Home / Chinese Herb / CORDYCEPS [冬虫夏草, DONG CHONG XIA CAO]


Name : Cordycepsimages_opt

Chinese Name : 冬虫夏草

Latin Name : Cordyceps sinensis


This medicinal herb is the dried fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Berk) Sacc. of the family Hypocreaceae, which grows on the larva of caterpillars. It is usually found in mountains above 3.500 to 4.700 meters in the Gansu, Gueizhou, Hupei, Qinghai, Shanxi, Sichuan, Tibet, Xinjiang, Yunnan, and Zhejiang provinces of China. It is also found in the mountain areas of Japan, France, the United States, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Holland, Australia, Norway, And Italy. Collected in late summer, it is cleaned and dried for use unprocessed.

Interestingly, the vegetable portion of the fungus emerges out of the ground, appearing as a round head with a long neck, brown in color, and under the soil is a display of rings, joints, and more or less a characteristic wormlike subtance.

The Chinese name dong chong xia cao, or chong cao for short, literally means “a wormlike plant in the winter time, it becomes a genuine plant in the summer time”.

In ancient times in China, cordyceps was as a rare, precious tonic remedy. Today it is used to replenish  the kidney yang  for  the treatment of impotence, night sweating, chronic cough, and many other problems. Clinically, it has been used to treat high cholesterol, respiratory ailments (particularly chronic  bronchitis), and sexual debility. Cordyceps is an excellent antiaging medicinal herb.

Use of Cordyceps in TCM

Sweet in taste and neutral, it acts on the kidney and lung meridians

Effects, Medicinal Uses, and Combinations

  1. Invigorates and nourishes both the yin and the yang: for impotence, nocturnal emission, night sweating, and chronic cough, as well as aches in the loins and knees, cordyceps is used with dodder seed, eucommia bark, and morinda root, along with other herbs.
  2. Delays aging: for longevity, cordyceps is prescribed with ginseng, astragalus root, Chinese angelica root and lycium fruit.
  3. Replenishes the kidneys and soothes the lungs: for a chronic cough with hemotysis (expectoration of blood) in pulmonary tuberculosis, shortness of breath, and asthma, cordyceps is mixed with ginseng root and peach kernel or with orphiopogon, schisandra fruit, bletilla, and fritillary (chuan bei mu) to nourish the lungs, and resolve phlegm and coughs.
  4. Other actions: cordyceps is a hypnotic, prevents arteriosclerosis and hyperlipidemia, acts as a sedative, invigorates the immune system, and protects the cerebral and coronary tissues.


In a decoction of 9 to 15 g.


Persons with external pathogenic symptoms or Heat in the lungs should not use cordyceps.

Side Effects and Toxicity

The aqueous macerated solution of the herb is low in toxicity. At a large dose, patients experience dry mouth, skin rashes, diarrhea, and drowsiness. An intraperitoneal dose of 5 g/kg was lethal to some mice whereas at 30 to 50 g/kg it was lethal to all mice. Toxic reactions were followed by sedation, spasm, respiratory paralysis and inhibition, followed by death. The macerate extract of the herb given subcutaneously or intravenously had an inhibitory effect on rabbits and mice; large doses induced rapid respiration and pulse, and finally death from respiration spasm. However, the boiled extract was nontoxic.

Chemical Constituents

Cordyceps contains fat, protein, vitamin B12 and C , fatty acids, alkaloid, glycosides, cordycepin, cordyceptic acid, and fifteen amino acids. The active ingredients are photosterol, ergosterol, beta-sitosterol, cholesterol, claucosterol, campesterol, and dihydromassicasterol. Also found were fifteen different minerals and rare elements including P, Mg, Fe, Ca, Na, K, Mn,  Cu, Zn, Si, Ni, Al, Ti, Cr, Se, Ga (gallium),V (vanadium), and Zr (zirconum). Selenium (Se), which is found in the plant, is the most important element because it demonstrates antioxidant, anticancer, and antiaging activities.

Pharmacological Findings

  1. The plant is a good sedative, antiasthmatic, hypnotic, and tranquilizer. It reduces rapid cardiac rate, lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, improves immune functions, and an anticancer agent.
  2. Inhibits blood platelet aggregation
  3. Adaptogenic
  4. Antimicrobial
  5. A modern pharmaceutical product of cordyceps in capsules is called Ning Xin Bao. Clinically it is used as an antiarrhythmia agent, for atrial premature or ventricular premature heartbeta, chronic nephritis, and chronic renal insufficiency.

Clinical Findings

  1. The cordyceps product sold in the United States is designated as Paccilomyces hepiali Chen (strain Cs -4). A number of clinical trials with Cs -4 under various conditions have been conducted in China on a total number of 2.000 patients. Carried out a double-blind placebo-controlled study on the effects of 3 g of Cs -4 daily on 358 eldery people with various symptoms of senescence. Those consuming Cs-4 compound showed alleviation of fatigue, cold intolerance, dizziness, frequent nocturia, tinnitus, hyposexuality, and loss of memory.
  2. A study lasting approximately twenty-six months examined the results of the effectiveness Cs -4 as an adjuvant treatment in patients suffering from congestive heart failure. Patients taking Cs -4 showed significant improvement in quality of life, increased efficiency of oxygen utilization, free-radical scavenging activity, improved sexual function, and reduced blood lipids. All clinical trials on cordyceps to date have been in China.
  3. Cordyceps is employed as an adaptogen and tonic remedy. The dosage used ranges from 3 to 9 g daily of the crude drug.