed improvement for seminal emission vs. 0% given a placebo, and 67% showed improvement in libido vs. 0% given a placebo.
For women, Cordyceps improved 86% of the subjects vs. 0% of the placebo group. Cordyceps also showed 100% improvement for women with other sexual dysfunction vs 0% in the placebo group.
In multiple studies, Cordyceps have helped normalize liver enzymes, inhibit steatohepatits derived from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease by lowering serum and tissue TNFa, reducing the over-expression of UCP2, and inhibit hepatic fibrogenesis derived from chronic liver injury as well as retard the growth of cirrhosis.
Researchers say that Hepatitis B infects 350 million people worldwide and is the number one cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver. It’s estimated that 50% of the population will contract the disease in their lifetime. Clinical trials lead scientists to believe that Cordyceps Sinensis supplements can increase one’s ATP levels (an essential enzyme the helps the liver regenerate) and help those suffering from hepatitis B and liver damage.
Researchers also believe that Corcyceps Sinensis can control a patient’s liver fibrosis, strengthen a hepatitis C patient’s immunity function and anti-oxidation ability.
In 1990, 32 hepatitis B patients were administered 3.750mg of cordyceps sinensis daily for 30 days. 21 patients (66%) showed signs of the antibodies for the virus change from positive to negative, while 23 patients (72%) showed improved liver function. Cordyceps proved to be beneficial to patients suffering from post hepatitis cirrhosis.
In a study on 14 patients, with alcohol included liver steatosis, supplementation with Cordyceps at 3g/day resulted in a 70% reduction in AST, a 63% reduction in ALT and a 64% reduction in GGT over a 90 day period. Animal studies also show that Cordyceps can inhibit alcohol-induced hepatic fibrogenesis, retard the development of cirrhosis and improve liver function.
In a study with mice that had Lupus, one group was given Cordyceps while the other group was not. The survival rate of the control group showed a survival rate of 0% after 8 months, while the group that used Cordyceps showed a survival rate of 75%. After 6 months, the negative percentage of anti-ds DNA was measured, with 43% for the control group, and 87.5% for the Cordyceps group.
In a human study involving 51 patients with chronic renal failure, the administration of3-5g per day of Cordyceps to 28 patients improved renal and immune function.
In 23 cases of tinnitus treated with an infusion of Cordyceps, eight were reported as cured and nine significantly improved, while six found no improvement. The researchers concluded that Cordyceps was effective for tinnitus caused by fluid accumulation in the middle ear, while it was ineffective in cases with a long history of auditory nerve disorder.
We highly recommend buying a high-quality brand of Cordyceps that uses hot water extracts, like those used in all of these studies. This can be found in office or online store. I recommend only using hot water extracts of Cordyceps because these are the ones used in studies.
Cordyceps Militaris Extract
There is currently one type of Cordyceps species that can be commercially cultivated at scale to produce a mushroom (fruiting body) and it is becoming quite popular. This is Cordyceps militaris. By using Cordyceps militaris, for the first time, true Cordyceps mushroom extracts can be made.
Note that Cordyceps militaris products grown in North America would still be myceliated grain and not a true mushroom extract. Pure mushroom extract powders almost solely come from Asia, with China accounting for over 85% of the world’s mushroom production.
Cordyceps Militaris Cultivation
Finding A Quality Strain
Cordyceps militaris is notorious for being a particularly tricky fungus to cultivate. This is understandable due to its extremely selective and strange food choices in the wild. That is, certain species of insects. More often than not, if you were to culture a specimen found in the woods, it would not yield much fruit, if any, with standard cultivation techniques. This is why it is key to source genetics from a tried and true supplier that has successfully fruited the strain before. Not all Cordyceps militaris strains will in-fact fruit even though the mycelium will colonize the substrate. Even if the strain is coming from a trusted supplier, make sure that they have indeed fruited the culture before as many cordyceps strains on the market will not fruit. Keep reading for more mushroom cultivation notes!
This step is necessary for anyone who wishes to have continuous growth of C. militaris. In this stage, cordyceps does not deviate much from the preferences of other commonly cultivated fungi and will grow on a variety of nutrient agars. Agars such as Malt extract agar (MEA) or potato dextrose agar (PDA) work great.
