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Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis, Cordyceps militaris)

Primary benefits: Boosts strength and stamina.

Found mainly on the Tibetan plateau, Ophiocordyceps sinensis is known as caterpillar fungus, thanks to its unusual proclivity for feeding and growing on caterpillars. This species and other, similar species are considered to be an overall health tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine and especially beneficial to the kidneys and lungs.

In recent decades, cordyceps has also gained traction among athletes because of its relationship to adenosine triphosphate, the primary fuel source in cells. While studies of cordyceps use by athletes are sparse, some research suggests supplementing with cordyceps may hone the body’s metabolic capacities, lower levels of exercise-­induced oxidative stress, and delay exercise fatigue.

Mason Bresett, ND, whose research focuses on functional mushroomss, often recommends cordyceps to people who are struggling to regain strength after a chronic illness. He also sees a benefit for athletes seeking greater energy and endurance.

Wild cordyceps are so popular in Asia that overharvesting has led to scarcity. “In dried weight, wild cordyceps are more valuable than gold,” says Hobbs.

An alternative species of cordyceps, C. militaris, can grow on a grain substrate and produces similar benefits minus the astronomical price tag. This is typically what you’d find in the U.S. market.

How to use cordyceps:

image of Cordyceps

 Supplements claiming to be the true wild Ophiocordyceps sinensis (or the out-of-date name Cordyceps sinensis) should be viewed skeptically, advises mycologist Christopher Hobbs, PhD, author of Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide, because wild cordyceps are extremely expensive. Instead, look for products made from C. militaris.

To increase stamina and support lung health, take ½ to 1 teaspoon cordyceps powder in a little water or tea once or twice a day. You can also add it to smoothies (try this Banana Berry Preworkout Smoothie With Cordyceps to start.)


More on Mushrooms

Fungi have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Discover five more varieties and their many health benefits at “The Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms,” from which this article was excerpted.

Catherine Guthrie

Catherine Guthrie is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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