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Cultivation of the Magical Cordyceps Mushrooms

Cordyceps mushrooms (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) have been used for centuries for their numerous health benefits in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine. The nomenclature term of this unique species of mushrooms was changed quite recently from Cordyceps sinensis to Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Cordyceps mushroom powder, obtained from the unique host-parasite relationship, boosts various body systems and contributes positively to general body health. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has, for the a long time made up of plant, animal and fungal extracts to take care of various medical mishaps.

The ‘mushrooms’ are a unique combination of a caterpillar and fungus, found in relatively high altitudes of about 3500-5000m. The cordyceps mushrooms are hence referred to as caterpillar fungus. Taxonomically, Cordyceps mushrooms are not mushrooms since they are a combination of fungi and larva, which then give rise to a fruiting body which resembles a stalk, once the larva has been killed and mummified. The fruiting body, which resembles a stalk, is what is referred to as the Cordyceps mushroom. Ancient healers used the mushrooms either solely or combined them with other medicinal herbs. The mushrooms have been in use for more than 2,000 years. Cordyceps mushrooms are among the most beneficial sets of mushrooms, in medical realms. The healers’ most common use of the plant was as a tonic. They believed that the mushroom had constituents which boost energy levels, appetite, stamina, sexual desire, endurance and sleeping patterns.

The mushroom grows annually and its ideal harvesting period lies between April and August. Cordyceps is a Latin term which refers to club and head. Mushroom thrives best in relatively cold climate hence the reason they do well in in the grassy, alpine meadows of the Himalayan Mountains. The mushrooms are fungus hence they are parasitic in nature therefore their survival depends on other forms of life. In this case, the fungus grows from the head of the subterranean caterpillar. This fungal-insect combination is one of a kind hence the increased popularity of the powder in recent time.

Cordyceps is a genus that comprises of various parasitic fungi surviving on a host, in this case larvae of insects. All Cordyceps species are endoparasitoids meaning that they live inside their hosts until they kill them. There are about 400 different species of Cordyceps. When the fungi set foot on their host, they replace the body tissue they find there by sprouting.  The fungi grow into long, slender stems on the dead larvae’s body. The remains of the decomposing insect and fungi are then collected and used to take care of different health conditions. The cordyceps mushrooms comprise a single structure which resembles a root. It has dark brown fruiting spores as well as white tendrils referred to as mycelium. It contains a bio-active compound referred to as adenosine, which has the ability to boost athletic performance.

As they mushrooms are germinating, they should be keep under a shade or in minimal sunlight. This is because exposure to too much light over a long period leads to reduced amounts of one of the most beneficial bioactive phytochemicals, cordycepic acid. The mushroom is quite specific in nature as it can only survive on a specific type of host and under specific geographical conditions. The most ideal soil for the mushrooms is prairie soil as it is rich in organic matter. The most common bioactive constituents of the Cordyceps mushrooms are cordycepin and cordycepin acid. The market price of the powder sourced from the cordycep mushrooms is relatively high owing to its scarcity compared to its current demand. This has led to increased artificial cultivation of the product. 

The plains where the caterpillar-fungi combinations are likely to be found also contain lots of graminea grass, smart weeds, among other species of herbaceous plants. The fungus starts sprouting from the ground it is relatively damp, as soon as the snow the mountains has melted. This is the best time to site the growing stripe that emanates from the fruiting body. The fruiting body is what is used for different health purposes. Medicinal powder is obtained once the remains of the caterpillar-fungus/fruiting body are ground. Cordyceps powder has excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is highly recommended in getting rid of toxins and free radicals which cause oxidation within the body.

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