Ancient Healing Chinese Mushroom: Cordyceps
Cordyceps sinensis has been a mainstay in Tibetan and Chinese traditional medicine for centuries and is even now considered the rarest and most precious herb in Chinese medicine.
Its use dates back to the Ming dynasty, when the emperor's physicians began studying the benefits of this superfood.
Cordyceps soon became one of the most respected ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine - but back then, it was only available to those belonging to the Imperial Palace.
Cordyceps found its way to the West when Dr. Georges Halpern, a physician and professor at the University of Hong Kong, conducted a series of experiments and confirmed the health benefits associated with it.
But it really made headlines when the Chinese team at the 1993 Chinese National Games broke 9 world records and attributed their stamina and athletic performance to the benefits of Cordyceps sinensis.
"Cordyceps are a type of fungus, better known as a species of edible medicinal, nutritionally beneficial mushrooms. While closely related to other mushrooms, cordyceps aren’t technically the same as most mushrooms and instead are classified as a powerful form of Ascomycetes fungus.
Cordyceps are harvested in high mountain regions of the world, especially parts of the Himalayas in China, and are actually grown on the backs of caterpillars! Considered to be “exotic” healers, cordycep mushrooms have been mostly rare for much of history (considering they’re only found above altitudes of 3,800 meters above sea level during certain times of the year and in only certain parts of the world where these special caterpillars exist). Yet they have a reputation for being “a precious longevity-promoting herb," writes Dr. Josh Axe on his website.
What is Cordyceps Sinensis?
There are lots of Cordyceps varieties (over 680 species, to be exact), but the most well-known is Cordyceps sinensis and that's specifically the Cordyceps variety this entire post is dedicated to.
Cordyceps sinensis is entirely unique to the Tibetan plateau, growing wildly in the high plateaus of this region. It is usually brown or orange in color and has the appearance of a tiny, curvy cane.
Cordyceps sinensis is actually a parasitic ascocarp fungus.
The Cordyceps sinensis "mushroom" is formed in the Fall when the ascocarp spores infest the moth caterpillars that dwell in low-lying trees and shrubs. These spores feed off the caterpillars and develop throughout the winter. They reach their full size when spring arrives, completely encasing the remains of their hosts!
CORDYCEPS BENEFITS AND MECHANISM OF ACTION
In traditional Chinese medicine, Cordyceps is commonly used to enhance kidney function, invigorate the lungs and improve respiratory health and most importantly, to promote general strength.
So, one of the key active ingredients of Cordyceps is adenosine, a nucleic acid which is a crucial component of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
ATP is basically energy - it's considered by biologists to be the energy currency of life. It is the high-energy molecule that stores the energy we need to do pretty much everything we do. Each and every action you perform gets the energy it requires for operation directly from stored ATP.
Cordyceps significantly boosts your body's ability to produce this important, energy-giving ATP, which is why cordyceps is a superfood darling for everyone from athletes looking to boost their stamina and performance to the elderly who're looking to stay active.
Cordyceps Powers Your Workouts
There's good reason Cordyceps is so popular with athletes and body builders...
It boosts ATP generation to increase energy so you can have longer, more intense workout sessions. It maximizes your body's oxygen utilization, which is awesome since aerobic endurance is crucial to workout performance - helping an athlete extend performance times without becoming fatigued. A 2004 study published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that Cordyceps improved oxygen utilization by as much as 50%
It acts as an effective stimulant, giving a boost similar to caffeine but minus the jittery, sleep-depriving side effects.