Cordyceps: A Magic Mushroom Energy Enhancer


Getty ImagesI'm submitting this week's blog in the knick of time, after being stricken with a severe case of I'll-do-it-later for the better part of the week. Lacking the inspiration to write, I posted a status on Facebook this morning: "Sara is seeking an herbal cure for terminal procrastination."

My friends (and editors—oops!) began responding: "Now there's a post I would definitely read!" And then it hit me: Cordyceps, perhaps the weirdest natural remedy I've ever tried, may be just that…or at least the closest thing to it.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis), for the uninitiated, is the strangest yet most instantly effective energy-booster Ive ever tried, aside from a nice brisk walk on an early spring morning. Not related to anything herbal, cordyceps is actually a fungal parasite that grows out of the top of a Lepidoptera moth caterpillars head. Yep, I know. Sounds really gross. Stick with me.

These caterpillars live naturally in mountainous areas of Tibet and southern China but now are cultivated commercially, which is a good thing. First, because it became so rare and expensive that cordyceps gatherers were wrecking delicate Himalayan ecosystems with their aggressive mushroom hunting. And, notes leading mushroom expert Paul Stamets in MycoMedicinals, his treatise on mushrooms, wild-grown cordyceps can be contaminated with mold, bacteria, and even lead.

Although state-of-the-scientific art randomized clinical trials havent been conducted on the effects of cordyceps on the human body here in the West, the fungus has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine since the 1700s.

Test tube and animal studies have shown that the fungus has anti-tumor properties—specifically against leukemia cells, notes Stamets. Animal studies also show its ability to stimulate the immune response, and herbalists use it to improve kidney function for people who have chronic kidney problems.

But back to using cordyceps as an energy enhancer: At the Chinese National Games in 1993, a team of women runners shattered nine world records and said they took cordyceps as part of their training program. According to Stamets, marathon runners use cordyceps and one runner once told him privately that he cut 25 minutes off his time in the Boston Marathon—and ended up finishing in the top 10—as a result of taking cordyceps.

Oh, one more thing: cordyceps has a reputation as an aphrodisiac, at least in China, where its been used to treat impotence and to boost libido.

The cultivated cordyceps from Stamets company, Fungi Perfecti, is a good product to try, as is New Chapters cordycep capsules, available at health food stores.

Follow label instructions and dont exceed recommended dosage unless youre working with an herbalist. According to herbalist David Winston in his book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, taking excess amounts of cordyceps can cause headaches and anxiety.

Maybe if I can get my hands on some cordyceps, my upcoming blogs won't be so daunting.