What’s the Difference between the Medicinal Mushroom Species Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis?

Posted on May 28, 2017
What’s the Difference between the Medicinal Mushroom Species Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis?
In the wild, both mushroom species are parasites of certain species of moth larvae. Presently, C. sinensis (Cs) products are more widely marketed and distributed than C. militaris (Cm) products. This is perhaps due in large part to the exotic storyline of wild Cs fruit body harvesting in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. The Cm species is much more widely distributed in the world and is not exclusively associated with Himalayan regions.
Cordyceps fruit bodies that have been harvested in their native habitats are exceedingly expensive. This is due in large part to their small size and the difficulty of finding them in remote locations. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Cordyceps fruit bodies are harvested, sold and consumed with the attached dead carcass of the parasitized moth larvae. There are significant microbiological contamination issues associated with the harvesting and handling of these mushrooms and the insect carcass. Consequently, for both product cost and product purity reasons, artificially cultured Cordyceps mycelium and mycelial biomass is generally used rather than Cordyceps fruit bodies in dietary supplement products. In several regards, Cm is a more suitable species for cultivation and marketing than the Cs species. Several research papers have reported that Cm products contain higher levels of active ingredients than Cs products. In a comparative study of the protective effects against oxidative damage (Yu 2006), cultured Cm extracts were found to have higher antioxidant efficiency, higher contents of bioactive ingredients cordycepin & adenosine, higher polyphenolic contents, and higher flavonoid contents than CS extracts. Kim (2005) also found higher concentrations of exopolysaccharides and cordycepin in C. militaris than in C. sinensis in submerged mycelial cultures. Li (2001) reported strong anti-oxidation activity in Cordyceps and that the activity in cultured mycelium was equal or greater to that in the natural form.
Additionally, Cs strains tend to be very unstable and difficult to maintain under conditions of artificial cultivation. DNA sequencing technology has shown that several mushroom dietary supplement producers who thought they were producing a special strain of the Cs species were actually producing something else, often a fungal parasite of Cs; in effect, a parasite of a parasite. The Cm species is much more stable genetically and performs consistently and dependably under Solid State Fermentation production methodologies.
Das SK et al. 2010 “In praise of the humble mushroom Cordyceps militaris” (Review Article). Int Jrnl Pharm Res & Science 1(6):1-6
Kim SW and JW Yun. 2005. “A comparative study of the production of exopolysaccharides from two entomopathogenic fungi Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis in submerged mycelial culture”. Jrnl Applied Microbiology 99728-738.
Li SP, et al. 2001. “Anti-oxidation activity of different types of natural Cordyceps sinensis and cultured Cordyceps mycelia.” Phytomedicine May; 8(3)207-212.
Yu HM, et al. 2006. “Comparison of protective effects between Cordyceps militaris and natural Cordyceps sinensis against oxidative damage”. J. Agric. Food Chem. 54(8) 3132-38.
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