Select Dynamic field

cordyceps militaris


Cordyceps militaris was first described systematically in 1753 by Carl Linneaus, a Swedish botanist considered the “Father of modern taxonomy” and who created the system of Latin binomial nomenclature used in the naming of organisms. The word cordyceps comes from the Greek word kordyle meaning “club” and ceps for “head.” Militaris may refer to its growth pattern, looking like a regiment of toy soldiers. [19] It is also known by several names including the “scarlet caterpillar,” “caterpillar killer,” and “scarlet club fungus.” In traditional Chinese medicine it is called Bei Chong Chaw which translates to “northern worm grass.”

Icon of a speech bubble to represent an important quote

In 1950, cordycepin was isolated from Cordyceps militaris…from which methods of cultivation without the need for an insect host were developed. [4]

Natural History

(Ecology, Where and How it Grows)

Cordyceps is a parasitic mushroom that utilizes many species of insects as its host; it and other fungi with this life history are called entomopathogenic. (See how we cultivate it at Verdant Leaf, below.) It can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia (mostly China, Japan, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Korea, and Thailand). In India, cordyceps are mostly found in the subalpine regions, such as the Kumaun Himalayas and Garhwal Himalayas (at higher altitudes). [5] In the Northern Hemisphere, it typically appears in autumn at the edge of grasslands or forests.

  • It is in the division Ascomycota, the etymology of the word being “ascus” (plural asci), derived from the ancient Greek word askós meaning sac, or wineskin. The ascus is a microscopic sexual structure located on the ascocarp (stroma), the fruit body of fungi.
  • It is an entomopathogenic fungus, meaning it parasitizes insects.
  • Sphinx moth pupae are a common host in North America. However, Cordyceps militaris is a generalist; it will grow on the pupae and larva of 32 separate species of insects throughout 13 families in the orders Lepidoptera (butterflies) and Coleoptera (beetles).
  • Once it successfully infects a host, it develops a germination tube, an outgrowth from a fungal spore that develops an appressorium.
  • The spore uses an appressorium to adhere itself to the outside surface of an insect where it produces a penetration peg that releases enzymes to break down and enter the cell through the host’s exoskeleton.
  • Once inside the cell, the hyphae of the cordyceps form a dense mass called a haustorium. From there, hyphae grow out of the haustorium and start to weave around the internal organs of the insect. In certain species of insects, it will hijack the nervous system.
  • When the insect passes, it either forms a sclerotium to await the correct conditions for fruiting or fruits right away, if the conditions are correct.
  • The ascocarp, which is formed while fruiting, is embedded with hundreds or thousands of small chambers called perithecium which are lined with asci. Once mature, the ascospores (produced by the asci within the perithecium) escape through holes known as ostioles. [20]
  • The spores either land on an insect host, repeating the life cycle described above, or grow as an anamorph (an asexual mycelial form) within the soil until it comes into contact with a suitable host.

After the substrate has become fully myceliated, we move it to our fruiting chamber where it will be maintained at a temperature of 60–65° F with a relative humidity of 80%. Fruit body growth can take anywhere from 28–42 days.

verdant leaf blog icons science

At Verdant Leaf we cultivate our Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies on a mixture of rice, nutritional yeast, potato dextrose, azomite, and cane sugar. We bring it up to the correct moisture level, autoclave it, sterilize it, then pour it into monotubs in our laminar flow hood. After that, we inoculate it with our liquid culture and incubate it at a temperature of 75 to 80° F for 14–24 days.


(The Cultural and Sociological Impact of this Species)

The first mention of cordyceps was during the Tang dynasty in 620 A.D. [16] This was likely about its relative Ophiocordyceps sinensis. The mushroom appears in the Chinese Materia Medica as early as 1694. [24] It is known as Yartsa Gunbu in Tibet. In the Himalayas, cordyceps is mainly found in meadows above 11,500 ft where it parasitizes a caterpillar whose numbers have been devastated by overharvesting and climate change. Fortunately, in 1950, cordycepin was isolated from Cordyceps militaris, a related species, from which methods of cultivation without the need for an insect host were developed. [4]

Cordyceps is one of the most famous traditional Chinese medicines and health foods. For hundreds of years, it was used to invigorate the lungs and nourish the kidney. It has been used to remedy altitude sickness, treat fatigue and weakness, decrease the production of phlegm, thwart infection, treat colds and flu, and relieve the aches and pains of older people.

