Cordyceps are grown in the wilderness at an altitude of 3,000 to 5,000 meters in highland areas. They are an amalgamation of fungus and insect complex, evolving from the ascomycete parasitizing on the larva of bat moth and forming into a caterpillar-shaped fungus. In summer, the ascomycete starts germinating into mycelium that encroaches on the larva of the bat moth. While the larva enters the soft and humid soil, the mycelium absorbs the larva’s nutrient and grows until the entire body of the larva is withered, with the external skeleton of the larva remaining intact and mummified. Generally, the larvae will incubate in the soil throughout the whole winter until the next summer, where the fruiting body (stroma) of the fungus emerges from the head of the larva and becomes a grass sprout. It is therefore named as “Dong Chong Xia Cao” 【冬虫夏草】 – which literally translates to “winter worm, summer grass” in Chinese.
ORIGIN OF CORDYCEPS
Wild Cordyceps are mainly produced in the Tibet & Qinghai regions of China. As the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau resides at around 3,000 to 5,000 meters above sea-level shrouded in cold weather, Cordyceps produced under such ideal conditions are being considered as one of the finest in quality grade. Among them, Cordyceps from the Tibet region are recognized as the best of the very best. They appear bright yellow in color with a plump and fleshy columnar body, and its cross-section yellowish white.
Good quality Cordyceps (refer to picture A below) are composed of 2 connected segments: mycelium (larva) and sporophore (grass sprout):
[Mycelium] (larva) consists of the larva’s head and tail, with 8 pairs of feet in between and the middle 4 pairs protruding more prominently. Its color is usually dark yellow or yellowish brown, while its head is reddish brown. The centre of its cross section has a U-shape dark brown mark; with a brittle texture and slight fishy scent. Those with dry and completely intact bodies are deemed as top graders.
[Sporophore] (grass sprout) consists of fruiting bodies grown from a worm’s head, with slightly wider elongated cylindrical upper portions. Its surface is dark brown or blackish brown in color, with thin vertical stripes, light and flexible texture. Those with short sprouts are deemed superior in quality.
THE HARVESTING PERIOD OF CORDYCEPS
The best harvesting period of wild Cordyceps is generally from May to July each year, where Cordyceps are at their most productive seasons. When the mountain snow begins to melt, with grass sprouts growing from the ground producing ascocarp, it is deemed the right time to harvest. However, premature collection and predatory mining will cause insufficient source of Cordyceps fungus, leading to the depletion of Cordyceps resources. Conversely, after July, most Cordyceps spores have already been released into the atmosphere, and the sprouts will also wither away. At such times, the Cordyceps are regarded as inferior with no medicinal value and hence considered unsuitable for harvesting.
Collectors, aided by simple tools, dig up the Cordyceps from the soil carefully. Fresh Cordyceps usually appear moist and covered with soil. After removing the outer soil, they are dried under direct sunlight or low heat before being packaged as finished goods.
HOW TO RATE CORDYCEPS
Wild Cordyceps are mainly produced in Sichuan, Qinghai, & Tibet in China. Among the three regions, Tibet is known to produce the finest quality of all Cordyceps. Cordyceps are graded mainly based on the size and thickness of the Mycelium. Owing to the extreme cold weather and high altitude in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, Cordyceps produced in these regions are comparatively thick and sturdy in nature. Most commercially sold Cordyceps are priced based on its completeness of physical appearance, size and degree of sturdiness. Cordyceps with thicker and a more complete appearance will be deemed as top quality grade, naturally fetching a higher value. Conversely, slimmer Cordyceps will be deemed lower grade, hence fetching a lower price.
MEDICINAL VALUES OF CORDYCEPS
Chinese Medical Classics has recorded many effects of Cordyceps. They are known to supplement and reinforce the ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ of the human body, enhance health care and are a source of precious medicinal values. Cordyceps are mild in nature, can be consumed throughout the year and is suitable for all ages. Modern scientific researches have revealed that Cordyceps extracts may improve the body’s immune system, provide antioxidants, anti-hypoxia and anti-aging properties, lower total cholesterol and triglycerides, reduce the extent of atherosclerosis, improve liver function, delay the process of liver fibrosis, and enhance antibacterial and antiviral treatments. In addition, Cordyceps also have anti-fatigue, anti-arrhythmia, blood sugar and blood pressure reducing properties. Cordyceps are also effective especially for the treatment of chronic and consumptive diseases, and accelerate the rehabilitation process after illness. Whether they are consumed alone or mixed with other compatible herbs, Cordyceps are proven to be effective in the treatment of illnesses and in strengthening one's body.
Chinese Medical Classics has recorded many medical literatures related to Cordyceps:
《BenCao CongXīn (本草从新)(New Materia Medica)》Cordyceps nourish the lung and kidney, is mildly sweet and calm in nature, strengthens lung and kidney functions, stops bleeding, reduces phlegm, & stops coughing.
