The unique, amazing cordyceps mushroom made international headlines after Chinese runners broke two world records by unbelievably huge margins at the Asian Games in 1993. It seems the secret to their remarkable athletic performances was the so-called caterpillar fungus − cordyceps.
As it turns out, cordyceps mushroom (known scientifically as Cordyceps sinensis) has been used in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine since at least the 15th Century. An extremely rare combination of a caterpillar and a fungus, it is found at altitudes above 4,500 meters (over 14,000 feet) in the Himalayas, on the Tibetan plateau, and at other high-altitude locations worldwide.
In Tibet this fungus is known as yartsa gunbu, or “summer grass, winter worm.” It was initially identified when local herders observed that yak, goat, and sheep that ate cordyceps while grazing became very strong and stout. This observation led to a deeper examination and eventual understanding of its many health benefits.
Even today, traditional healers in many East Asian cultures recommend cordyceps as a tonic and claim that it improves energy, appetite, stamina, libido, endurance, and sleeping patterns.
Cordyceps has a truly bizarre life cycle. Being parasitic in nature, its spores land on the caterpillars of certain moth species and enters their bodies. The infected caterpillars then bury themselves below the soil before they die.
In summer, the fungus emerges from each infected caterpillar’s head, looking like a thin, orange finger. As the fungus approaches maturity, it consumes more than 90 percent of the infected insects, effectively mummifying its hosts.
Scientific studies over the past several years have shown that the cordyceps mushroom helps to manage blood sugar levels in a healthy range, protects the heart, strengthens the immune system, enhances libido, fights fatigue and improves exercise performance, and may even help to combat cancer.
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