Cordyceps Militaris vs Cordyceps Sinensis
Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis are two adaptogenic mushrooms from the same Cordyceps species. Though they share the name “cordyceps,” there are some surprising differences between Cordyceps sinensis and militaris.
Cordyceps mushrooms are well-known for their health benefits and high nutritional value. They can boost our immune system, improve respiratory function, and reduce inflammation. They are also thought to have anti-aging properties and may aid in blood sugar regulation.
Let’s look at some of the similarities and differences between Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis, as well as their various uses and health benefits.
What are Cordyceps Mushrooms?
Cordyceps mushrooms are a genus of ascomycete fungi that includes about 600 species. Some of them have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries due to their potent therapeutic and medicinal properties. Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis are the two most common types of the cordyceps species.
Differences Between C. Sinensis and C. Militaris
Here are the key differences between Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis:
- Appearance: C. militaris has a bright orange to reddish fruiting body, while C. sinensis has a dark brown to black fruiting body.
- Habitat: C. militaris can be lab-grown and can grow in a wider range of insect hosts, while C. sinensis grows specifically on the larvae of the ghost moth in high-altitude regions of the Tibetan Plateau.
- Chemical composition: while both species contain similar bioactive compounds, such as cordycepin and polysaccharides, studies have found that the concentrations of these compounds can differ between the two species. For example, one study found that C. militaris contained higher levels of cordycepin compared to C. sinensis, while another study found the opposite. Additionally, C. militaris has been found to contain higher levels of beta-glucans compared to C. sinensis.
- Price: C. sinensis is very expensive due to limited supply; C. militaris is affordable because it can be lab-grown.
Even though each cordyceps species may have a slight edge over the other in different areas, they are more similar than they are different. Both types of cordyceps are packed with polysaccharides, cordycepin, and adenosine, and both are associated with similar beneficial changes.
Here's a table about the key differences that set these two functional mushrooms apart.
Scarlet Club Fungus
Wild Cordyceps sinensis
mountains, grassland, and woodland edges in temperate regions of the
Northern hemisphere, native to Asia
meadows above 10,000 ft on the
Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan regions
of Bhutan and Nepal
1–8 cm high
Club-shaped, red-orange fruiting bodies that grow out of underground pupae
5–15 cm tall
Dark brown stalk-like fruiting bodies that sprout from the mummified larva
Cultivated commercially in indoor labs
Fruiting bodies cannot be commercially cultivated
Difficult cultivation process of the mycelium
Easily accessible and affordable
One of the most expensive fungus in the world ($20,000 per kilogram)
Broad medicinal and therapeutic use as an alternative to C. sinensis
Used in traditional Asian and ayurvedic medicine since the 15th century
Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris both belong to the same class (Sordariomycetes) and division (Hypocreales), but come from two distinct families. Cordyceps militaris belongs to the Cordycipitaceae family, while Cordyceps sinensis is a member of the Ophiocordycipitaceae, from whence it gets its binomial name from: Ophiocordyceps sinensis.
Ophiocordyceps and cordyceps are close relatives with significant differences. The most striking difference is their phenotype, or physical appearance. Ophiocordyceps is characterized by its elongated fruiting body, which is longer and more slender than its cousin.
Ophiocordyceps has a more limited host range (remember the ghost moth?). Cordyceps, on the other hand, are more versatile and can infect a larger range of hosts.
Cordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris are entomopathogenic: they kill insects and grow out of their mummified bodies, typically from the head of the insect. While they are both parasitic and insect-killing, there are some differences between Cordyceps sinensis and militaris in the choice of their victims.
C. militaris is an entomopathogenic fungus because it parasitizes insects. Because it is common across the northern hemisphere, C. militaris grows on the largest varieties of insects, predominately the larvae of butterflies and moths.
C. sinensis is more particular about its hosts. It grows exclusively from the larvae of moths within the family Hepialidae (Hepialus moth), commonly known as the ghost moth.
Cordyceps mushrooms grow by infecting their host, which is often an insect or other arthropod like a caterpillar or an ant. Cordyceps fungus spores connect to the host's body and begin to develop inside it, devouring internal tissues. Over time, the fungus gains control of the host's nervous system and behavior, enabling it to rise to a higher elevation, more favorable to fungus growth.
Once the host reaches a suitable position, the Cordyceps fungus begins to generate sprouts, commonly known as fruiting bodies (mushrooms). The fruiting body contains the fungus's spores, allowing it to propagate and infect more hosts. They are often elongated and finger-like in appearance, but can vary in shape and size depending on the species. The fruiting body of Cordyceps militaris is typically bright orange and club-shaped, while that of Cordyceps sinensis is darker in color, thinner, and taller.
The way cordyceps mushrooms grow and infect insects may seem brutal, but it is a normal part of the fungus’s life cycle.
Adaptogenic Properties of Cordyceps
Cordyceps mushrooms are often categorized as adaptogens. Adaptogens are natural substances that help our bodies maintain homeostasis and respond to physical, emotional, and environmental stress. Cordyceps sinensis and militaris have long been used in traditional medicine to boost energy levels, increase athletic endurance, and promote general vitality.
