Catterpillar fungus / Yarsa Gumba in Nepal.

Ophiocordyceps Sinesis, commonly known as caterpillar fungus or Yarsa Gumba / Yartsa Gunba depending on whom you ask. Some people also call it Himalayan Viagra.

Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom that's native to the Tibetan Plateau and the surrounding Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Bhutan. It's a parasitic fungus that's really unlike other mushrooms because it infects and completely takes over the brain and the central nervous system of living insects.


There are many different species of cordyceps and each one targets a specific insect as a host organism. But the species of cordyceps that's been most widely used in traditional Eastern medicine systems is cordyceps sinensis, which parasitizes the larvae of ghost moths which is why it's known as the caterpillar fungus. It is called Yarsa-Gumba in Nepal and Tibet which literally translates as summer plant and winter insect. It preys upon larvae that are hibernating just below soil level and fungal mycelium takes control of the central nervous system of the larvae. Then it immediately repositions the body so that the head is actually facing towards the soil surface. This means that when the reproductive fruiting body of the mushroom is produced it can penetrate the soil and extend upwards into the air above releasing all of its spores that are going to be carried and dispersed very far and wide by Alpine winds. 

It is amazing that the mushroom is taking over the consciousness of an invertebrate animal and controlling it in a way that ensures the maximum propagation of its own fungal genetic lineage.


Cordyceps is one of the most highly prized natural medicines on earth. And it's been used in the East for thousands of years. Up until very recent history, that was a privilege that was enjoyed exclusively by royalty and just the wealthiest members of society. In Tibetan medicine cordyceps of use for people with kidney and heart weakness as a respiratory tonic and to enhance fertility. In traditional Chinese medicine cordyceps is known for its ability to regenerate both the yin and yang aspects of our primordial aspect. That Jing represents our core vitality our youthfulness our general resilience and our ability to heal so if we have strong Jing, we're going to do all right, we're going to be more fertile and we're going to be able to produce much stronger offspring. So cordyceps has been traditionally used to help people recover from stress and over-exertion and to just increase fertility. Cordyceps is also regarded as a tonic for the subtle energies that travel throughout the vast Meridian system of the body and as a result that can improve digestion, it can strengthen immunity and it can increase lung capacity by dilating the bronchi and the alveoli in the lungs and consequently, it can enhance oxygen absorption and utilization on a cellular level because the air is very thin high altitude plateau, anything that grows up there must become very proficient at extracting oxygen from the surrounding atmosphere. This is an ability that cordyceps can share with us when we use it as a medicine which is really why it's well suited for people with respiratory issues like asthma and bronchitis.

Cordyceps also has a strong reputation as a performance-enhancing herb. Firstly because of this effect that it has on the respiratory system and also because it can increase our physical and mental endurance and it enhances our ability to heal and repair.  


This is actually how knowledge of cordyceps first began to permeate the Western world because three female athletes broke five World Records in track events at the Beijing National Games in 1993. This attracted some suspicion at the time because all three of these athletes are on the same team, but they all tested negative for narcotics. When they were questioned, their coach explained that as part of their training regimen the team had been consuming daily doses of an herbal formula and the main ingredient in that formula was cordyceps. Further studies on cordyceps have shown that it increases the production of adenosine triphosphate or ATP, which is our cellular energy currency. Cordyceps is a naturally rich source of adenosine and because ATP synthesis is completely dependent on cellular respiration, the increased oxygen delivery from cordyceps is going to further support the production of ATP. It really just means that we're going to have access to more energy when we need it most.


Traditionally cordyceps was used as a way to enhance mental clarity and improve focus and concentration and of course the increased oxygen delivery is going to have a corresponding effect on brain function. This is really why it's used as a support for things like meditation or really any tasks that require your undivided attention for long periods of time.


Some of the more recent findings have shown that cordyceps actually modulates the immune system by enhancing the activity of macrophages and natural killer cells that also possesses unique polysaccharides that inhibit the number of different types of cancer including leukaemia. It protects against many pathogens including Lyme and it's a more effective antiviral medicine than the pharmaceutical drug Repoverin. It regulates blood sugar, inhibits cholesterol build-up within the cardiovascular system and because it's an adaptogen, it can dilate the blood vessels even when we're under a lot of stress. It's really helping us to cope and just avoid unnecessary fight-or-flight responses which in turn is going to protect the integrity of the adrenals and the central nervous system. It also possesses a number of biologically active compounds that have been studied extensively for their medicinal properties like cordycepin, cordycepic acid and of course adenosine. It possesses such a broad spectrum of potential health benefits, that has to be said when we isolate cordycepin it has proven to be generally less effective than consuming the whole fungus and you know the multitude of other compounds and nutrients that are in the whole fungus so, this really suggests that there is definitely some kind of synergistic activity between all the various constituents within cordyceps. Nature generally knows best and when we isolate something and we take it out of context it isn't always going to behave the same way. Popularity in cordyceps has literally exploded throughout the last few decades and it's now become the most expensive natural medicine on this planet.


It cost thousands of US dollars per kilo which is absolutely unbelievable. Cordyceps is now just completely unaffordable to almost everybody, because it's such a such a hefty price there's a lot of the illegal poaching going. It's reached a point now where, it's basically, endangered within its own native ecosystem. This is really why cultivating high-quality cordyceps is so important and fortunately it is now possible to grow cordyceps that mirrors are very similar chemical profile to the wild variety and it's presenting the same high potency and the same assortment of health benefits. It's at a fraction of the cost and it's not compromising the biodiversity of the Himalayas at all so, the wild species of cordyceps synesis has been cloned and it's been used in the industrial cultivation of cordyceps mycelium. Now currently it's not that easy to consistently yield fruiting bodies from this mycelium so another chemically very similar species called cordyceps militaris is used for fruiting body cultivation and this is really important because traditionally the whole fungus was used for medicine both for mycelium and the reproductive fruiting body. 

Now although these two species are pharmacologically very similar, they're not really interchangeable because they do contain varying amounts of certain bioactive compounds. So, the potency does vary a bit between them; for example, they both exhibit different antioxidant activity, cordyceps synesis mycelium is better at inhibiting protein oxidation whereas the cordyceps militaris fruiting body has a stronger effect on inhibiting lipid oxidation. Cordyceps military also contains a higher percentage of the active compounds cordycepin and adenosine but cordyceps sinensis have shown to be more active in reducing elevated cholesterol. 

So, both species and both parts of this mushroom share many of the same medicinal compounds and the respective health benefits that come with that but in different quantities and different potencies. So, it makes far more sense to follow the lead of indigenous medical traditions that have been working with cordyceps for so long and use the whole mushroom, mycelium and fruiting body combined. Since cultivation of cordyceps is the same logical way forwards we should be combining cordyceps militaris and corsets together for optimal benefit. Cordyceps sinensis mycelium when it's cultivated via liquid fermentation it yields the best quality product that is generally free from contaminants and it's high in potency. Cordyceps militaris is the fruiting body that can be grown either as a vegan product or it can be grown to mimic the way that a grows in the wild using insect larvae. So, this is what's going to produce a mushroom product containing B12 whereas the vegan method isn't going to have that.

 The good news is now that we can cultivate high-grade full-spectrum cordyceps, it's possible for us to harness the full benefit of it through completely sustainable and affordable means. That's really good news, this is a formidable ancient medicine that can offer genuine support to us in this highly demanding and highly stressful times that we're living in.

Catterpillar fungus / Yarsa Gumba in Nepal. Catterpillar fungus / Yarsa Gumba in Nepal. Reviewed by Author-RPD on April 20, 2019 Rating: 5

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