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Don't Buy That Bottle of Caterpillar Cordyceps Mushroom Supplement Before Reading This

Tim Boyer's picture
Mushroom Supplement

The health benefits of a traditional Chinese medicine advertised under the label “Cordyceps Mushroom Supplement,” was recently promoted on television claiming to have the potential to restore lost energy and vigor. While the acclaimed health benefits of medicine made from the Asian Cordyceps fungus are nothing new, what was surprising was the televised advertised price of only $7 for a fair sized bottle of this supplement.

The surprise is that as of last fall, BBC News reports stated that some Himalayan villagers make their living by collecting the fungus along the mountainous regions of Tibet to sell to a Chinese market that can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. In fact, the money to be made is so lucrative that it resulted in multiple homicides as villagers from one region tried to prevent outsiders from cashing in on their limited supply.

The Cordyceps Mushroom supplement comes from an Asian mushroom known as Cordyceps sinesis (C. sinesis), which sprouts from the body of dead caterpillar in the wild. It is also known as the Himalayan Viagra “Yarsagumba,” which translates as “winter worm, summer grass.” Reportedly it can only be found in the mountainous regions above 11,000 feet in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

The fungus is the result of spores from C. sinesis entering the body of a live caterpillar while it is in the larval form of a large moth native to the region. Upon infection from the spores, strands of filaments called “hyphae” begin to sprout from the spores that then leads to the death of the caterpillar. The hyphae grow longer and more numerous and develop into a relatively large stalk-like fungal fruiting body that emerges from the insect’s carcass after having sapped the caterpillar’s body of all nutrients.

Cordyceps fungus has been and still is used for medicinal purposes in China. However, it reportedly has been also used as a non-detectable performance enhancing drug for Olympic hopefuls. During the National Games in 1993, track records by Chinese athletes were credited in part to drinking a tea made from the caterpillar fungus.

Today, demand for the fungus is increasing and is used more for its supposed energy-generating properties with sexual health and vigor topping the list as a cure for erectile dysfunction making it an Asian version of Viagra.

As a result of the demand for and the increasing scarcity of the mushroom, the cost of procuring this traditional medicine is beyond the budget of most health conscious consumers. Which begs the question: How can a health food store or online seller of this expensive supplement sell it so cheap?

The answer to that question is that they are not selling what you are led to believe is the “real thing.” Rather, they are selling the mushroom or an “extract” of the mushroom or whatever, without it having been grown under the same environmental and nutritional conditions as the expensive wild-grown Cordyceps fungus. In short—they don’t use the potentially important caterpillar to grow the mushroom supplement they sell.

An online search of a variety of sellers of Cordyceps mushroom supplements reveals that aside from the typical promotional health benefits guaranteed, on closer inspection a typically smaller font states something like, “…contains a strain of cultivated Cordyceps recognized by the Chinese government as most similar to wild Cordyceps sinesis, a rare fungus found in the Tibetan Highlands of China.”

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“Most similar” is how the sellers avoid fraud charges. To be fair, some sellers are less evasive and do plainly state that their Cordyceps Mushroom supplement is not derived from a caterpillar.

It turns out that that the sale of counterfeit Cordyceps mushroom is a problem even among the Chinese. In one study, researchers point out having determined that some supplies are diluted with soy or other ingredients, or in worse cases—not the right mushroom. They determined this just by simply putting ground samples of product under a microscope and identifying fake ingredients.

In addition, it is not clear how or why the Cordyceps mushroom possesses its supposed health benefiting properties. And, whether or not it really requires a specific caterpillar or insect host, or whether it must grow from an insect that feeds upon a particular plant or root also remains unknown.

Because the sustainability of maintaining natural wild Cordyceps mushroom is a growing problem, researchers are trying to learn more about its host/parasite relationship and whether it can be mimicked in the lab using other insect species. Currently, some labs and businesses grow the mushroom successfully on an artificial nutrient media without the insect component—which is most likely what you are buying relatively cheap in a bottle from your health store or online seller.

Just to be clear, this is not to say that research—and there’s a lot of it going on—using Cordyceps mushroom grown without the caterpillar is not good science. The odds are that the far majority is good science and is seeking to answer the aforementioned questions about the Cordyceps fungus and its potential role in treating disease—cancer related research is one example.

The point to all this is that the buyer of this supplement should be aware that if the cost is inexpensive, it is not what he or she were most likely looking for. And even if they do find a source that is fairly expensive, there’s a good chance they are being bamboozled one way or another. There may be some truth to at least some of the claims made about the caterpillar Cordyceps mushroom’s health benefits—it’s been around for centuries—but to find that truth you’ll have to get past the deception first.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia


“Application of microscopy in authentication of valuable Chinese medicine I--Cordyceps sinensis, its counterfeits, and related products” Microscopy Technique and Research 2011 Jan;75(1):54-64; Au D., Wang L., Yang D., Mok DK., and Xu H.