The adaptogenic properties of each species of cordyceps often depend on its geographical origin, growing conditions, extraction methods, and maturity.
Both species of cordyceps contain important bioactive compounds: polysaccharides, adenosine, and cordycepin have been linked to a variety of health advantages, including:
- Anti-anxiety and antidepressant-like
- Immune system regulation
C. Sinensis vs C. Militaris: Chemical Composition
Cordyceps has a complex chemical composition. Here are some of the naturally occurring bioactive compounds found in cordyceps mushrooms.
- Polysaccharides (beta-glucans)
- Fibrinolytic enzyme
Adenosine in Cordyceps Militaris vs Cordyceps Sinensis
Adenosine is a nucleoside that plays a key function in the body's energy metabolism and cellular signaling. It aids sleep and regulates blood flow, inflammation, and the immune system. Adenosine is also adaptogenic; it can help our body and mind cope with stress easier and increase overall resilience to stressful situations.
Adenosine is found in both Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis. However, when it comes to exact concentrations in each type of cordyceps mushroom, modern science seems to have divided opinions. A 2022 study found that Cordyceps militaris contained substantially more adenosine than Cordyceps sinensis. C. militaris had an average adenosine level of 1.11 mg/g, while C. sinensis had an average adenosine content of 0.36 mg/g.Another study confirmed these findings and showed higher concentrations of adenosine in the cultivated type of Cordyceps sinensis (C. militaris) than in the wild C. sinensis.
Cordycepin in Cordyceps Militaris vs Cordyceps Sinensis
Cordycepin is structurally similar to adenosine because it is its nucleoside derivative. This chemical is thought to play an important role in regulating energy metabolism and boosting the synthesis of ATP (the principal source of cellular energy). It may also have anti-tumor, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cordycepin has been shown to elevate dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is an important brain chemical—the so-called “feel-good” hormone—that regulates mood. By raising dopamine levels, cordycepin can alleviate symptoms of depression and many other disorders.
Cordycepin concentrations in Cordyceps mushrooms might vary based on species and growing conditions. According toresearch, Cordyceps militaris may have larger quantities of cordycepin than its cousin. Further research is needed to completely understand the differences between Cordyceps sinensis and militaris and their cordycepin levels.
Polysaccharides in Cordyceps Militaris vs Cordyceps Sinensis
Cordyceps is rich in polysaccharides, long chains of sugar molecules that make up complex carbohydrates. Many types of these macromolecules are found in both Cordyceps sinensis and militaris, including:
Beta-glucans are thought to have immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. Cordyceps polysaccharides have beenshown to regulate blood sugar levels.
Benefits of Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris
Since its discovery, Cordyceps has been used by healers in eastern and traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of ailments and health conditions. Modern science continues to reveal surprising benefits of this mushroom, validating centuries of use.
Enhanced Stamina, Energy, and Endurance
Cordyceps militaris has been successfully used to improve athletic performance by increasing oxygen absorption and reducing inflammation in the body.Cordyceps militaris is a popular choice among athletes who want to increase their physical efficiency and push the limits.
Enhanced Sexual Performance
A study on the aphrodisiac properties of the mushroom cordyceps claims that boosting physical performance can contribute to greater sexual function. Theability of cordyceps to increase testosterone and promote sexual health in men and women has given these magic fungi the nickname “Himalayan Viagra.”
Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Cordyceps
Cordyceps mushrooms have anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks to the active role of cordycepin and polysaccharides, these mushrooms are able to reduce the levels of pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines and lower inflammation in the body.
One study review suggested that ethanol extracts rich in cordycepin can block inflammatory mechanisms in chronic inflammatory disorders such as hepatitis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Because both Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis contain cordycepin, polysaccharides, and ergosterol (the fungus’s very own cholesterol that helps in immunoregulation), both species are a good for treating inflammation and other health issues.
Better Sleep Quality
Cordyceps mushrooms have been shown to help promote better sleep. The variety of bioactive compounds found in cordyceps are natural sleep aids. For example, adenosine has a soothing effect on the brain. Cordycepin has been shown to increase the production of adenosine and improve sleep quality.
Cordyceps increases blood oxygen levels, which improves your mental and physical performance during the day. At the same time, the circulation of oxygenated blood throughout your body aids in the maintenance of a healthy evening routine.
While Cordyceps sinensis has beneficial sleep-promoting qualities, it is expensive and rare. If you’re struggling with sleep and want a natural solution, Cordyceps militaris is the best way to go.
Speaking of the best, there’s no better way to reap the rewards of cordyceps mushrooms than withour cordyceps tea. This matcha-infused powder containsL-theanine, an essential amino acid that promotes relaxation without leaving you drowsy.
Cordyceps and Intestinal Health
The bioactive compounds in cordyceps are gut-friendly. This medicinal mushroom improves gastrointestinal health by regulating the gut flora and reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the digestive system are becoming more common. The most common symptoms are stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and tiredness.
If you have any of these problems, cordyceps mushrooms may help relieve your symptoms and improve the health of your gut.
Cordyceps and Cardiovascular Health
Cordyceps benefits the heart. Adenosine, ergosterol, and other bioactive compounds have cardio-protective effects. They seem to improve heart function, lower blood pressure, and protect against heart disease.