It became popular in the West where it was touted as a panacea: an aphrodisiac, anticancer, and anti-aging product that also improved the immune system. [18]

Quick Facts

  • Used as a natural workout performance booster [7]
  • Reduces lactic acid buildup [21]
  • High in antioxidants, its polysaccharides help to reduce inflammation [14]
  • Increases libido and improves sexual function [10]
  • Reduces mitochondrial stress [12]
  • Improves circulation [7]
  • Lowers blood pressure [23]
  • Is used to treat arrhythmia (in China) and supports cardiovascular protection [27]
  • Supports antitumor, insecticidal and antibacterial activity, due to cordycepin [14]
  • As a polysaccharide it is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antimetastatic, and immunomodulatory product [14]

Health Benefits

Vitality & Reduction of Mitochondrial Stress

Our mitochondria play a key role in energy metabolism in many tissues, including our skeletal muscles and liver. [9] Stresses within the body “and/or environmental stresses may perturb the mitochondrial homeostasis and interfere with the steady-state activity of mitochondrial functions, promoting a state of mitochondrial stress.” [17] As a powerful antioxidant, Cordyceps militaris has been shown to exert protective effects on mitochondria “by scavenging reactive oxygen species (ROS), inhibiting mitochondrial swelling…increasing the activities of antioxidases” and supporting “mitochondrial protection and anti-aging.” [12]

A 2019 study investigated the free radical scavenging activity of a C. militaris extract (CM extract) and its “neuroprotective effects in H2O2-induced C6 glial cells.” The findings were impressive. “The CM extract showed high scavenging activities against DPPH” (2,2-Diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl), the damaging, highly reactive hydroxyl radical, “·OH” and “NO radicals” i.e. negatively charged nitrous oxide ions (anions) “at [a] concentration of 1,000 µg/mL.” Furthermore, C6 glial cells with H2O2-induced oxidative stress which were treated with C. militaris extract showed “significantly increased cell viability, and decreased ROS production.” [6]

Libido & Sexual Function

In a 2019 study comprised of fifty male rats (forty 12-month-old and ten 2-month-old subjects) and divided into five groups of ten, young control (YC) and aged control (AC) rats were given distilled water and pellet food. The three other groups received 5 mg/kg Cordyceps militaris (COR-5), 10 mg/kg (COR-10), and (COR-20) per day, respectively, for 6 months. COR was mixed homogeneously with the sterilized standard diet and administered orally, after pelletization.

“Sex hormone receptors, such as AR, LHR, and FSHR, play significant roles in maintaining male sexual function… Their altered expression may be involved in aging-related testicular disorders.” The aged rats showed “significant downregulation of AR, LHR, and FSHR in the testes”…which, in COR-20 was “significantly ameliorated by COR, suggesting that 20 mg/kg COR protects rats’ Leydig and Sertoli cells from aging-induced testicular dysfunction.”

It was concluded that C. militaris “may provide an excellent nutritional potential and medicinal value in ameliorating age-related male sexual dysfunction.” [10]

Energy, Stamina, and Fighting Fatigue

In a study on the antifatigue activity of Cordyceps militaris conducted on mice who were measured doing various physical activities, it was found to strongly reduce the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and malondialdehyde, both products of physical stress and fatigue.

Lactate (lactic acid) increases in tissues during physical exercise and interferes with muscle contraction and nerve impulses. In female mice treated with 2.0 g/kg of C. militaris, a reduction between 17%–36.6% in lactate after 20 minutes of exercise was demonstrated when compared with the control group. In male mice treated with 1.0 g/kg C. militaris fruit body extract, lactic acid was reduced between 17.0%–38.9% after 20 minutes of exercise was demonstrated when compared with the control group.

Adenosine-5’-triphosphate, abbreviated ATP, is the fundamental energy unit used by all living organisms. It is produced through a process called cellular respiration in which oxygen and glucose are converted into water and carbon dioxide, producing energy during this process in the form of ATP. ATP is then broken down in a process called hydrolysis, which releases energy and the byproducts of adenosine diphosphate and inorganic phosphate.