“Host insect species of Ophiocordyceps sinensis: a review” Zookeys. 2011; (127): 43–59. Published online 2011 September 8; Xiao-Liang Wang and Yi-Jian Yao.

Updated November 1, 2014



Yes, I agree there is a lot of rubbish Cordyceps products out there but if you go for Cordysen NZ or Aloha you can't go wrong. Plus I would not trust wild Cordyceps anyway.
Agree there are a lot of very bad cordyceps products on the market, particulary ones from the USA...most are nothing more than rice powder. Cordysen from NZ is a good polysaccharide product, however with extracts of this nature a lot of the compounds Cordyceps is known for have been stripped out, but still Cordysen is a very good quality extract for immunity function. Aloha has a resonable product, however there are far better products available from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers which have been working with Cordyceps for over 25 years.
Thank you for the info!
can you tell me where i can buy the best product from that will ship to holland please thank you, you just said japan or china but didn't specify.
you may find pure extracts at mycolivia medicinal mushrooms...google it. its cs-4 extract with over 40% polysacharides 0.7% adenosine and 25% d-mannitol extraction ratio is about 6:1
people should be mindfull that when buying extracts of cordyceps that there will be zero cordycepin in the extract if the extract is taken from a mycelial product. You would be better looking for a cordyceps militaris powder which has been vacuum freeze dried if you are looking for a powder that can provide all round benefits.
it is true cordyceps millitaris contains more cordycepine than cordyceps sinensis, but its not the same fungi, there for it wouldnt be considered as a cordyceps sinensis supplament, but a cordyceps millitaris supplament. its not true that cordyceps sinensis contains no cordycepin, as it depands on the cultivation method. you may reach 1% cordycepin in cordyceps sinensis fermentation.
Interesting, we have tested more than 30 samples of cordyceps sinensis and I cannot agree with your statement. Our tests have covered many manufacturers and retail brands from the USA, Japan and China. We have also tested several batchs of natural cordyceps. Natural cordyceps yeilds about 0.16% cordycepin from the fruiting body portion and near zero from the mycelia portion. CS-4 tested 0.000% in all tests we conducted. However an extract of Cephalosporium sinensis Chen.sp yeilded 0.03% cordycepin. We have also done comparitive tests between sinensis and militaris with many compounds including adenosine, d-mannitol, over 20 differing polysaccharides, fat, protiens and on and on. The only real differences we found was that CS has higher adenosine than CM and a differing range of polysaccharide types. The other point I would like to make is the huge inroads which are being made with cordycepin in use for cancer treatment and clinical testing. I would also draw to your attention that all of this cordycepin is provided by extracts of Cordyceps militaris not cordyceps sinensis, why, simply because ther is just not enough to make this viable from CS. The best CM in the world yeild about 0.3% cordycepin, any claiming higher than that are adding cordycepin extract to the mix. We spotted a similar trait in one USA company which added chemical adensine to their CS formula to give consumers a false impression.
well i know you are wrong ,i just wonder why you are saying so... try sampling the manufacturer from singapore ,and if you are saying it contains no cordycepine, than your statements dont count for nothing as far as i am concerned... another thing...cordyceps millitaris is not cordyceps sinensis, and there is no lab test in the world you can do that can say otherwise. cordycepine is far from being the sole factor in cordyceps sinensis activity, and any of you may find that in a quick look in google scholar. so if you wqant a cordyceps sinensis supllaments, you need to take cordyceps sinensis...if you want cordycepine than its a diffarent story...
Interesting, we tested three retail brands made in Singapore, all tested negative to cordycepin. I would also add that predominantly the production of cordyceps sinensis is by fermentation of the mycelia, as was the case with the Singapore producers. We have only found USA companies which grow Cordyceps sinensis on substrate and harvest both the mycelia and fruiting body. Research has proven as has our studies that 75% of the active ingrediants in all Cordyceps varieties is found in the fruiting body and 25% in the mycelia. The basic difference betwwen Cordyceps Sinensis and Militaris is in the types of polysaccharides and the ratios of adenosine and cordycepin. Other than that there are some small variations in calories, protein, fats, sodium etc. I may be wrong however we have been in the herbal extract business in Japan for more than 40 years and operate an extensive lab. We have studied cordyceps now for over 4 years.
for me it doesnt matter as i am growing cordyceps millitaris as well on solid substrates with mycelia and fruiting bodies...si i have no intrest in promoting either. but statements like active ingridients are found 75% in..andso on is showing leak of experience as you should know as a researcher you dont really know what the active ingridients are...you may know a few key active ingridients and still wouldnt know the complexity of it activity when combined... you see every year new active ingridient isolated from known mushroom like cordyceps and ganoderma... so this declaration is not valid. regarding your extansive research' its very impressing, only i am working in a mycological enviorment with the head scientist and one of the worlds leading mycologists. (international journal of medicinal mushrooms) and i have tests showing diffarent, so its alittle hard for me to believe you. i do agree that cordyceps millitaris is potent when comes to cordycepine, but its alittle missleading in terms of activity. if you are active in japan than you are sure to be competing in a competitive enviorment, so you should know your stuff...but there is marketing, and there is science, and unfurtunately they are oftenly not correlated. :-) anyway i wish you alot of success with your project, i like to learn new things... i hope your project will yield something for us medicinal mushrooms researchers to learn. all the best.
