Remember the team of female runners from China that dominated long-distance running from early- to mid-1990s? They were dubbed Ma’s Army because their coach was Ma Junren. In addition to his tough training regimen, Ma attributed his charges’ amazing performances to a diet that included turtle’s blood and a curious animal-vegetable hybrid known as cordyceps.

What is cordyceps?

During winter, high-altitude caterpillars are infected by the parasitic spores of a fungus.

The fungus then grows inside the caterpillars, killing them in the process. The fungus finally erupts from the petrified insects’ heads as a valuable sprout — cordyceps — that is harvested in the summer. Not surprisingly, the herb is called Winter Worm, Summer Grass in Chinese. It was said that the ancient Tibetans and Chinese discovered the health-boosting properties of cordyceps from observing yaks: those that grazed on pastures containing the ingredient could trek far longer that those that didn’t.

Benefits of cordyceps

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has long known about the health benefits of cordyceps; in particular, how it helps to: • replenish energy • enhance respiratory health and stamina • fortify the body’s immune system

1. Boost energy, improve vitality, lessen fatigue

The consumption of cordyceps
• channels yang energy to the kidneys, supporting their function, thus improving vitality
• enhances the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a molecule that aids in transporting energy within cells, thus improving energy flow on the cellular level (this was confirmed in a 2007 study by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)

2. Improve stamina and the respiratory system

The consumption of cordyceps
• increases inter-cellular oxygen absorption levels, helping the body to process oxygen at higher rate
• reduces the symptoms of respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and asthma in some studies

3. Support the immune system

The consumption of cordyceps
• can aid in the strengthening of the body’s defence mechanism, because it contains polysaccharides and beta-glucan, which are anti-carcinogenic and antioxidant

This is an adaptation of an article, “Cultivating a Fungus”, which first appeared in Issue 10 of NATURA magazine.

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