Dong Chong Xia Cao – Cordyceps mushroom (and, traditionally, the carcass of the caterpillar it parasitized) – “Winter Bug Summer Herb”

Nature: sweet, warm

Enters: Kidney, Lung

Actions: Tonifies Lung Yin and kidney Yang; stops bleeding; resolves phlegm.

• Kidney Yang deficiency: impotence, seminal emission, weak and sore lumbar region, knees, and lower extremities.
• Lung Yin deficiency: asthma and cough with bleeding, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, consumptive cough with blood-streaked sputum.
• Because it tonifies both Yin and Yang and is a very safe substance, it can be taken over a long period of time.
• Often cooked with duck (or other meats) for a stronger tonic effect.
• Doctrine of signatures: for impotence – this mushroom (after invading the insect’s body with its mycelia) bursts forth from the caterpillar’s head.
• Different species of cordyceps fungi parasitize hundreds of different insects and also decaying wood. Dong chong xia cao is specifically the species that grows on the caterpillar or pupa Hepialus varians. The whole caterpillar-mushroom combination is very expensive. High quality, more affordable lab-grown fungus is now widely used.
Oriental Materia Medica (Hong-Yen Hsu): Bronchodilator, sedative, antibacterial, antifungal.
Eric Brand on wild vs cultivated cordyceps.
Weng Weiliang, et. al.:
Cardiovascular diseases:
• Shao Geng et al. carried out clinical research on the effects of treating hyperlipemia with cultured Cordyceps (Jin Shui Bao, a product made from cultured Cordyceps) with double-blind comparison method. 273 cases were equally divided into treated group and control group approximately. After 1~2 months’ treatment, in the treated group, the average of serum total cholesterol was lowered by 17.5% compared with that before the treatment (the control group lowered by 1.2%); triglyceride was lowered by 9.9% (the control group 6.7%); high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) was increased by 27.2% (the control group increased by 10.4%). Compared with the control group, the differences were statistically significant. Accordingly, it’s believed that this drug had reliable cholesterol-reducing as well as HDL-C increasing function.
• Arrhythmia was treated with Ning Xing Bao (a product made from Cordyceps) by Li Peizhang et al. and with Xing Gan Bao (a product made from different fermented Cordyceps) by affiliated hospital of Guangzhou medical college. 200 cases were reported by the former author, the total effective ate was 74.5%; while 188 cases were reported by the latter author, the total effective rate was 74.4%~79.6%.
• You Jingen used P.sinensis to treat 33 cases of coronary heart disease. The markedly effective rate of angina pectoris was 52.4%; and the effective rate of EKG was 42.4. Accordingly, it’s believed that the effect of P.sinensis came up to that of persantine.
Respiratory diseases:
• Six hospitals were organized by Jiangxi TCM factory to make the research on the effects of treating chronic bronchitis with Jin Shui Bao (a product made from Cordyceps). Results: after one month’s administration, among the 117 cases that took Jin Shui Bao, 58 cases were markedly effective (the markedly effective rate was 49.6%), 39 improved (33.3%), the total effective rate was 82.9%; among the 77 cases that took Mu Jing Oil, the markedly effective rate was 9%, and the total effective rate was 40.2%.
• Fu Fang Chong Cao (Cordyceps) Ge Jie (gecko) San was used to prevent asthma attack in 68 patients. There’re 42 males and 26 females, 35 of them had courses of diseases between 1~5 years, the other 33 cases were over 5 years. The ingredients: ge jie, one pair; Cordyceps, 5g; zi he che, huang qin, hou po, bai jie zi, 15g each; chen dan xing, 10g, huang qi, 30g. The drugs were ground into powder. For patients without symptoms, the dosage was 0.5~1g, tid; for those with symptoms of mild cough or asthma, the dosage was 1.5g tid. The patients took the treatment from later October to early April of next year, for two years. Results: within the two years, 36 cases didn’t have asthma attacks, and were markedly effective; the other cases were effective.
