Cordyceps Sinensis

Cordyceps sinensis (caterpillar fungus) is traditionally used in medicine or as a tonic by the Chinese for centuries. The fungus’s use was unknown relatively in the United States until it was lauded for the success of Chinese female athletes at the 1993 National Games in Beijing.

Chinese people in the past thought that Cordyceps sinensis (Dong chong xiz cao) were worms. After many years of study, it was discovered that it is actually a fruiting body by the Cordyceps sinensis fungus on dead caterpillars of the Hepilus fabricius moth.

Cordyceps sinensis spores grow inside the caterpillars. The spores then fill the caterpillar with hyphae or filaments. As the caterpillar dies off, the fungus produces a fruiting body that is stalked, in which the fruiting body produces spores, which are spread through the air to caterpillars.

What does cordyceps sinensis look like?

The Cordyceps sinensis mushroom’s fruiting body or ascocarp starts at the base on an insect larval host and ends at the club-like cap, which includes the stroma and the stipe. The fruiting body ranges from a dark brown to black color. The organism’s ‘root,’ the caterpillar’s body that is occupied by the Cordyceps sinensis’s mycelium, appears yellow to brown.

Where can cordyceps sinensis be found?

Cordyceps sinensis appears annually and its usual harvesting period is from the months of April to August. Cordyceps sinensis only thrives at altitudes over 3.8T meters above sea level. It grows in the alpine, grassy, cold meadows in the high-altitude Himalayan Plateau of modern-day Nepal, Tibet, and some Chinese provinces, including Gansu, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Hubei, Yunnan, Qinghai, and Guizhon.

The caterpillar manifests signs of fungal infection while underground during spring.  During this time, the mycelium starts to decompose the caterpillar host until fruiting of the Cordyceps sinensis is stimulated.

Active Compounds

Natural Cordyceps sinensis’s chemical constituents include glutamic acid, cordycepic acid, polyamines, amino acids, sugar derivatives and saccharides, cyclic dipeptides, nucleosides and nucleotides sterols, 28 unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, inorganic elements, fatty acid derivatives, vitamins and inorganic compounds.

  • Polysaccharides (improve function of immune system and possess antihyperglycemia, liver protection, antitumor, hyperlipidemia, and antioxidant activities)
  • Nucleosides (anticancer, antiviral)
  • Amino acids (sedative)
  • Sterols (cytotoxic, antitumor activity)
  • Aurantiamides (analgesic, anti-inflammatory)
  • Peptides (cytotoxic against Hela, A375, and L-929 cells; neuroprotective; immune inhibitor)
  • Melanin (antioxidant)
  • Cordysinins (anti-inflammatory)
  • Lovastatin, ergothionene, and GABA (y-aminobutyric acid) (antioxidant, hypotension, hypolipidemia activity)

Benefits of cordyceps sinensis

Some of the caterpillar fungus’s health benefits include its ability to increase oxygen uptake, improve respiratory health, detoxify the body, boost heart health, slow aging, prevent certain cancers, improve immunity, and increase energy.

  • Heart health
  • Anti-aging properties
  • Anticancer
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Energy booster
  • Respiratory function

Heart health. Researches on the effects of the caterpillar fungus have discovered many exciting results, especially when it comes to cardiovascular health. A study indicated that patients who took Cordyceps powder supplements were found less likely to have heart failure.  This effect is primarily due to the antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties of the Cordyceps sinensis, which may help complications like heart arrhythmias.

Anti-aging properties. When it comes to anti-aging, some of the more reliable research is on the caterpillar fungus, which has potent concentrations of age-defying compounds that can help eliminate dying or dead cells, rejuvenate the skin, and improve the appearance of age spots, wrinkles, and blemishes, shaving effectively years off your face and life.

Sexual dysfunction. Cordyceps sinensis may have a positive impact on men’s sexual dysfunction. Numerous cordyceps sinensis research have indicated that men with poor libido or low levels of sexual energy saw apparent improvement after taking in cordyceps sinensis herbal supplements.

Anticancer activity of cordyceps sinesis

As published in The Open Nutraceuticals Journal, the researching doctors believe “that the anti-tumor activity of these cordyceps sinensis might be related to an immuno-stimulating function. The ethyl acetate extract of C. sinensis mycelium was found to have strong anti-tumor activity on four cancer cell lines, MCF-7 breast cancer, B16 mouse melanoma, HL-60 human premyelocytic leukemia and HepG2 human hepatocellular carcinoma.” although there has yet to be conclusive evidence from human trials the research so har has shown some very significant anticancer benefits of the fungi.


Aside from the above benefits, Cordyceps sinensis (caterpillar fungus) does have a small effect on lowering sugar levels in the blood. This may be detrimental to diabetics, who should be aware of such risks before integrating Cordyceps sinensis into their regimen. The caterpillar fungus is also a blood thinner, and one should not take it post-surgery.

The fungus that thrives in the mountain regions of the Tibet, China, and Nepal is really one of a kind because of how the fungus develops and how it can help treat diseases.

The caterpillar fungus is also used to treat chronic bronchitis, coughs, kidney disorders, respiratory disorders, male sexual problems, nighttime urination, irregular heartbeat, anemia, liver disorders, high cholesterol, weakness, dizziness, unwanted weight loss, opium addiction, and ringing in the ears, among other disorders.

Because of its benefits to humans, the production of Cordyceps sinensis is also safeguarded. All possible measures have been carried out to make sure that a healthy environment is sustained so that adequate harvesting can be done for the medicinal plants and fungi. This provides adequate income for rural residents and folk healers.

Khan MA, Tania M, Zhang D, Chen H; Tania; Zhang; Chen (May 2010). “Cordyceps Mushroom: A Potent Anticancer Nutraceutical”. The Open Nutraceuticals Journal. 3: 179–183.

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