Icon of a speech bubble to represent an important quote

Cordyceps militaris was found to strongly reduce the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and malondialdehyde, both products of physical stress and fatigue. [21]

Female mice treated with C. militaris showed an enhanced ATP concentration of 54.6%–151.2% in the liver and muscles, compared to a control group, after swimming for 20 minutes. Male mice had an enhanced ATP concentration between 90.8% and 65.2%. [21]

Another study on mice indicated that there was an anti-fatigue effect in individuals that were given a dose of 160 mg/kg polysaccharide from C. militaris, due to the increase in the exhaustive swimming time observed, with the control group swimming to exhaustion almost 10 minutes faster. The study concluded that the mechanisms that induce this effect are the slower accumulation of detrimental metabolites, decreasing lactic acid and urea nitrogen concentrations, and increasing liver and muscle glycogen contents. C. militaris could diminish oxidative stress due to exercise by decreasing alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase (both biomarkers for liver health), as well as creatine kinase, a biomarker for muscle fatigue and damage.

Catalase, the enzyme responsible for regulating the amount of the ROS hydrogen peroxide in cells showed an increase in the serum in mice treated with C. militaris. Superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase were also increased in concentration, both which have important antioxidant activity. [26]

In yet another “mouse swimming to exhaustion” study, C. militaris mycelium grown on grain mixed with C. militaris fruiting bodies had similar effects to the studies previously described in this section. Blood lactic acid levels were significantly reduced and malondialdehyde (a measure of oxidative stress) was significantly lower. Glycogen, lactate dehydrogenase superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase were all at higher levels of concentration in the mice which were supplemented with C. militaris. [29]

Mice administered C. militaris showed increased levels of AMP activated protein kinase, which helps to increase exercise performance by upregulating the ATP generation pathway. [2]

Boosting Immunity & Fighting Chronic Inflammation

The Correlation Between Immunity and Inflammation

Contrary to what many may think, some level of inflammation is actually a natural, normal process of the immune system. When we sprain an ankle, for example, it is through the process of inflammation that blood flow to the area is increased and white blood cells rush into the site of the injury to start healing and repairing the damage.

According to Harvard Health, chronic inflammation may occur in the same way, with the body trying to heal itself and get rid of “foreign adversaries.” But where chronic inflammation and “acute inflammation” (the term used to describe inflammation that occurs at the site of an injury) differ is that chronic inflammation is persistent and “may continue to simmer under the surface” for many years. [25]

The National Institutes of Health says “Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world… The prevalence of diseases associated with chronic inflammation is anticipated to increase persistently for the next 30 years in the United States… Worldwide, 3 of 5 people die due to chronic inflammatory diseases like stroke, chronic respiratory diseases, heart disorders, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.” Other chronic inflammatory diseases include cardiovascular diseases, arthritis and joint diseases, allergies, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). High in antioxidants and polysaccharides, Cordyceps militaris has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. [15]

“Due to its inhibitory effect on the immune system, cordyceps can be used for treatment of autoimmune diseases and for immunosuppression after organ transplant… Increasing evidence shows that cordyceps is a bidirectional modulator with both potentiating and suppressive effects on the immune system through regulating innate and adaptive immunity.” [13]

Icon of a speech bubble to represent an important quote

The National Institutes of Health says “Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world… High in antioxidants and polysaccharides, Cordyceps militaris has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties. [15]


Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells with the potential to metastasize. [28] Cordyceps militaris may support apoptosis (programmed cell death) as well as “anti-proliferation, and anti-metastasis in cancer cells.” Cordycepin, a compound extracted from C. militaris or Cordyceps sinensis, is currently being studied for its potential as an anticancer agent. The findings have been significant.

In recent decades, “cordycepin has been suggested to have anticancer potential due to its structural similarity to adenosine.” Adenosine is a signaling molecule that affects various types of cells, tissues, and organ systems within a cell (at an intracellular level) and between different cells (at the extracellular level) via signaling pathways. The “overexpression” of the enzymes which generate adenosine and adenosine receptors, are “correlated with tumor progression.” As a “nucleoside analogue” cordycepin has the ability to enter into cells and possibly “provoke termination of elongation” and thereby thwart polymerase activity.

“Cordycepin treatment” delivered “in a cell type-specific manner to “human leukemia cells…reduced PAP activity” i.e. prostatic acid phosphatase, a specific protein and known marker of tumor activity.

It has been postulated that cordycepin mediates apoptotic signaling via cell surface receptors such as adenosine receptors (ADORAs), death receptors, and epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). In so doing, it interrupts the proliferation of cancer cells in “melanoma, and lung carcinoma cell lines” and “colon and prostate cancer cell lines” as well as gliomas (a cancer occuring in the glial cells and located in the spine or brain).

