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2010-08-06 Cordyceps militaris 1.jpg
Cordyceps militaris
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Fungi
Division: Ascomycota
Class: Sordariomycetes
Order: Hypocreales
Family: Cordycipitaceae
Genus: Cordyceps
Fr. (1818)
Type species
Cordyceps militaris
(L.) Fr. (1818)

about 400

Cordyceps /ˈkɔrdəsɛps/ is a genus of ascomycete fungi (sac fungi) that includes about 400 species. All Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids, parasitic mainly on insects and other arthropods (they are thus entomopathogenic fungi); a few are parasitic on other fungi. Until recently, the best known species of the genus was Cordyceps sinensis,[1] first recorded as yartsa gunbu in Tibet in the 15th century[2] and known as yarsha gumba in Nepali and "caterpillar fungus" in English. In 2007, nuclear DNA sampling revealed this species to be unrelated to most of the rest of the genus' members; as a result it was renamed Ophiocordyceps sinensis and placed in a new family, the Ophiocordycipitaceae.

The generic name Cordyceps is derived from the Latin words cord, meaning "club", and ceps, meaning "head". Several species of Cordyceps are considered to be medicinal mushrooms in classical Asian pharmacologies, such as that of traditional Chinese[3][unreliable source?] and Tibetan medicines.

When a Cordyceps fungus attacks a host, the mycelium invades and eventually replaces the host tissue, while the elongated fruit body (ascocarp) may be cylindrical, branched, or of complex shape. The ascocarp bears many small, flask-shaped perithecia containing asci. These, in turn, contain thread-like ascospores, which usually break into fragments and are presumably infective. Some current and former Cordyceps species are able to affect the behaviour of their insect host: Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (formerly Cordyceps unilateralis) causes ants to climb a plant and attach there before they die. This ensures the parasite's environment is at an optimal temperature and humidity, and that maximal distribution of the spores from the fruit body that sprouts out of the dead insect is achieved.[4] Marks have been found on fossilised leaves that suggest this ability to modify the host's behaviour evolved more than 48 million years ago.[5]

The genus has a worldwide distribution and most of the approximately 400 species[6] have been described from Asia (notably Nepal, China, Japan, Bhutan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand). Cordyceps species are particularly abundant and diverse in humid temperate and tropical forests.

Some Cordyceps species are sources of biochemicals with interesting biological and pharmacological properties,[7] like cordycepin; the anamorph of Cordyceps subsessilis (Tolypocladium inflatum) was the source of ciclosporin—a drug helpful in human organ transplants, as it suppresses the immune system (immunosuppressive drug).[8]

Potential pharmacology[edit]

Cordycepin, a compound isolated from the caterpillar fungus

Cordyceps has a long history of use in traditional medicine. One of the earliest clear record is a Tibetan medical text authored by Zurkhar Nyamnyi Dorje in the 15th century outlining the tonic propensities of Yartsa gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis renamed now to Ophiocordyceps sinensis), especially as an aphrodisiac.[2] Although there are often-repeated claims of thousands of years of use in traditional Chinese medicine, so far no clear textual source has surfaced.

Although in vitro and animal models provide preliminary support for some of the traditional medicinal uses, there are no clinical studies demonstrating health benefits in humans.[9] Some polysaccharide components and cordycepin, which have some anticancer activity in preliminary in vitro and animal studies,[10] have been isolated from C. sinensis and C. militaris. Some work has been published in which Cordyceps sinensis has been used to protect the bone marrow and digestive systems of mice from whole body irradiation.[11] An experiment noted a chemical compound isolated from Cordyceps sinensis may protect the liver from damage.[12] An experiment with mice noted that Cordyceps sinensis may have an anti-depressant effect.[13] Researchers have noted that a polysaccharide isolated from Cordyceps sinensis has a hypoglycemic effect and may be beneficial for people with insulin resistance.[14][15][16][17][18]

Popular culture[edit]


The price of Cordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau rose dramatically by 900% between 1998 and 2008, or an annual average of over 20%. However, the value of large-sized caterpillar fungus has increased more dramatically than smaller size Cordyceps, regarded as lower quality.[19]

Year  % Price increase Price/kg (Yuan)
1980s 1,800
1997 467% (incl. inflation) 8,400
2004 429% (incl. inflation) 36,000
2005 10,000–60,000



