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What Is Cordyceps?

Annette McDermott
Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN

Cordyceps is a parasitic fungus that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. It is found growing on the larvae of caterpillars in high altitudes in China but is now also grown in other areas. It's yet another example of a traditional Chinese medicinal product gaining worldwide attention for its powerful healing properties.

Health Benefits

Long used as a general well-being treatment in China, cordyceps is believed to increase energy and have a positive impact on the immune system. According to WebMD, cordyceps is used to treat the following conditions:

  • Coughs and respiratory disorders
  • Kidney disorders
  • Male sexual dysfunction
  • Anemia
  • Liver Disorders, especially hepatitis B
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness and ringing in ears
  • Unwanted weight loss
  • Opium addiction
  • Helps treat cancer by shrinking tumors

While more study is need to definitely prove the efficacy of cordyceps to treat illness, some research is extremely promising and exciting:

  • A Hong Kong study published in the British Journal of Dermatology showed cordyceps extract may provide photoprotection against UV radiation and lower the risk of basal cell carcinoma.
  • A Korean study on the anti-inflammatory effects of cordyceps on acute colitis determined that the fungus may help prevent or treat inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • A PubMed abstract cites a study on mice showed cordyceps may provide significant anti-fatigue and anti-stress abilities.
  • Korean researchers determined cordyceps relieved asthma symptoms in mice.
  • A Taiwan study showed cordyceps can increase sperm quality and production in rats.

Side Effects and Precautions

People in Asia have used cordyceps safely for centuries; however, as with any natural remedy, there are potential side effects and things to be aware of before using.

According to, the following cordyceps side effects have been reported:

  • Hypersensitivy
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Dry Mouth
  • Two cases of lead poisoning were reported due to high lead content in specific preparations of cordyceps. This demonstrates the importance of only purchasing supplements from trusted, reputable companies with a good track record.

WebMD suggests that cordyceps is likely safe to take; however, there are some things to consider before using:

  • Do not take cordyceps if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • Since cordyceps may stimulate the immune system, use with caution under the supervision of a physician if you suffer from an auto-immune disease such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Cordyceps may reduce the effectiveness of, or interact with, the following immune suppressing drugs:

  • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)
  • Azathioprine (Imuran)
  • Basiliximab (Simulect)
  • Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune)
  • Daclizumab (Zenapax)
  • Muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3)
  • Mycophenolate (CellCept)
  • Tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf)
  • Sirolimus (Rapamune)
  • Prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone)
  • Corticosteroids

Where to Buy

You may find cordyceps supplements at your local natural health store but you can also order it online from the following sources:

A Unique Natural Remedy

Cordyceps' healing abilities are almost as unique as its parasitic evolution. While future research will ultimately determine whether or not cordyceps becomes part of modern Western mainstream medicine, it's popularity as a natural remedy is gaining momentum and is undoubtedly here to stay.

Before using cordyceps to treat illness, please consult a physician or certified natural health practitioner.

What Is Cordyceps?