“It is important to acknowledge that cordycepin not only exhibits proapoptotic and anti-proliferative effects in cancer cells, but also inhibits cell metastasis in tumor cells, demonstrating its potential as a therapeutic agent in the larger scope of cancer.” [28]

Cordyceps Militaris and Lung Metastatic Melanoma

Published in 2022, a study on Cordyceps militaris’ ability to inhibit lung metastatic melanoma invasion showed evidence of its ability to “inhibit and treat melanoma.” Performed in triplicate, statistical analysis of the findings reaffirmed that C. militaris (CM) has “antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and CD8+ T cell activation properties.” Three main conclusions on its efficacy as a potential therapeutic against metastatic melanoma of the lungs were confirmed as follows:

First, C. militaris showed “significant ability in dismissing ROS by reducing power, ferrous ion chelating, and DPPH elimination, and CM could also decrease the intracellular ROS level.”

Second, C. militaris enhanced the apoptosis progress, depressed tumor cell viability, and suppressed the migration rate of melanoma.

Lastly, the addition of C. militaris helps “immune cells to identify cancer cells and transform them into killer T cells to attack cancer cells… Those three pieces of evidence indicate that CM could inhibit and treat melanoma.” [11]

Icon of a speech bubble to represent an important quote

Performed in triplicate, statistical analysis of the findings reaffirmed that C. militaris (CM) has “antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and CD8+ T cell activation properties.” [11]

cordyceps Nutritional Information

In the Fruiting Bodies:

  • Protein 59.8%
  • Carbohydrates 29.1%
  • Amino Acid Content 57.39 mg/g 
  • Palmitic, Oleic, Linoleic, and Linolenic Fatty Acids
  • Calcium 797 mg/kg
  • Potassium 15,938 mg/kg
  • Magnesium 4,227 mg/kg
  • Sodium 171 mg/kg
  • Phosphorus 7,196 mg/kg
  • Sulfur 5,088 mg/kg
  • Vitamins A, B3, E

In the Mycelial Biomass:

  • Protein 39.5%
  • Carbohydrates 39.6%
  • Amino Acid Content 24.98 mg/g 
  • Palmitic, Oleic, Linoleic, and Linolenic Fatty Acids
  • Calcium 11 mg/kg
  • Potassium 12,183 mg/kg
  • Magnesium 3,414 mg/kg
  • Sodium 1,567 mg/kg
  • Phosphorus 14,293 mg/kg
  • Sulfur 2,558 mg/kg
  • Vitamins A, B3, E

View Verdant Leaf’s Cordyceps mushroom products for the whole family.

Medicinal Compounds

(Beta-Glucans, Phenols, etc.)

  • Cordycepin, cordycepic acid (D-mannitol), and Ergothioneine [1]
  • Ergosterol, beta sitosterol, adenosine adenine, D-mannitol. [19]
  • Cordycepin (3’-deoxyadenosine) exhibits a wide variety of biological functions such as antitumor, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, antileukemia, and immunoregulatory effects. It can inhibit lipopolysaccharide-induced inflammation.
  • Adenosine can treat chronic heart failure, can tonically inhibit the release of excitatory neurotransmitters, regulates sleep, provides neuroprotection, regulates seizure susceptibility, analgesia, locomotor effects, and mediation of the effects of chronic drug use.
  • The polysaccharides present within Cordyceps militaris have been reported to have antioxidative and immuno-stimulating effects.
  • The polysaccharides present protect mitochondria from hydrogen induced dysfunction.
  • Ergosterol analogues may have anti-arrhythmic and antiviral effects.
  • Mannitol is a diuretic, antitussive, and antioxidant. [3]