Sexual disorders:
• Yang Wenzhi et al. carried out clinical research on treating low sexual function with Jin Shui Bao (a product made from Cordyceps). They compared the effects of Jin Shui Bao, natural Cordyceps and placebo with method of single-blind comparison and sequential administration. Methods: dosage 1g every time, three times daily, 20 days as a course; take the medicine according to the order of Jin Sui Bao, placebo and natural Cordyceps. Results: 16 cases totally, 9 were markedly effective when given Jin Shui Bao (56.2%), only 1 markedly effective when given placebo, and 4 markedly effective when given natural Cordyceps (25%).
• Deng Xiaoan analysized 272 cases of low sexual function (11 were female), 152 cases were treated with Jin Shui Bao (a product made from Cordyceps). After 40 days’ administration, the effective rate was 66.1%. Among 23 cases treated with natural Cordyceps, the effective rate was 31.6%. In the 97 cases of control group, the effective rate was 23.7%.
Renal diseases:
• Chen Yiping et al. reported the effects of treating 30 cases of chronic renal failure with Jin Shui Bao (a product made from Cordyceps). After one month’s treatment, the patients’ renal function was improved significantly, which was manifested as obviously decreased creatinine and urea nitrogen in the blood compared with those before treatment, increased creatinine clearance and hemoglobin. Natural Cordyceps and other cultured Cordyceps preparation (Zhi Ling Capsule) had certain effects too. Shen Lingmei treated 18 cases of chronic nephritis with cultured Cordyceps, it was observed that the renal function was improved and urine protein decreased obviously.
Hepatic diseases:
• According the report of Zheng Furong, in Shanghai and some other areas, cultured Cordyceps preparation Xing Gan Bao was used to treat 256 cases of chronic viral hepatitis, the effective rate was over 80%, most patients symptoms, signs and liver function were improved to various degree, and the changes of serum albumin and sGPT were the most obvious. Zhou Liangmei used cultured Cordyceps to treat 33 cases of chronic hepatitis B, among the 32 cases with abnormal TTT, after 3 months’ administration, 10 cases returned to normal, 13 cases were improved significantly. Liu Cheng et al. used cultured Cordyceps to treat 22 cases of posthepatitic cirrhosis, after 3 months’ treatment, albumin increased; among 17 patients suffering from abdominal distension, 12 cases’ ascites disappeared, and 5 cases’ ascites decreased.
• Ma Xiong, et al did some research on Cordyceps polysaccharides (CP) in order to evaluate its therapeutic effects in chronic hepatitis C. Twenty-one patients with chronic hepatitis C were treated with CP (15ml, t.i.d, taken orally) for 3 months. Peripheral blood CD3, CD4, CD8, NK activity and serum HA etc. were tested before and after the treatment. The results showed that the serum levels of ALT and r-GT were lowered after the treatment (P<0.05). HA, PIIIP were lower (P Tumors:
• Cheng Jianhua reported the effects of treating 20 cases of lung cancer in late period with Jin Shui Bao (a product made from Cordyceps) as an auxiliary therapy. There’s also a control group with WBC-elevating drugs as the auxiliary therapy. Results: 95% of the cases in the Jin Shui Bao group completed the radiotherapy or chemotherapy, 85% of the cases had a normal blood picture, both were significantly higher than those of the control group (which were 64% and 59% respectively). Yan Rujie et al. treated 50 cases of lung cancer in late period (4 cases were complicated with radiotherapy or chemotherapy). Results: after 2~4 months’ treatment, most of patients’ subjective symptoms were obviously improved, focus of infection of 23 cases (46%) decreased by more than 25%. Zhang Jinchuan treated 30 cases of 30 cases of malignant tumors with the auxiliary therapy consisting of Zhi Ling Capsule, results: symptoms of 93% of the cases were improved, and the WBC was elevated obviously.
