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Cordyceps Sinensis
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"This herb is considered one of the most valued medicinal fungi of all in Chinese Medicine"

Cordyceps sinensis (from the Hypercreaceae family) is the dried body of stroma of the fungus which grows from the carcass of the larva from certain insects (Hepialidae). Commonly referred to as Chinese caterpillar fungus, it is the most valued medicinal fungi of all Chinese Medicine and considered the most potent. Even though the fungus infected larva buries itself in the earth during winter, the stoma of the fungus does not develop on the stiffened larvaís spiracle until the warm summer months. The fungus is harvested in early summer when the fungus has emerged but before the larva body has disintegrated.

Cordyceps sinensis grows under very peculiar conditions where the temperature is low and oxygen is scarce. The fungus is normally only found in locations over 11,000 ft and generally only in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. Traditionally the herb has been wild crafted leading to high prices and a shortage of availability. In the 1980ís a method was developed to cultivate the cordyceps sinensis strain (CS-4) in a controlled environment making it more widely available and lowering the price of the herb. Its interesting to note that CS-4 strain of cordyceps has been well researched and determined to be equally or more effective than wild-crafted cordyceps.

Cordyceps was introduced into traditional Chinese pharmacology in the Qing Dynasty and well documented in Chinese Materia Medica. Historically the herb has been used to soothe the lungs, replenish the kidney, arrest bleeding and resolve phlegm. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy, the effect of cordyceps runs through the lung and the kidney meridians. It is said to cure deficiency syndromes of the lung, phthisical (tuberculosis) cough and haemoptysis (cough containing blood), deficiency of yang (vital function) of the kidney as well as seminal emission and premature ejaculation. Chinese Materia Medica also lists cordyceps as a vital energy tonifying herb which can be given to patients recovering from weakness caused by severe illness and persons of advanced age. Cordyceps is well known for its miraculous effect in strengthening the body and restoring energy.

More modern interpretations centre around the herbís effects on the respiratory system (specifically the lungs), the kidneys, immune system, and the glandular system. Such conditions as tuberculosis, senile cough, asthma, wheezing, hematemesis (vomiting of blood), night sweat, spontaneous perspiration, anaemia, impotence, seminal emission, aversion to cold as well as snivelling and lacrimation (discharge of tears), etc.


Cordyceps has also been employed as a tonic for strengthening the testes and ovaries acting as an aid in fertility . Nocturnal emissions have been also treated with the herb. Other actions attributed to cordyceps are homeostatic, laxative (especially in chronic constipation), and as a sedative and support for the adrenal glands.

Scientific Information

Since the 1980ís, American pharmacologists have succeeded in defining the herbs constituents into several unique substances. These include such constituents as Coryceps essence, Cordyceps acid, glycocordy cepiglycan, cordycepin, glutamic acid, phenylalanine, proline, histadine, valine, oxyvaline, arginine, alanine, adenosine, d-mannitol and vitamin B12. Some of the substances have been found to improve the immune function within the human body and reinforce the resistance to various pathogenic bacteria and tumors. Cordyceps is a well-studied herb with many pharmacological actions and effects being observed on the body including the nervous, respiratory, immune and glandular systems. Specifically, it is effective on the liver and heart organs.

On the nervous system, cordyceps has a calming and relaxing effect. In one particular study by Dr K Jones, a preparation which contained the exact amino acid profile of cordyceps was compared to the action of cordyceps when given to mice. Both preparations where found to have similar effects on the nervous system of the mice. Japanese scientists who were involved in similar studies report nucleic acids appear to be responsible for cordyceps calming effects, especially adenosine. Adenosine is a nucleotide that functions in the body as a neurotransmitter that protects cerebral nerves from damage caused by lack of oxygen. In another Chinese study, it has been suggested that the calming activity of cordyceps may be related to its ability to inhibit the enzyme monoamine oxidase. Drugs that inhibit MAO are employed to treat depression suggesting cordyceps may be useful herb in the treatment of this condition. Together with this, Cordyceps was found to inhibit the contraction of the smooth and cardiac muscle in animal experiments.