  1. 1
    Chan, J. S., Barseghyan, G. S., Asatiani, M. D., & Wasser, S. P. “Chemical Composition and Medicinal Value of Fruiting Bodies and Submerged Cultured Mycelia of Caterpillar Medicinal Fungus Cordyceps militaris CBS-132098 (Ascomycetes).” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2015. Online. 
  2. 2
    Choi, Eunhyun et al. “Beneficial Effect of Cordyceps Militaris on Exercise Performance via Promoting Cellular Energy Production.” Mycobiology. 2020. Online.
  3. 3
    Cui, Jian Dong. “Biotechnological Production and Applications of Cordyceps Militaris, a Valued Traditional Chinese Medicine.” Critical Reviews in Biotechnology. 2014. Online.
  4. 4
    Cunningham, K.G. et al. “Cordycepin, a Metabolic Product isolated from Cultures of Cordyceps militaris (Linn.) Link.” Nature. 1950. Online.
  5. 5
    Das, Shonkor Kumar et al. “Medicinal Uses of the Mushroom Cordyceps Militaris: Current State and Prospects.” Fitoterapia. 2010. Online.
  6. 6
    He, Mei Tong et al. “Protective effect of Cordyceps militaris against hydrogen peroxide-induced oxidative stress in vitro.” Nutrition Research and Practice. 2019. Online.
  7. 7
    Hirsch, Katie R, “Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation.” The Journal of Dietary Supplements. 2017. Online.
  8. 8
    Jędrejko, Karol Jerzy et al. “Cordyceps Militaris: An Overview of Its Chemical Constituents in Relation to Biological Activity.” Foods. 2021. Online.
  9. 9
    Johannsen, Darcy L and Eric Ravussin. “The role of mitochondria in health and disease.” Current Opinion in Pharmacology. 2009. Online.
  10. 10
    Kopalli, Spandana Rajendra et al. “Cordycepin, an Active Constituent of Nutrient Powerhouse and Potential Medicinal Mushroom Cordyceps militaris Linn., Ameliorates Age-Related Testicular Dysfunction in Rats.” Nutrients. 2019. Online.
  11. 11
    Lan, Yuan-Hong et al. “Cordyceps militaris Reduces Oxidative Stress and Regulates Immune T Cells to Inhibit Metastatic Melanoma Invasion.” Antioxidants (Basel). 2022. Online.
  12. 12
    Li, Xing-Tai et al. “Protective effects on mitochondria and anti-aging activity of polysaccharides from cultivated fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris.” The American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2010. Online.
  13. 13
    Lin, Bao-Qin and Shao-Ping Li. “Chapter 5: Cordyceps as an Herbal Drug.” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. 2011. Online.
  14. 14
    Ng, T.B. “Pharmacological actions of Cordyceps, a prized folk medicine.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2005. Online.
  15. 15
    Pahwa, Roma et al. “Chronic Inflammation.” StatPearls Publishing. 2022. Online.
  16. 16
    Padilla-Brown, W. “Cordyceps Cultivation Handbook.” 2016. Online.
  17. 17
    Patergnani, Simone et al. “Mitochondrial Stress Responses and “Mito-Inflammation” in Cystic Fibrosis.” Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2020. Online.
  18. 18
    Patterson, R. Russell M. “Cordyceps: a traditional Chinese medicine and another fungal therapeutic biofactory?” Phytochemistry. 2008. Online.
  19. 19
    Rogers, R.D. “The Fungal Pharmacy: The Complete Guide to medicinal mushrooms and lichens of North America.” North Atlantic Books. 2011.
  20. 20
    Shanor, Leland. “The Production of Mature Perithecia of Cordyceps militaris (Linn.) Link in Laboratory Culture.” Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society. 1936. Online.
  21. 21
    Song, Jingjing et al. “Studies on the Antifatigue Activities of Cordyceps Militaris Fruit Body Extract in Mouse Model.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015. Online.
  22. 22
    Sung, Gi-Ho et al. “Phylogenetic classification of Cordyceps and the clavicipitaceous fungi.” Studies in Mycology. 2007. Online.
  23. 23
    Valdez-Solana, Monica A. et al. “Cordyceps militaris Inhibited Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme through Molecular Interaction between Cordycepin and ACE C-Domain.” Life (Basel). 2022. Online.
  24. 24
    Wang, A. “Synopsis of Materia Medica.” Reproduced in 1955 by the Commercial Press, Shanghai (in Chinese). 1964.
  25. 25
    Watson, Stephanie. “All About Inflammation.” Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. Online.
  26. 26
    Xu, Yan-Feng. “Effect of Polysaccharide from Cordyceps Militaris (Ascomycetes) on Physical Fatigue Induced by Forced Swimming.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2016. Online.
  27. 27
    Yan, Xiao-Feng et al. “Cardiovascular protection and antioxidant activity of the extracts from the mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis act partially via adenosine receptors.” Phytotherapy Research. 2013. Online.
  28. 28
    Yoon, So Young et al. “The Anticancer Properties of Cordycepin and Their Underlying Mechanisms.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018. Online.
  29. 29
    Zhong, Lei et al. “Evaluation of Anti-Fatigue Property of the Extruded Product of Cereal Grains Mixed with Cordyceps Militaris on Mice.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017. Online.