Cordyceps: The Caterpillar Fungus
Mushrooms are curiously strange. Its one of their great attractions. Cordyceps are
the strangest mushroom of them all. These are the mushrooms that grow inside
insects like ants and dragonflies. Let’s say a cordyceps spore penetrates an ant,
it then takes overs the insect’s brain and sends crawling up a tree high into the
forest canopy. The ant then dies and the mushroom grows like club protruding
from the ant’s body. Then the club releases its pollen and it spreads far and wide
due to the heights the ant climb. To see this on video go to:
Mushrooms, Mycelium and Connection
Mushrooms are not like any other life form on this planet. They breath oxygen like animals but are clearly not animals. We actually share half our DNA with mushrooms. Their fruiting bodies, the wonderful colours and shapes we find in our lawns, on forest floors and on old trees are just to surface of a breathing, eating, relationship orientated organism. What we see above ground are like apples in a tree. Beneath the soil lies the complicated, not well understood, livingness of the mushroom called the mycelium.
If you gently turn over rich forest soil, you will find a network of tiny white
threads running through the rich black hummus and leaf litter. The white
threads are the mycelium from which the mushroom grows. Mycelium is
capable of creating connection between approximately 90% of all the living
plants on planet earth. Some consider mycelium to be an intelligent network
necessary for green plant life to live in the forest harmoniously. Mycelia has
been likened to the human nervous system, the internet and a good Mother.
Humans, of European descent, historically saw mushrooms and polypores growing from trees and soil as parasites. I always find this interesting as the meaning we attach to the world around us is shaped by the experiences in our life. Luckily, these particular humans maybe evolving, because we can know understand that mycelium create symbiotic relationships with plants. Mushrooms are not parasites, they are an essential part of a complex ecology.
Plants offer the mycelium food and moisture in exchange for information. Mycelium inform plants about diseases (bacteria and viruses) traveling through an area and possible defences that can be used to protect the plant’s life.
Mycelium and the Immune System
Paul Stamets describes how mycelia do this. When a strand of mycelia
encounters something new, they test it out to see if it is friend or foe by
inserting a fibre into the newly encountered life form. Tasting it, one
could say. Whatever information is gathered is quickly recorded in the
mycelia’s DNA and transmitted throughout the mycelia network.
(Which can be vast, eight miles of mycelium cells can run through one
cubic inch of soil.) The mycelium’s DNA carries the memory of the each
encounter it makes as it spreads across the planet, whether something is friend or foe.
I can’t help but think of our own immune systems. This is a brief and simple explanation of how our immune system works. Our immune cells are constantly tasting (some immune cells are even called Macrophages which means Big Mouths) proteins attached to micro-organisms to determine if the micro-organism is friend or foe. If the protein belongs to a friend it is considered food and we assimilate it. If it is considered foe, it is killed. Then information gathered about that particular micro-organism is sent to specialized immune cells called memory cells. These cells remember who is friend and who is foe and what is needed to kill the foe. Kind of sounds like how mycelium works!
Our immune system is incredibly intelligent. Our body is composed of approximately 37.4 trillion cells and for every cell there is approximately 10 bacteria we have a symbiotic relationship with. The immune system needs to keep track of all those cells and bacteria. It needs to know what is helpful and what is not to the livingness of the body. The immune system is like the mycelium weaving its way through the forest floor connecting all the living plants and keeping watch over unwanted guests.
And Then There is Compost
This is not the only thing mycelia do in the soils of the earth. They are great composters. They are responsible for 90% of all-natural decomposition on the planet. They degrade dead things and toxic things. Mycelium has been shown to breakdown and neutralize toxins like DDT, dioxins, herbicides, synthetic dyes and plastic. (It’s actually been known for over 100 years that fungi break down plastic!)
Our immune system is also a decomposer. It is responsible for cleaning up
dead cells and shunting toxins out of the body. Many people often think of
the liver as responsible for clearing toxins, which it is, but it is important to
remember that all parts of the body are in relationship to other parts of the
body. It is only once the toxins make it to liver that the liver begins to clear
them. The body in order to tolerate the increasingly complex chemical world
we live in disperses toxins throughout the body for storage. Some of the toxin
disrupt DNA sequencing resulting in cells death. These dead cells need to composted. Then add all the dying bacteria to the mix and the immune system has an enormous task of compositing and removal.
Composting and Chronic Infection
There are many bacteria that live in our body that can cause illness but don’t because the immune system keeps them in check. But when the composting bin is overflowing, and the immune system is taxed with other chores or weakened by stress and/or pharmaceutical drugs such as steroids, anti-biotics or cytotoxic drugs, the disease-causing bacteria gain a greater foot hold and begin to grow in unhealthy ways. The immune system then gears up for a fight but already overwhelmed and weakened it does not have the resources for the killing off and composting the overgrown bacteria. The human then suffers lingering malaise, low energy, aches and pains, headaches, poor appetite and weak digestion, anxiety and/or depression, insomnia, irregular menstrual cycles, etc…
This is where mushrooms come in. Most mushrooms are immunomodulators. Immunomodulators have the intelligence to strengthen the parts of the immune system that are weak and calm the parts that are overactive. Mushrooms improves the intelligence of a tire immune system through deep nourishment, increasing energy metabolism and in some mysterious way improving communication between cells.
