Cordyceps are known as caterpillar fungus or caterpillar mushroom (English), yartsa gunbu or yatsa gunbu (Tibetan), yarshagumba, yarchagumba (Nepali), keera jhar or keeda ghas (India) and dong chong xia cao meaning "winter worm, summer grass (Chinese)
Cordyceps are native to the Tibetan Plateau (Tibet, Qinghai, West-Sichuan, SW-Gansu & NW Yunnan), and the Himalayas (India, Nepal, Bhutan)
Mycelium and stroma (fungal fruit body)
There are many herbal and medicinal claims regarding Cordyceps. In China cordyceps are used to regulate and support the gonads, and as a lung and kidney tonic. Cordyceps are also recommended as a tonic because of its claimed effects to improve energy, appetite, stamina, endurance and sleeping patterns. Cordyceps are one of the most popular and precious longevity-promoting herbs because they strengthen the adrenal glands, increase sexual vitality, relieve bronchitis and emphysema, reduce blood fats and sugars, lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation. Cordyceps are also supposedly able to increase a person's immune system. These effects are cause because of cordycep's high affinity to the Yin organs (the heart, kidneys and liver). The apparent effects of Cordyceps can be understood according to the Zang Fu relationship with the vital substances of the body in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Research has now shown possible wide range of pharmacological functions of Cordyceps including;
Hepatic (liver) functions
Renal (kidney) funtions
Endocrine and steroid system
Erythropoiesis & hemopoiesis
A typical dosage range for cordyceps is 1 to 3 grams up to 3 times a day for antiaging, renal or hepatic support, as a chemoprotective or performance enhancer.
According to legend, yak herders in the Himalayas of Tibet and Nepal noticed that when their Yaks grazed on a certain mushroom (cordyceps) they suddenly become very energetic and playful. The herders investigated what the Yaks were eating and the strange and mysterious cordyceps caterpillar-mushroom was discovered.
The first written record of cordyceps was made during the Tang Dynasty (620AD). Cordyceps quickly becomes prized by the ruling emperors of China for its healing and longevity properties. Physicians of the Ming dynasty are said to have used cordyceps to make powerful tonics. From the 1400's onwards, Tibetan scholars wrote extensively about cordyceps.
Cordyceps were brought to Europe by a French priest who was a guest of the Chinese Emperor when he was introduced to cordyceps and their revitalizing powers. In 1757 Cordyceps made its first appearance in a European medical text - New Compilation of Materia Medica. From that point on, scientist have been fascinated by the health properties of the cordyceps sinensis mushroom.
Cordyceps sinensis is just one member of the massive Cordyceps family which has over 400 members. All cordyceps are endoparasitoids and have similar, life cycles. Basically, cordyceps spores infect a host insect and finally take over. The stroma (fruiting body) of the fungus sprouts from the insects brain. Each species of cordyceps invade only a single species of insect. Cordyceps sinensis invades the larvae of the Chongcao bat moth which hibernates for the winter underground in a cocoon. The mycelium of the cordyceps sinensis mummifies the body of the larvae whilst it is asleep and when the spring comes a single thin stroma sprouts from the head and pushes upwards like a single blade of iridescent blue grass. Land rich in cordyceps can apparently be easily identified - that's where the yaks prefer to graze!