Zombie Ants and Killer Cordyceps
Profile of Cordyceps “Cordy” Sinensis
The medicinal fungus Cordyceps has been a deeply respected centerpiece of Chinese medicine for ages and apparently has a great number of far-reaching medicinal effects. In a taxonomic sense, our super mushroom is not really a mushroom, although it has been regarded as such throughout history. In reality, it is an Ascomycetes fungus, along with its more famous family members:
- baker’s yeast
- penicillium (antibiotic penicillin)
- ergot fungus (the source for the most potent hallucinogen in the world—LSD.)
My name is Ceps, Cordyceps
Cordyceps also has other names:
- Latin name: Cordyceps sinensis, which cleverly describes its appearance; “sinensis” means from China, “cord” means club, and “cebs” means head. Since Cordyceps’ stoma and fruit body extends from the mummified carcasses of insect larvae, the Latin name perfectly describes this fungus.
- The REAL Latin name is actually Ophiocordyceps sinensis. This name game results from scientific studies in 2007, when several Cordyceps species were reclassified as Ophiocordyceps, but Cordyceps is the most familiar and well-established name.
- In English Cordyceps is probably the most widely used name for this mushroom, but it is also known as the Caterpillar mushroom.
- Japanese like to call it Totsu kasu or tochukasu.
- In Tibetan the local name of Cordyceps means “summer grass, winter worm” or either yartsa gunbu or yatsa gunbu.
The Chinese call it 冬蟲夏草 (DongChongXiaCao), which literally means “winter worm, summer plant.”
Cordyceps’ Hideaway and Reward
Cordyceps can only be found at high altitudes—12,000 feet (3,800 meters) above sea level, on the Himalayan Plateau, which makes harvesting difficult and also explains its high market value. Although Cordyceps is inexpensive and scarce, the value of its medicinal possibilities has made it highly prized in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
Cordyceps has flourished for a very long time. The Chinese discovered this precious mushroom more than 2,000 years ago, and it has been a valued part of Chinese medicine ever since. Although valued and precious, the average person didn’t have money enough to buy it, and having Cordyceps remained the privilege of the emperor and only a few wealthy people. It was actually valued at four times its weight in silver!
The first record of Cordyceps from China dates from A.D. 620, when local writers described it as a small creature that transforms from animal to plant in summer and from plant to animal in winter. Rumors indicate that yak herders in the Himalayas of ancient Tibet and Nepal were the first people who noticed the effects of Cordyceps, when they observed the brisk behavior of their animals after grazing on it.
Tibetan academicians have written about a healing animal-plant creature from the 15th to 18th centuries. Scientific evidence includes 吳儀洛 (Wu Yiluo), who wrote the earliest scientifically reliable description of the Cordyceps mushroom in 本草從心 (BenCaoCongXin, English: New Complication of Materia Medica).
Cordyceps was first noted in the Western world in 1726, when a Jesuit priest in Paris chronicled his observations about Cordyceps during his stay at the emperor’s court in China.
What makes Cordyceps so deadly?
See this BBC clip of Cordyceps:
Zombie ants and killer Cordyceps!
What’s deadly for one is actually super healthy for another. For humans, Cordyceps is a mushroom with amazing health benefits. More information about this mushroom will be provided in later posts.
This is Mikko reporting from Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.