Research shows that adenosine has a vasodilatory effect: it helps relax and widen blood vessels and boosts circulation. Small amounts of cordyceps taken every day could help you regulate blood pressure in a natural and safe way.
Enhanced Cognitive Function
Recent studies show that cordyceps is a cognitive enhancer. Because it boosts oxygen in the blood and promotes blood flow, cordyceps can improve cognitive performance, particularly memory and learning, and prevent brain fog.
Both Cordyceps militaris and sinensis have been found to possess these cognitive-enhancing properties, although some studies suggest that Cordyceps militaris may have a higher concentration of active compounds and may be more potent in improving cognitive function.
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Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris FAQ
How was cordyceps discovered?
Cordyceps mushrooms weremost likely discovered some 1,400 years ago in the Himalayas. Probably, a group of high-altitude shepherds witnessed their yaks transform from lazy loafs into youthful, energetic creatures after grazing on these strange orange spirals poking through the grass. Following a closer study, they found that the grasses were infested with the fungus now known as Cordyceps sinensis. The shepherds harvested some for themselves to see what all the fuss was about. After eating a few, they felt young, fertile, and strong. The use of cordyceps mushrooms in Chinese medicine and throughout Asia became a popular remedy for various health conditions.
Who should not take Cordyceps militaris?
While cordyceps mushrooms are generally regarded as safe for the majority of people, certain groups should avoid them or use them with caution. People who are allergic to mushrooms or have a history of allergic responses to other types of fungi should be careful with cordyceps.
Before taking cordyceps during pregnancy or breastfeeding, consult with your healthcare provider.
Is Cordyceps carcinogenic?
There is no evidence that cordyceps mushrooms are carcinogenic. In fact, research indicates that cordyceps has anti-tumor properties and a wide range of bioactive molecules that protect from various types of carcinomas.
Adenosine and cordycepin have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Some studies have suggested that cordyceps mushrooms may help improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment.
Cordyceps may not cure cancer, but including cordyceps mushrooms in your diet may help you fight symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
Can you eat cordyceps militaris raw?
If raw mushrooms are something you enjoy, go for it (although we prefer sipping them in a cup of hot tea prepared from our special tea packets). Raw cordyceps is often consumed in China and other parts of southeast Asia. The mushrooms can also be served as a nutritious addition to broths and other dishes, but they are typically consumed in the form of tea, capsules, or tinctures.
Cordyceps have a savory, umami-like flavor and an earthy, nutty finish. When eating raw cordyceps, take between 3 and 6 grams per day. If you’re a beginner, start with one gram and slowly add more as you feel comfortable.
Is cordyceps illegal?
Cordyceps mushrooms are not illegal. The wild Cordyceps sinensis is a protected species in some regions of the Tibetan Plateau, so its harvest is regulated by law. C. sinensis is also considered an endangered species due to overharvesting and overexploitation. Cultivated types of cordyceps, such as Cordyceps militaris, are fully legal and available worldwide.
What’s the key difference between cordyceps and lion’s mane?
Cordyceps and lion's mane are two of the most well-known medicinal mushrooms in traditional medicine. Both have been used for millennia to treat a wide range of health issues like kidney dysfunction, cardiovascular diseases, to fight diabetes, and to regulate blood pressure.
While Cordyceps militaris and Cordyceps sinensis are both excellent for energy, endurance, and immunity, the lion’s mane mushroom is well renowned for its cognitive-enhancing properties. Lion's mane mushroom, also known as Hericium erinaceus, is commonly used to boost memory, focus, and overall brain function.
Similarly to cordyceps, it can be consumed in the form of a powder, pill, or extract. The appearance, habitat, and therapeutic components of the two mushrooms are significantly different. Cordyceps militaris is normally grown in a controlled environment, whereas lion's mane grows in the wild. Both mushrooms contain unique medicinal compounds that may provide a variety of health benefits, and combining them in one's diet may have a synergistic impact.
Why are humans immune to cordyceps?
Because the fungus has evolved to infect only insects, humans are immune to the specific strain of cordyceps fungus that infects ants and caterpillars. Cordyceps fungi reproduce predominantly through insects, as they use the insect host as a platform to deliver spores that infect more insects.
Also, human and insect immune systems are substantially different, with insects having an innate immune system and humans having an adaptive immune system. People can eat cordyceps mushrooms for nutrition and possible health benefits, but they can't get the same kind of fungal infection that insects can.
Do turkey tail mushrooms have similar benefits to cordyceps?
Cordyceps militaris and turkey tail mushrooms are two types of functional foods that share a number of potential health advantages. Both mushrooms are adaptogens, which means they help the body adapt to stress and restore balance. Benefits of Cordyceps militaris include increased energy, endurance, and immunity, while both cordyceps and turkey tail are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.
Both mushrooms can be taken in the form of mushroom powder, capsules, or extracts, and can be added to a variety of foods to boost their nutritional content. Cordyceps and turkey tail mushrooms are frequently combined in functional food products to provide a more comprehensive spectrum of health benefits.
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