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Cordyceps - World’s most expensive mushroom

Cordyceps is a fungus which grows from the spores fallen on caterpillars inside the soil which give rise to mushroom like body of fungus with stalk and head. As wild variety of this mushroom or fungus is rarely found so it is very expensive and difficult to afford. The world’s most expensive mushroom, prominently talked about in the mushroom category and regarded as the top mushroom with extraordinary properties is used as pre-workout supplement. It can be considered as one of the top super foods.

Dr. Sangeeta Soi

Cordyceps is a fungus which grows from the spores fallen on caterpillars inside the soil which give rise to mushroom like body of fungus with stalk and head. As wild variety of this mushroom or fungus is rarely found so it is very expensive and difficult to afford. The world’s most expensive mushroom, prominently talked about in the mushroom category and regarded as the top mushroom with extraordinary properties is used as pre-workout supplement. It can be considered as one of the top super foods.

Source and lifecycle 

It is mostly found in high mountain regions of China. Cordyceps are found all over the world and include 400 species that typically infect other insects and arthropods.  As we check for the lifecycle then it is the spore that starts the whole formation. Cordycep spores will land on the insect and then the spore will start germinating, resulting in the formation of hyphae which grow inside the insect and turn into mycelium, which is an important part of the mushroom. Now that the mycelium start consuming the insect and the insect is fully consumed, a blade-like mushroom (fruiting body) will be produced from the insect’s head. The environmental conditions need to be favourable for the whole process. The lifecycle continues and the mushroom will again release spores and infect other one to spread the entire thing. 

Origin of present species 

The wild species of Cordyceps is basically Wild Cordyceps sinensis -The Caterpillar fungus. It is considered as the father of present day Cordyceps which is not actually the sinensis species as being costly and rarely available. It is the most well known species of Cordyceps, now officially known as Ophiocordyceps sinensis which infects the caterpillar of the Hepialus moth. It is mainly found in high elevations in Tibet and Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu but less abundant in India, Nepal and Bhutan. 

The history of Cordyceps dates back to 1993 during the Chinese national games in Beijing. It became popular when a Chinese athlete Wang Junxia consumed Cordyceps as the source of tonic and made a world record in 10,000 meter race in just 42 seconds. No other athlete in the past 23 years could beat her record. But later many athletes who also took Cordyceps as a tonic failed to give desired results. Hence this raised a big question on the efficiency of Cordyceps – whether it really helps in boosting the energy and stamina levels in athletes. 

Medical uses: 

Cordyceps are known to improve the immune system and providing protection from several diseases specially cancer by formation of new cells that strengthen the immune system. It is also associated in shrinking of cancer or tumor cells especially in case of lung and skin cancer. They are also used in kidney problems and other problems related to it; is used after kidney transplant. It can also be used in male sexual disorders, liver related diseases and act as dopamine to improve athletics performances and many other conditions but there are no scientific evidence for above mentioned uses.  

You’ll be surprised to know that the species of Cordyceps or the supplements we are consuming are not actually the wild Cordyceps Sinensis but the commercial form grown invitro.  The cost of wild Cordyceps is around $20,000 per kilogram which is quite high and makes it the most expensive mushroom all over the world. 99.9 Cordyceps supplements do not contain wild Cordyceps not just because of its high price but also that it is exclusively sold in Asia and rarely available in North American market. The reason for the high price of wild Cordyceps is that for many years, the Chinese were unable to cultivate it which led to the lag in its production meanwhile commercial cultivation of the mushroom began by fermenting the spores and forming myceliums leading to the Cordyceps named as “Cordyceps Cs 4”. 

Cordyceps CS 4 

It began in 1980s when the Cordyceps were in high demand in market and gaining popularity but due to the lag in the production of wild variety, the spores were developed artificially by some scientists to meet the commercial market demand. It was then when the birth of Cordyceps Cs 4 took place, the Chinese version of wild Cordyceps which is artificially grown in fermenters giving rise to the Cordyceps which we consume in 99% of Cordycep supplements we are consuming today.  

What the scientist did was the anamorphs which were not able to produce mycelium which were not able to produce mushroom, the fruiting body. It was then that the liquid fermenters were used to grow mass amount of pure mycelium which was called as liquid culture mycelium which provided pure mycelium which resulted the wild varieties nutrients which can now be used as supplements. 

So, next when you look Cordyceps Sinensis on the bottle of your supplement, be  assured that it is the Chinese version of Cordyceps, ‘Cordyceps Cs 4’ and not that high priced wild relative which is  just an ancestor of the Cordyceps family.

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