The world is filled with a large variety of fungi that have spread and adapted across different environments. It is estimated that there are at least 5.1 million different species of fungi on Earth.
Among these different species of fungi, Cordyceps are probably one of the strangest fungi species in existence.
Cordyceps are unique in the sense that most of the specifies are entomopathogenic, which means that they parasitically grow upon the bodies of insects and other arthropods after infecting them.
Some cordyceps end up killing their host and absorb the nutrition to grow and continue their life cycle, while some others can control even the nervous system of their host.
Perhaps, no other species of Cordyceps are as famous as Ophiocordyceps Sinensis, also known as the Yarsagumba, which is found exclusively in locations bordering the Himalayas, in the countries of Nepal, China, India and Bhutan.
Codyceps starts with a moth
The Himalayas are undoubtedly one of the most challenging terrains on the planet and unsurprisingly so, the belt is one of the least populated areas on Earth. But this cold and isolated landscape has been the habitat for a special kind of Thitarodes, which is popularly known as the Tibetian Ghost Moths.
These moths typically feed on the native grasses and shrubs in the warmer months and lay thousands of eggs on the land. When the eggs hatch, the larvae of these moths start feeding into the roots of the plants.
A lot of larvae actually mature and complete their life cycle as a fully mature moth with the ability to reproduce. But for some, the larvae stage proves to be the terminal stage, once their body gets in contact with the spores of the Ophiocordyceps Sinensis that are present on the ground.
Cordyceps – From a spore to a stem
Once the ghost moth is contacted and infected by the Ophiocordyceps Sinesis, the fungi begins its growth cycle. The larva is still alive and active while the fungi is in its early stages.
But once it grows big enough, a blackish tailing starts emerging from the body. Once this tailing starts growing, the plant slowly and steadily suffocates the moth larvae and at one stage the insect dies.
From this dying body the fungi keeps taking the nutrition and continues growth outside the ground. Once this growth reaches its peak the fungi produces and disperses its spores in the air.
Thus, each mature cordyceps fungi stem is actually the result of a moth larvae being successfully infected and put to death by the Ophiocordyceps Sinensis.
The body of Cordyceps (Yarsagumba)
In the Sherpa language, Yarsha refers to plant, while Gumbu refers to insects. The name Yarshagumba is taken as an amalgation of these two term. A mature body of this fungi looks like a small black grass growing out of the shell of an insect larvae. The insect remains usually appear dark yellow or white-brownish, while the tailing head appears to be black or dark brown. The inside of the dead insect shell consists of a powdery substance, which is actually the most valued component of the Cordyceps.
Codyceps harvesting in Nepal
Cordyceps sinensis grows exclusively in the wild and hasn’t been successfully farmed to this day. The fungi usually grows around the plain meadows that are located above 3,500 meters from the sea level.
Although most Himalayan districts in the country has a hospitable terrain for Yarsagumba, the districts of Dolpa, Jumla, Humla, Kalikot, Baglung, Mustang, Manang, Gorkha and Rasuwa in western and central Nepal are considered to be the places where the fungi is found most abundantly.
These areas are mostly accessible only 3-6 months of the year due to excessive cold and lower atmospheric pressure. In such circumstances the risk of altitude sickness is also very high. Humans need to painstakingly climb tall mountains and reach cold grassy fields to fetch Cordyceps.
Usually, the picking season starts around May and ends in June for around 45 days. Every year thousands of pickers make this seasonal camping expedition across the Himalayas to collect as much Cordyceps as they can.
Spotting a mature Yarsagumba requires a lot of focus and effort, which is especially difficult as the stems get camouflaged among the growing shrubs. Once spotted, the pickers carefully dig out the fungi from the soil, clean it softly with brushes and let it dry naturally. On average, each picker manages to find 3-10 fully mature Yarsagumbas in a day after several hours of work.
The picking continues until the beginning of the monsoon season, after which finding the fungi gets harder because of the rain. Once the picking is complete, the pickers sell their picking to local or foreign traders who then pay the taxes to the local government. From there, the cordysceps are sorted and sent in bulk to markets across the world including those in China and Japan, where they are most highly demanded.
Cordyceps – Remedial use
For centuries, Cordyceps has been coveted across China and the Indian sub-continent for various medicinal properties.
It is considered that the highly beneficial medicinal properties of Yarsagumba were initially discovered by Yak and Himalayan goat herders in Tibet, who noticed their animals getting more energetic and healthier after grazing in the high meadows abundant with the fungi.