• Jinshuibao Capsule (JSBC), produced by Jiangxi Jinshuibao pharmaceutical Company Limited, possesses the similar active principles and pharmacological activity with those of Cordyceps sinensis. The effect of JSBC on the immunological function of 36 patients with advanced cancer showed that it could restore cellular immunological function, improve quality of life, but had no significant effect on humoral immunological function. The results suggested that JSBC could be used as adjuvant drug in advanced cancer.
• Others:
• Chen Daoming et al. reported that 30 cases of primary thrombocytopenic purpura were treated with cultured Cordyceps, after three months, patients’ subjective symptoms and bleeding condition were improved significantly, the total effective rate was 90%. Chai Weimin et al. reported that Xin Gan Bao (a product made from Cordyceps) was used to treat 20 cases of schistosomiasis of ascites type in late period, after 3 months, all symptoms were improved: abdomen circumference and the spleen decreased, the diameters of the portal vein and the splenic vein decreased too. Besides, Liu Weisheng et al. used Xin Gan Bao (a product made from Cordyceps) to treat patients with decreased hemoglobin, decreased platelet or aplastic anemia, Zhang Jinmei et al. used Cordyceps to treat allergic rhinitis and tinnitus, and better effects were obtained in these treatment. In vitro, Cordycepin appears to induce apoptosis and reduce proliferation of breast cancer cells (MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231) with an approximate IC50 of 100uM.[31] Despite influencing both cell lines, the mechanisms appeared to differ.
In estrogen non-responsive cells (MDA-MB-231), Cordycepin appears to induce DNA fragmentation in a time and concentration dependent manner resulting in apoptosis. This appeared to be related to a release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria to the cytoplasm associated with caspase activation and PARP cleavage.[31] An aqueous extract of Coryceps per se shares these apoptotic effects associated with mitochondrial membrane depolarization, and aside from acting via Akt inhibition it is augmented with inhibition of PI3K/Akt in vitro.[32] Only one other study has noted anti-proliferative effects on this cell line, but was highly confounded with other Bioactive Mushrooms.[33]
In MCF-7 cells, the death of cells appeared to be autophagic.[31] Cordycepin failed to induce DNA fragmentation but 200uM clearly induced autophagic vacuoles and associated with conversion of LC3-I to LC3-II, commonly thought to be a biomarker for autophagy.[34] The exact mechanism was not elucidated but was independent of the estrogen receptors.[31] Beyond apoptotic, the ethanolic acetate fraction of Cordyceps (Mycelium) in general appears to have anti-proliferative effects on MCF-7 cells with an IC50 value of 44.7ug/mL (Petroleum 87.37+/-1.61ug/mL, ethanolic 79.57+/-2.68ug/mL, water ineffective).[10]
Another component, Cordymin (peptide) also appears to inhibit MCF-7 breast cancer proliferation in concentrations up to 5mg/mL but not surpassing 50% inhibition;[13] biological significance of this is unknown due to the large molecular weight (10,906Da) and being a long polypeptide possible not absorbed in vivo. Another peptide (12kDa) was able to induce cytotoxicity in MCF-7 cells and reduce their viability to 33.41+/-3.81% of control at 15uM with an IC50 of 9.3µM in vitro.[14]
Finally, in the highly invasive 4T1 cell line an injected water soluble extract of Cordyceps (10-50mg/kg) significantly inhibited metastasis as measured in the lung (when the tumors were injected into the breast of rodents) without significantly affecting tumor size whatsoever.[35] This study hypothesized that the immunostimulatory properties of Cordyceps on macrophages attenuated the rate of which 4T1 cells progressed from G0 /G1 to GM phase, which was demonstrated in vitro.[35]
Conclusion: A variety of compounds that could benefit breast cancer by reducing proliferation of cells or induce cancer cell death, but none of these mechanisms are currently established in living models or compared against active control drugs (to assess potency)