Actually we are blending Cordyceps sinenis mycelial extract 4:1 with Cordyceps militaris fruiting body powder (vaccum freeze dried) to provide a full spectrum of polysaccharides as well as a resonable % of cordycepin in the final blend. The first step however was to find a good cordyceps militaris, which took a very long time. The testing results look good to date and feedback from our trials has been excelent.
i did the same with diffarent ratios, and added liquid fermented cordyceps sinensis mycelium to it...so i see after all we quit agree on how to make a good cordyceps supplament. :-) i always try to mix powders and extracts, as i know some value is lost through the extraction proccess. i am doing a double blind clinical trial at the moment with very positive resualts so far. will be happy to show you the resualts when its concluded. i like seriouse companies, and give alot off respect to science based products, as many are pure marketing matirial. the best cordyceps is from non vegan source, and that is a problem when it comes to health market.
It would be interesting to compare notes, maybe you could email me directly: [email protected]
I have just email you via email please do get back to me for more chat. Thanks sunny ariadne
Interesting, I was corresponding with the guys from Oriveda about Cordyceps and they mentioned they were also working on a similar blend of C. sinensis and militaris, taking the best of both worlds. And their current CS-4 extract is already the best I ever tried ! That final Cordyceps product would have at least 1% cordycepin, 0.5% adenosine, 20% cordycepic acid and a yet to be determined percentage of beta-glucans (bioactive polysaccharides) - they expect around 40% polysaccharides, and about half are bioactive beta-glucans, that does sound promising does it not and it will put them in a league of their own, quality-wise. Spring 2017 is the date !
please send me any info on how to cultivate and obtain cs-4 culture. many thanks
so which cordyceps is the most potent and most full spectrum ?
I spent a few evenings comparing products and finally decided to go for the Oriveda CS-4 Cordyceps extract. It had very good specs and the company sent me a certificate of analysis from an independant US lab that backed up the specs 100%. After using it for several weeks I can say this is the first time I actually FEEL it. All the effects attributed to Cordyceps. For the first time I experienced them.
Sheb, where did you buy the Oriveda CS4 from? I see that the one listed in Amazon is a little different from the one listed on Oriveda site which has listed an additional compound of "Cordycepin > 0.2%". Thanks
Richard, we are growing C.M in northern Thailand in a lab setting. In our supplements, we use the whole fungus (substrate as well as the fruiting body). I don't know of any other company that is adding the fruiting body to their final product. The reason is that the fruiting body is worth over 10x more than the substrate, and they will harvest it to sell to pharmaceutical companies. If you would like to test our product, I will be glad to send you a sample and let you tell me what you think.
Richard, you are wrong. The fruiting body is not considered important at all. Traditional use always focused on the 'worm' which contains the mycelium: the bigger the worm and the smaller the 'grass' (=fruiting body) the more expensive the Cordyceps. Many supplements are produced using the fruiting body, but these do not contain nucleosides, which make the Cordyceps stand out and special.
David, do you represent a company that is selling the cordyceps?
No I don't. All this information can be found on the website of Daniel Winkler, probably the most prominent expert on Cordyceps.
I would like to test the sample of cordyceps please.
I would like to test your product, my email is [email protected] email me more details, Thank you
Hi Richard. Do you teach classes on how to grow this mushroom? If so, how can I contact you? My email address is==>>[email protected] ///////////////////// Richard Escoe wrote on 2015, April 12 - 02:24 Permalink Richard, we are growing C.M in northern Thailand in a lab setting. In our supplements, we use the whole fungus (substrate as well as the fruiting body). I don't know of any other company that is adding the fruiting body to their final product. The reason is that the fruiting body is worth over 10x more than the substrate, and they will harvest it to sell to pharmaceutical companies. If you would like to test our product, I will be glad to send you a sample and let you tell me what you think.
So which Cordyceps is "The best" out of all of them please. Details would be appreciated where to buy etc as well. Thank you in advance
IMO (I tried a lot of products and also did my 'homework') Oriveda Cordyceps is the best. Great specs (over 50% polysaccharides, including 20% beta-glucans and also uridine, adenosine, cordycepic acid etc) and it is the only one I really feel. You can get it at Amazon, eBay and their own website
I agree with you. now my company is cultivating Cordyceps militaris yielding 0.7% to 0.8% Cordycepin. In case of CM extract powder, we have 3% sample. If you have interests, please let me know. I'm sure in almost all the areas, CM is much better than CS( one Chinese Lab. issued such a analysis report )