Traditional healers and herbalists from Nepal, China and India have been using various parts of the Cordycpes in their products to treat several conditions and ailments. Below we mention some of the most popular remedial use of Yarsagumba:
Cordyeceps has been popularly mentioned in Chinese and Tibetian traditional medicine books as a natural aphrodisiac. More recently, in a research published by the Stanford University medical school, an increase of the 17-ketosteroid ketone was noticed in the urine of the male that consumed it.
The ketone is primarily produced to break down male steroid sex hormones called androgens, as well as other hormones released by the adrenal glands in males and females, and by the testes in males.
In other controlled animal tests, it was also observed that regular consumption of Yarsagumba not just reduced the recovery period between orgasms, but also increased the volume of semen production. Many more experiments have consistently shown positive correlation between yarsagumba and improved sexual health.
Natural remedy against sexual and reproductive dysfunctions
In recent years, Yarsagumba has been popular referred to as the Himalayan Viagra. For centuries, Yarsagumba’s consumption has been encouraged by traditional herbalists as a means to counter impotence and erectile problems in male.
It is also recommended by traditional herbalists as a treatment for infertility among women. In modern times, it is also used as a supplement for women using in-vitro fertilization, in order to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.
Cordyceps against Kidney diseases
Yarsagumba has been mentioned in books of traditional Chinese medicine as an effective treatment against kidney diseases. More recently, a research in Hong Kong observed that cordyceps:
- decrease serum creatinine
- increase in creatine clearance
- reduction in proteinuria
- reduction of increased haemoglobin and serum albumin
Modern researches have also shown positive results in combating Chronic kidney disease with the use of Yarsagumba.
Treatment against fatigue
The use of Yarsagumba in combating fatigue among athletes has been consistently growing since the early 1990s. Some studies have stated that the consumption of Cordyceps enable better supply of oxygen. Other animal researches have also shown improved endurance and improvement of blood level as well.
Immunity boosting properties
For centuries, Cordyceps Sinensis has been used by people in the Himalayas as a means to boost immunity. However, several modern researches have indeed proven that Yarsagumba indeed boosts the immunity power of both humans and animals.
From dealing with common seasonal diseases to serious ailments like tumor and tuberculosis, regular users of the fungi have been observed to fare better than non-users.
Remedy against lungs and respiratory problems
Yarsagumba is also identified as an effective natural remedy against ailments related to lungs and the respiratory system. The fungi is used as relieving agent against inflammation of the lungs, while also considered to be an additive treatment medicine for diseases like SARS and lung fibrosis.
Cordyceps Protection against liver problems
Some components of Ophiocordyceps sinensis have been adjudged to be very effective for treatment of liver problems. Some researches have indicated that the amountof polysaccharides and adenosine can not just decrease the lipid accumulation, but also increased antioxidative capacity in livers.
Cordyceps – Beneficial for heart patients
Some studies have indicated positive benefits of Cordyceps for the cardiovascular system. In some controlled studies, it has been found to reduce heart rate and cardiac workload.
Cordyceps has Anti-cancer properties
Studies done across recent years have documented positive results for the use of Yarsagumba against cancerous agents. It’s been suggested as an additive treatment medicine for patients in chemotherapy.
Other benefits of Cordyceps
In addition to the benefits mentioned above, herbalists also recommend the use of Yarsagumba for dealing wth anti-aging, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, asthenia after severe illness and arrhythmias.
How to consume Cordyceps?
The prescribed dosage of Yarsagumba for a healthy adult is often 0.3gms to 0.7gms a day, which translates to around 1-2 fully grown pieces. Although a well-cleaned Yarsagumba can be eaten directly as it is, some experts suggest boiling it and drinking the soup after 20 minutes.
In China, the popular method of consuming it is to mix the grinded powder with a glass of milk. The recommended dosages are higher for people with specific ailments and health conditions.
Lately, several food and supplement product manufacturers sell products with Cordyceps. Some of the most popular products included tea, coffee and pills. Experts point out that to get effective results, users need to see whether any product contains the prescribed amount of Yarsagumba or not.
Over the course of the decade, Yarsagumba has emerged as one of the most expensive natural medicines in the world, with the best quality fungi priced as high as 50,000 $ per kg. Yet demand of the cordysceps remain high because of which biochemistry experts have been producing cultured variants of cordyceps in the lab at significantly lower prices. However, it is generally considered that the quality of the lab-grown tissues of cordyceps doesn’t have all of the qualities of a naturally grown cordyceps.
Dr John Smith MD