Dose: 4.5-12g


Jin Chan Hua: Cordyceps sobolifera – Cordyceps growing on Cicada.
• Tonifies Lungs, improves vision.
• Kamto Lee: Specific guiding herb for lung cancer.

7 comments on “Dong Chong Xia Cao – Cordyceps mushroom (and, traditionally, the carcass of the caterpillar it parasitized) – “Winter Bug Summer Herb”

  1. D Vernon says:

    I recall in the 90s disappearance immediately of a sleep apnea problem with a single dose of caterpillar-based capsules. Some years later I began to use with success a variety of fungal supplements, including a rice-based cordy that had decidedly different if strong result. Can you comment on this and other substrates’ effects? I see the cicada reference. The rice cordy I casually suggested to various women averse to the idea of ingesting bug-related material, aged 40-80, and all reported that used as suggested on the packaging it had an insomnia effect. Greatly reduced dose from the apparent arbitary one on the package in tincture or capsule worked well. I asked the manufacturer for comment but did not get any. That same manufacturer of note does put together a reishi-cordy combo, prehaps indicting understanding of this effect. We have used reishi in capsule form from a couple of sources to assist with wakefulness problem at night. Almost invariably 1 hr after taking a small dose sleep returns. But can you speak to rice vs soy vs other cordy substrate effects?

    • Peter Borten says:

      I agree that the substrate seems to affect the characteristic of the fungus, similar to parasitic plants based on host. Sang ji sheng, for instance, isn’t just mistletoe, but mistletoe that has grown on the mulberry tree – of which so many parts are medicinal — the fruit (sang shen – nourish blood/yin), leaves (sang ye – release exterior), bark (sang bai pi – stop cough), twigs (sang zhi – expel wind-dampness).
      Anyway, unfortunately, I can’t comment on the specific effects of different substrates on the resulting cordyceps, but I’m surprised to hear it was more apparently stimulating when grown on rice than on caterpillars. If anything I’d think the live host would impart a more potent energy (and certainly the whole thing – caterpillar and mushroom – is treasured in Chinese herb stores as the real deal).
      Good idea to combine with reishi, though. I, too, am predictably tranquilized by it.

  2. D Vernon says:

    Also, re “doctrine of signatures” and fungi, I found nowhere any mention of effect of consuming late fall polypore, which we finally tried a few months ago, plentiful as it is where we are. This common shroom will often exude droplets of water, suggesting to me that it is an even more potent water transporter than colleagues (it does tend to grow huge). This suggested to me spleen function enhancement, but what nailed it for my wife and me was our that day shortly after trying the fry up (some good oil and good salt), we found ourselves uncharacteristically and unaware until we caught ourselves, lifting heavier than usual logs loading onto our truck we were picking up for our woodstove. Especially my wife who’d never lift without thinking as she was doing! (We’re in mid-60s and know quite well the strength abatement with age.) The muscle enhancement was amazing, and it had other very positive digestive enhancement effect. Unfortunately it is one of those toughies that defy culinary use except for when fresh and the margin still succulent and soft. Maybe a tincture or steeping in water of the dry fruiting body would also have the great effect, untried by us? Had to share this, an unsung medicinal with a medicine man.

    • Peter Borten says:

      That is great to know. I wonder what polypore you were consuming? Trametes? I believe there are many, including ganoderma (reishi) and the Chinese herb zhu ling – grifola – which is indeed a potent water transporter. Zhu ling is more powerful than the most-used herb in the Drain Dampness category, fu ling – poria mushroom (which I think is also considered a polypore) – but generally thought of as possessing little in the way of tonic qualities.
      And yes, these polypores are all tough, woody things – or in the case of Poria, brittle and crumbly – better as a decoction or cooked for hours in a stock or porridge and then removed. Tincturing might work, though if the alcohol is greater than about 25% that might cause the polysaccharides to be precipitated out of solution.

  3. zay says:

    would cordyceps negatively affect the prostate gland? i see mixed reviews about how it will lower total body inflammation so it wont affect it, but then some say it can raise testosterone and dht so it an cause or enhance prostate enlargement or cancer, please help

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