However, C. militaris is susceptible to senescing (to deteriorate with age) fairly quickly. One way of prolonging your culture is to do less transfers. This means rather than growing out petri plates to culture again and subjecting the fungus to a multiple different cultures (think of having to move into a new house every week— it will be exhausting) it is better to make a lot of single transfer plates. If you are going to do transfers, make sure you are switching up it’s food source.
Another way to prevent senescing is to do spore isolation work to isolate single ascospores for breeding. This requires more skill and equipment but it is worth it in the long run. If you do not want to do this yourself, there are a couple people in the U.S. that are started to do this work, including Ryan Paul Gates and Michael Weese.
There are two typical ways to create inoculum in mushroom cultivation: grain spawn and liquid culture. Liquid culture has proven to be the more effective and practical choice of inoculum for customary C. militaris cultivation. Sterilized honey water is an excellent choice. Try using distilled or filtered water, and using organic honey.
Many non-insect substrates have been tested out in C. militaris including beans, lentils, quinoa, and rice. Based on many reports and empirical testing, rice has by far rendered the most abundant yields (1). White or brown rice are promising and economical choices.
The added nutrients are also a critical part of successful fruiting. Make a nutrient broth that will be used to cook the rice, try adding nutrients such as nutritional yeast and potato starch. There are many forums and research papers about other nutrients you can add to your broth to feed your cordyceps!
For smaller growing vessels, a sterile syringe is a great tool for collecting a portion of liquid culture, and for measuring the mL you want to add. There are other methods for larger containers where you mix entire liquid culture jars in with your cooked rice.
Figuring out proportions that work for your methods may require some experimentation and patience. Make sure to record your numbers and take daily notes on your jars so you can adjust things meaningfully. The data is very illuminating!
Work in a clean environment, ideally in front of a flow hood. Wear gloves, wipe down tools with 70% isopropyl alcohol, and think good thoughts.
Once your cordyceps have fully fruited they are ready to be harvested! Timing is key. Too early and medicinal compounds will not be as potent, and too late can result in weaker mushrooms and the unintended growth of a fungus Calcarisporium cordycipiticola which is a common parasite to cordyceps (3). The best time to harvest is 1.5-2 weeks after you notice the formation of perithecium. Perithecia are the spore sacs of the mushroom. They look like the cheeto dust on these cheeto look-alike mushrooms.
After harvesting it’s important to promptly dehydrate your mushrooms. Dry times vary on the quantity and density of your mushrooms, as well as the dehydrator. Continue dehydrating until they are bone dry, and then seal them in a bag or mason jar with a silica packet if they need a longer shelf life.
There are a variety of things you can do with your mushrooms including tea, tincture, or cooking! Check out these blog posts below for ideas and how-to.
Control moisture levels. You don’t want your rice to be too wet, because it will hinder colonization and potentially harbor bacterial growth. On the flip side, make sure your rice has enough liquid added to be fully cooked.
Be sure to account for the moisture you will add when you introduce liquid culture.
Avoid overcooking your honey water, as this will cause caramelization and will result in fewer nutrients and more sediment in your liquid culture.
Make sure you have a good seal on the jar, and some kind of injection port if you plan to use a syringe.
Add a marble, coin, or magnetic spinner to break up mycelium once it begins to grow. Be sure to shake or spin your jars at least every other day.
With cordyceps, we have found that its best not to use liquid culture that is older than 3 months.
Cordyceps Militaris Side Effects
Cordyceps is believed to be generally safe. However, because it may have effects on blood sugar, hypoglycemics and diabetics are urged to talk with their doctor before taking.
Also, it may increase the effects of blood-thinning medication, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
Recipe: Cordyceps Militaris Tea
7 grams cordyceps mushrooms or 1 tablespoon cordyceps powder
1/2 lemon or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
4 thin slices of fresh ginger
1/2 cups water
Heat water in a large pot on the stove until it reaches a rapid boil.
Add in the cordyceps pieces or powder and let steep for 10 minutes.
Turn the heat down to medium and add in the ginger slices and lemon juice. Steep for 5 additional minutes.
Use a fine-mesh strainer to remove the ginger and cordyceps mushrooms. Serve in a warm mug
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