Think of chronic infection and the immune system like this. You have
had a couple of very busy weeks and life has also thrown you a curve
ball, perhaps a car accident and you have been dealing with insurance
claims, police reports, car rental companies and body shops as well
lingering pain from the accident. You feel tired and overwhelmed. The
more tired you become the more reactive you become to things you
would regularly blow off. Your ability to multi-task, something you naturally do with ease, is dissolving before your eyes. You can’t focus. You are choosing foods that are quick and sugary and developing an increasing dependency on coffee. You can’t rest or sleep.
This is what happens to the immune system when it is tired and overwhelmed by chronic infections. (Notice I said infections, bacteria and virus live in symbiotic communities. It is rare that there is one singular infecting microbe.) It has difficulty multi-tasking, remembering all the trillions of cells it needs to protect and bacteria to monitor, it starts eating the wrong foods, forgets how to rest and loses the plot. Mushrooms provide the nourishment the immune needs to refocus and regain balance.
While mushroom do have anti-microbial properties, their real gift as medicine is to strengthen the immune system so it can do the job it’s meant to do, eliminate infection.
Cordyceps the Coordinator
Now that we have looked at the big picture, or the intuitive understanding of mushrooms and how they work, let’s look at what science has discovered about Cordyceps.
In an article published by Us National Health Library a list of traditional uses of cordyceps in Chinese Medicine is listed. Viewing the list with allopathic eyes (see the following page), in other words with the idea that medicine is created to fight a specific ailment of the body, for example bronchitis, the list seems ridiculous.
Yet view with the understanding that Cordyceps improves the efficacy of the immune system, whether increasing white blood cell count and its various messengers (cytokines) or decreasing its virulence, one can understand how many of the conditions are overcome, as it is the immune system that is the healer in the body. 
Increase Longevity Jaundice
Erectile Dysfunction Prostrate Enlargement
Female Aphrodisiac Liver Diseases
Infertility Kidney Diseases
General Weakness Heart Diseases
Tuberculosis Chronic Pain
Bronchitis Sciatica or Back Pain
Malignant Tumour Low Blood Pressure
Cough and Cold Diabetes
Rheumatism Alcoholic Hepatitis
Is it Cordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps militaris – A Back Story
Cordyceps sinensis grows high in the Himalayan Mountains and is one the most precious medicine used by Tibetan Doctors (aka Herbalists). Because this mushroom is tiny and therefore difficult to find and has very specific growing conditions in relation to altitude, moisture and temperature and feeds on specific insects it rare and expensive. The current price of one kilo of wild crafted Cordyceps sinensis (or the Caterpillar fungus) is $20,000. Most people cannot afford the medicine it offers. Not to mention the Chinese government has declared Cordyceps to be a National Treasure and has severely restricted its export. 
Seeing a rich market for mushrooms, entrepreneurs have tried to grow Codyceps sinensis in laboratories like they do Reishi mushrooms. Only one researcher has been able to grow a Codyceps sinensis fungi. And that was only once.
The Codyceps sinensis mycelium however is easy to grow for those who know how. It is slow growing, but it will grow. The mycelium contains many of the medicinal constituents the wild crafted fungi offers including polysaccharides with immune modulating properties, the nucleoside adenosine for its energy metabolism boost and mannitol with blood sugar balancing activities. The medicinal product that is produce from the mycelium is called Cs-4. The Chinese governments in the early 1990’s certified it as a safe and effective product to be used in their hospitals.
In the meantime, researchers turned to another variety of Cordyceps to see if they could grow it in labs. This is where Cordyceps militaris comes in. It turns out it can be grown in labs. This is more than the likely the Cordyceps you are finding in your mushroom supplement. In Traditional Chinese Medicine Cordyceps militaris is used interchangeably with Cordyceps sinensis. It too contains the polysaccharides, the adenosine and mannitol as well as another constituent called cordycepin which has further immune modulating properties.
There is one more thing you need to know before going out to buy yourself some Cordyceps. If you decide to purchase Cs-4, the mycelium, be sure it was grown in China. Remember I mentioned it is slow growing.
The mycelium is grown on grain. In other words, it is fed on grain. Over time the mycelium spreads through the large vats of watery grain eating it (composting) until there is only mycelium left. In China this is a patient process and they wait until most of the grain is decomposed. In China they can afford to wait because they are making medicine for the government run hospitals. In labs in the States, they are not so patient. Medicine is a capitalist enterprise and time is money as the saying goes. Because of this, the mycelium is harvested before the grain is decomposed and the resulting medicine can be mostly grain with low levels of mycelium. To read more about this process try this web-site. It belongs to one of the biggest and most reliable importers of medicinal mushrooms : http://www.nammex.com/difference-cordyceps-mycelium-fruiting-body/
In Traditional Chinese Medicine medicinal mushrooms are often
to soups which are taken several times a day. In the west
mushrooms tend to be taken in capsule form. I prefer to offer
them to my clients in tincture form, using both water and alcohol
to extract their medicinal properties.
Some believe that high doses of Cordyceps need to be taken for good
results. It is my personal experience that while higher doses are
effective, so are lower doses. And a lower dose is easier on the
pocket book as well as enhances compliance.
Generally, I recommend 15 mls three times a day of tincture.
It is important to know that because Cordyceps influences
detoxification system in the body, it does have the ability to
potentiate some pharmaceutical drugs. This means that if you
are taking certain anti-biotics, cytotoxic drugs, blood sugar
regulators and heart meds, the cordyceps will enhance their
effects. You may need a lower dose of the drug. But this is not
necessarily something you want to leave to guess work. If you
are using these drugs, you may want to refrain from taking Corydceps or if you are taking Cordyceps you may want to refrain from taking these drugs.