Cordyceps has also been found to promote DNA synthesis in the kidney cells indicating an ability to regenerate damage kidney cells. In one particular double blind, placebo controlled trial of 52 patients who received injections of aminoglycoside antibiotics which interfere with normal function of the kidneys, it was found that that the placebo group developed greatly elevated signs of kidney toxicity while the cordyceps group was protected. The cordyceps group were found to have a high levels of a protein called epidermal growth factor (EGF) in their urine which researches believe is associated to an improve recovery rate for acute kidney failure. Other animal studies have also found a relationship with EGF and an improved renal recovery rate.

In regards to sexual dysfunction, the mechanism by which cordyceps functions to relieve impotence was investigated by some Chinese scientists. They found cordyceps inhibited transient contractions of the corpus cavernosum of the penis allowing the blood to enter the penis to form erection. In one particular clinical trial they tested 243 male and female patients suffering from low sexual function using cordyceps daily. In the group receiving cordyceps, 28.9 percent had their sexual function restored and 35.2 percent had their sexual function improved. The control group however, only exhibited a 3 percent restoration rate and 19 percent improvement function.

Diseases of the respiratory system including asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis have been shown to receive benefit from cordyceps in human studies. The mechanism is believed be due its ability to relax the lungs and trachea. This was confirmed in rat studies where they found that cordyceps inhibited tracheal muscle contractions and relax the airways. Preliminary studies have also shown that herb has a inhibitory effect in vitro on Streptococcus pneumoniae and tuberculosis bacilli.

In other studies researchers have discovered that the herb exhibits effects on the liver. In one particular study, patients with liver cirrhosis were given a combination of cordyceps and peach seeds (prunus persica). Following treatment with the herbal combination, low immune cell functions in the cirrhosis patients were improved with Helper T-cells, suppressor-T cells, Natural Killer cell (NK) function, and serum levels of complement returning to normal. Researchers concluded that the herbal treatment may be useful in preventing cellular decay of the liver.

Since 1984, Chinese hospitals have been prescribing a cordyceps powder which was developed to treat arrhythmia, a variation in normal heart beat rhythms. A clinical trial of cordyceps found that over half the patients receiving cordyceps were cured of supraventricular of ventricular arrhythmia. Six of them were cured in one week and another 13 were cured in two to three weeks. The active component in cordyceps is believed to be a substance called adenosine. It is interesting to note that In 1989, the FDA approved adenosine to treat supra ventricular arrhythmia.

Cordyceps has also been shown to help lower cholesterol. A large, well controlled clinical trial in China found that cordyceps caused a significant lowing of cholesterol (LDL, total cholesterol and total glycerides). It was also observed that all the patients in the trial had a significant elevation of high density lipoprotein (HDL) which is healthy, good cholesterol. The patients received 330mg of cordyceps three times daily for sixty days.

Research studies have shown that Cordyceps stimulates the growth of such active cells as T-cell, NK cell, mononuclear macrophagocyte as well enhance the secretion of various lymphokines. The immune system compounds in cordyceps responsible for this action are the polysaccharides. With the impact of Cordyceps on the body, it appears from a variety of studies that the vitality of NK-cells can be increased and the phagocytosis percentage of the mononuclear macrophagocyte can be raised. The herb has also been found to stimulate an increase in immunoglobulins G and M along.

Moreover, polysaccharides from cordyceps have been to lower blood sugar levels in genetic diabetic mice and streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. In one human study of 42 diabetic patients, cordyceps was added to the treatment regime of 20 of the patients. What they observed was that the addition of cordyceps daily significantly reduced the symptoms of diabetes and decreased urinary protein secretion compared to the control group. Researchers concluded that cordyceps may aid diabetic patients in maintaining normal blood sugar levels or at least support insulin therapy.


The use of Cordyceps in clinical application appears to be broad. Chronic conditions of both the respiratory and immune system would appear to benefit from the herbs action. Clinical experience would suggest it to be also useful in the treatment of various kidney troubles, cardio-vascular problems, nerve and liver disease.


1. Bensky, D and Gamble, A. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Eastland Press 1986.
2. Jones K. Cordyceps: Tonic food of Ancient China. Seatlle, WA: Sylvan press 1997.
3. Hsu, H Y. Chen, Y P. Shen, S J. Hsu, C S. Chen, C C. and Chang, H C. Oriental Materia Medica, A Concise Guide. Oriental Arts Institute. 1986.
4. Chang, H M. and But, P H. Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Medicines: World Scientific 1986.
5. Pegler, D N. et al. The Chinese Caterpillar Fungus. The Mycologist 1994.

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