《BenCao GangMu (本草綱目)(New Materia Medica)》Cordyceps is mildly sweet and calm in nature, nourishes the lung and kidney through their respective meridians, stops bleeding,
dissolves phlegm, has healing effects on prolonged coughing, asthma, coughing out blood, impotency, lumbar and knee soreness.
《Yao XingKao (药性考)(Herbal Test)》Cordyceps is mildly sweet in taste and warm in nature, restores energy and nourishes ‘Qi’, and revitalizes key organ functions.
Modern pharmacology research results have shown that Cordyceps from Qinghai contains approximately 7% cordycepic acid, 28.9% carbohydrates, 8.4% fat, of which 82.2% are unsaturated fatty acids, & 25% proteins. Moreover, it also contains Vitamin B12, Ergosterol, Hexose alcohol, and Alkaloids etc. According to medical science analysis, Cordyceps contain cordycepic acid, vitamin B12, fats and proteins etc. Cordyceps is mildly sweet and calm in nature, non-toxic, and is renowned for its tonic medicinal values when stewed with meat.
COMPREHENSIVE EFFECTS OF CORDYCEPS
Cordyceps can enhance immunity, strengthen lung and kidney functions, nourish the liver, and maintain the proper functioning of heart and blood vessels. It provides nutritional supplement for optimal health, and is a suitable tonic for consumption by people of all ages throughout the year.
Regulation of the respiratory system function
Cordyceps can help to nourish the lung and kidney, stop bleeding & reduce phlegm, enhance adrenalin, improve spleen functions, relieve chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema and cardiopulmonary disease. Cordyceps is generally good for the kidneys, as it strengthens kidney function and reduces the chance of kidney failure.
Regulation of cardiac function
Cordyceps enhances negative chronotropic effects, reduces myocardial oxygen consumption, and improves myocardial ischemia, anti-platelet aggregation and anti-arrhythmic effects.
Regulation of blood system function
Cordyceps play a significant role in preventing blood platelet reduction and also protects micro platelets from damages. Cordyceps liquid extract aids in the expansion of coronary arteries and increases coronary blood flow. Besides, Cordyceps extracts also promote platelet coagulation and hence play a major role in hemostasis. Its concentrate extract can inhibit thrombus formation; promote antibiotic & anti-anoxia effect, increase blood oxygen, and help in the dilation of blood vessels.
Regulate the immune system
Cordyceps enhances and modulates immunity functions against diseases, and is effective in the prevention of illness and helpful to elderly patients suffering from respiratory illnesses.
Regulating digestive functions
The liver is an important human digestive organ, and plays a significant role in the generation of blood, detoxification and the conversion of fats. In general, the effect of Cordyceps on the digestive system lies mainly in its protection of the liver and prevention of liver diseases. Cordyceps protects and boosts healthy growth of liver cells so that its detoxification function runs smoothly, and helps reduce chronic hepatitis and other debilitating liver conditions.
CORDYCEPS CONSUMPTION METHOD
Cordyceps is a highly valued traditional Chinese medicine, commonly used in stewing soup for
medicinal therapy or food therapy. In recent years, as part of the modern desire for better healthcare products, many have chosen to either grind full-bodied Cordyceps into powder for easy and convenient consumption, or boil Cordyceps in tea, stewed soup etc.
Cordyceps Tea 冬虫夏草茶 – Boiled with Cordyceps
Use a transparent glass pot or flask, which is important as glass does not absorb nutrients or flavor like claypots, nor will it induce chemical reaction like other materials. Add 3 to 6 Cordyceps into the pot; quantity is dependent on individual preference.
Pour in water with Cordyceps, turn to low heat and cook for 6 to 10 mins until it boils. Pour out the Cordyceps tea after boiling for immediate consumption. Thereafter, replenish more water to cook for 10 mins and boil for immediate consumption again. Repeat the process until the Cordyceps tea becomes diluted after several boils. It is most nutritional to drink Cordyceps tea when the tea color is at its darkest.
Do not drink the Cordyceps tea when the color has diluted to the extent of it turning clear. Nevertheless, it is standard practice to consume the Cordyceps and not let it go to waste. One pot of Cordyceps tea may last for 4 to 6 boils.
Stewed Soup 炖湯
Stewed Cordyceps soup with meat or other herbs are fragrant and tasty, and it is advisable to
drink the soup and consume the boiled Cordyceps together. Please note that it is not advisable to stew Cordyceps for too long as doing so will decrease its nutritional value. It is most appropriate to stew Cordyceps for only 30 mins, and one can mix-and-match with different meats to stew for different nutritional results.
Pulverized Taking 磨成粉末服用
If it is too time consuming to prepare Cordyceps tea or stewed soup, there are other simpler and convenient solutions; that is to grind Cordyceps into powder and encapsulate it, so that it can be easily taken every day according to one’s schedule.