  1. ^ Holliday, John; Cleaver, Matt; (2008). "Medicinal Value of the Caterpillar Fungi Species of the Genus Cordyceps (Fr.) Link (Ascomycetes). A Review" (PDF). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms (New York: Begell House) 10 (3): 219. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v10.i3.30. ISSN 1521-9437. 
  2. ^ a b Winkler, D. 2008a. Yartsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis) and the Fungal Commodification of the Rural Economy in Tibet AR. Economic Botany 63.2: 291–306
  3. ^ Halpern, Georges M. (2007). Healing Mushrooms. Square One Publishers. pp. 65–86. ISBN 978-0-7570-0196-3. 
  4. ^ "Neurophilosophy: Brainwashed by a parasite". 2006-11-20. Retrieved 2008-07-02. 
  5. ^ Hughes, D. P.; Wappler, T.; Labandeira, C. C. (2010). "Ancient death-grip leaf scars reveal ant-fungal parasitism". Biology Letters 7 (1): 67–70. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.0521. PMC 3030878. PMID 20719770.  edit
  6. ^ Sung, Gi-Ho; Nigel L. Hywel-Jones, Jae-Mo Sung, J. Jennifer Luangsa-ard, Bhushan Shrestha and Joseph W. Spatafora (2007). "Phylogenetic classification of Cordyceps and the clavicipitaceous fungi". Stud Mycol 57 (1): 5–59. doi:10.3114/sim.2007.57.01. PMC 2104736. PMID 18490993. 
  7. ^ Holliday, John; Cleaver, Phillip; Lomis-Powers, Megan; Patel, Dinesh (2004). "Analysis of Quality and Techniques for Hybridization of Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.)Sacc. (Ascomycetes)" (PDF). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms (New York: Begell House) 6 (2): 152. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v6.i2.60. ISSN 1521-9437. 
  8. ^ Holliday, John (2005). "Cordyceps". In Coates, Paul M. Encyclopaedia of Dietary Supplements (PDF) 1. Marcel Dekker. pp. 4 of Cordyceps Chapter. 
  9. ^ Cordyceps information from
  10. ^ Khan MA, Tania M, Zhang D, Chen H; Tania; Zhang; Chen (May 2010). "Cordyceps Mushroom: A Potent Anticancer Nutraceutical". The Open Nutraceuticals Journal 3: 179–183. doi:10.2174/1876396001003010179. 
  11. ^ Liu, Wei-Chung; Wang, Shu-Chi; Tsai, Min-Lung; Chen, Meng-Chi; Wang, Ya-Chen; Hong, Ji-Hong; McBride, William H.; Chiang, CS (December 2006). "Protection against Radiation-Induced Bone Marrow and Intestinal Injuries by Cordyceps sinensis, a Chinese Herbal Medicine". Radiation Research 166 (6): 900–907. doi:10.1667/RR0670.1. PMID 17149981.  |first9= missing |last9= in Authors list (help)
  12. ^ Ko WS, Hsu SL, Chyau CC, Chen KC, Peng RY; Hsu; Chyau; Chen; Peng (July 2009). "Compound Cordyceps TCM-700C exhibits potent hepatoprotective capability in animal model". Fitoterapia 81 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2009.06.018. PMID 19596425. 
  13. ^ Nishizawa K, Torii K, Kawasaki A et al. (September 2007). "Antidepressant-like effect of Cordyceps sinensis in the mouse tail suspension test". Biol. Pharm. Bull. 30 (9): 1758–1762. doi:10.1248/bpb.30.1758. PMID 17827735. 
  14. ^ Kiho T, Hui J, Yamane A, Ukai S; Hui; Yamane; Ukai (December 1993). "Polysaccharides in fungi. XXXII. Hypoglycemic activity and chemical properties of a polysaccharide from the cultural mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis". Biol. Pharm. Bull. 16 (12): 1291–1293. doi:10.1248/bpb.16.1291. PMID 8130781. 
  15. ^ Kiho T, Yamane A, Hui J, Usui S, Ukai S; Yamane; Hui; Usui; Ukai (February 1996). "Polysaccharides in fungi. XXXVI. Hypoglycemic activity of a polysaccharide (CS-F30) from the cultural mycelium of Cordyceps sinensis and its effect on glucose metabolism in mouse liver". Biol. Pharm. Bull. 19 (2): 294–296. doi:10.1248/bpb.19.294. PMID 8850325. 
  16. ^ Zhao CS, Yin WT, Wang JY et al. (June 2002). "CordyMax Cs-4 improves glucose metabolism and increases insulin sensitivity in normal rats". J Altern Complement Med 8 (3): 309–314. doi:10.1089/10755530260127998. PMID 12165188. 
  17. ^ Lo HC, Tu ST, Lin KC, Lin SC; Tu; Lin; Lin (April 2004). "The anti-hyperglycemic activity of the fruiting body of Cordyceps in diabetic rats induced by nicotinamide and streptozotocin". Life Sci. 74 (23): 2897–2908. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2003.11.003. PMID 15050427. 
  18. ^ Li SP, Zhang GH, Zeng Q et al. (June 2006). "Hypoglycemic activity of polysaccharide, with antioxidation, isolated from cultured Cordyceps mycelia". Phytomedicine 13 (6): 428–433. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2005.02.002. PMID 16716913. 
  19. ^ Winkler, Daniel (2008). "Yarsa Gunbu (Cordyceps sinensis) and the Fungal Commodification of the Rural Economy in Nepal". Economic Botany 62 (3): 291–305. doi:10.1007/s12231-008-9038-3. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bensky, D.; Gamble, A.; Clavey, S.; Stoger, E.; Lai Bensky, L. (2004). Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica (3rd ed.). Seattle: Eastland Press. ISBN 0-939616-42-4. 
  • Kobayasi, Y. (1941). "The genus Cordyceps and its allies". Science Reports of the Tokyo Bunrika Daigaku, Sect. B 5: 53–260. ISSN 0371-3547. 
  • Mains, E. B. (1957). "Species of Cordyceps parasitic on Elaphomyces". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 84 (4): 243–251. doi:10.2307/2482671. ISSN 0040-9618. JSTOR 2482671. 
  • Mains, E. B. (1958). "North American entomogenous species of Cordyceps". Mycologia 50 (2): 169–222. doi:10.2307/3756193. ISSN 0027-5514. JSTOR 3756193. 
  • Tzean, S. S.; Hsieh, L. S.; Wu, W. J. (1997). Atlas of entomopathogenic fungi from Taiwan. Taiwan: Council of Agriculture, Executive Yuan. 
  • Paterson, R. R. M. (2008). "Cordyceps - a traditional Chinese medicine and another fungal therapeutic biofactory?". Phytochemistry 69 (7): 1469–1495. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2008.01.027. PMID 18343466. 

External links[edit]