Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris | Which is Best?

Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris | Which is Best?

There is an intriguing mushroom which grows out of the bodies of insects, having consumed them and transformed them into zombies.

This parasitic mushroom is called the cordyceps mushroom. Ironically, something deadly for insects becomes something that is beneficial to humans, consumed as a multi-faceted supplement. There are key differences among commercially available types of cordyceps used in supplements. So, the question is: When it comes to the cordyceps varieties, Sinensis and Militaris, which one gives you the most health benefits for your money.

Cordyceps sinensis is a kind of health-supporting, functional mushroom that has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries. In the modern age, it has become so rare and so sought-after because of its unique health-supporting properties, its price tag makes its purchase unaffordable to all but the very wealthy.

However, there is an alternative, a militaris strain of cordyceps, which can be grown commercially. This alternative does not involve any dead insects in the growing process, making the resulting supplements more accessible. Happily, this cultured version, called cordyceps militaris, provides the same types of health-promoting compounds that make the cordyceps sinensis strain effective as a supplement.

Read on for more information on the differences between Cordyceps sinensis vs. militaris, and which of the two mushrooms makes the best cordyceps supplement. This unique mushroom is worth exploring because of the amount of health benefits that it has to offer. However, the supplement industry may mislead about what you are getting, so this guide will help educate you on what to look for.

Natural Cordyceps Sinensis or The Caterpillar “Zombie” Fungus

The best known and common species of cordyceps mushrooms is Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Formerly known as the Ophiocordyceps, it inserts into the caterpillars of Hepialus moths and grows.

When found in the wild, the mushroom will sit on top of the soil, while the insects body is underneath.

The species of cordyceps, cordyceps sinensis, is extremely rare in the wild due to the fungus life cycle and specific ecological growing conditions needed to make it flourish. It grows mostly in the higher altitudes in Tibet and in Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, and Gansu Provinces of China. It is also found in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, but is not as plentiful there.

The High Price of Cordyceps Sinensis

Cordyceps sinensis is comparatively rare in nature, growing in only those restricted areas. This sparseness of wild varieties of cordyceps sinensis, as well as its desired health-promoting properties, have led to its expensive price (about $20,000 a kilogram). As such, these mushrooms are generally not found in supplements that you can easily buy. Due to a quick increase in price of this valuable resource, it has been called the “gold of Himalaya”.

It has become such a major source of family income in harvesting regions, so much so, that disputes over the area of harvesting are taking place, with outsiders trying to muscle their way in. There are now harvest permits issued by the Chinese government and the local landowners to enter harvesting regions. For more information about the harvesting of cordyceps and lifestyles in Tibet, please refer to an article in the journal Fungi written by Daniel Winkler.

Why Cordyceps Sinensis Is NOT in Most Supplements

It is true that the wild version of cordyceps sinensis (shown below) is missing from 99.9% of cordyceps supplements due to it is extraordinarily expensive. In fact, wild cordyceps sinensis costs more than $20,000 a kilogram, making it the worlds most expensive mushroom. It is sold almost exclusively in Asia, and very rarely makes its way to North American markets.

The high price tag for cordyceps mushrooms is due, in part, to the fact that Chinese scientists have not been able to grow the mushroom for years. This has contributed to increased demand for the fixed supply of wild-caught Cordyceps sinensis. Recently, Chinese scientists figured out how to grow this mushroom, but they are not at the production scale to impact the wild Cordyceps sinensis price, and growers are eager to capitalize on the higher wild-caught price.

Cordyceps Militaris | Widely Cultivated Alternative

There is now a species of cordyceps that is able to be cultivated commercially on a large scale for the production of mushrooms (fruiting bodies), which are becoming fairly popular for supplementation. Cordyceps militaris is known in the United States as Scarlet Club Fungus, or the caterpillar killer. It is a species of cordyceps that can grow on the largest variety of insects, and is found extensively throughout North America and Asia.

They are usually found on mountains, wetlands. This strain of cordyceps can fairly easily be bred commercially on a large scale, without the need for insects. Using Cordyceps militaris, it is possible to produce genuine extracts of cordyceps for the first time.

Cordyceps Sinensis vs Militaris | Why Militaris is Better

No insects were hurt during production of this mushroom: the cordyceps militaris is grown on sterile media, and no arthropods are present. It is the supercharged version of cordyceps, cordyceps militaris produces the health-supporting compound cordycepin (3-deoxyadenosine) at a far higher level than cordyceps sinensis.

A study published in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry in 2008 confirmed that cordyceps militaris contains not only higher amounts of cordycepins than wild-type Cordyceps sinensis, but it has as much as 90 times as much!

This data is highly instructive, since products that touted the benefits of cordycepins, and were labelled as Cordyceps sinensis, were probably low in detectable amounts of this phytonutrient. This information makes it a lot easier to make your purchasing decisions when it comes to deciding if you should purchase or not the supplements made with the help of cordyceps sinensis versus militaris: Cordyceps militaris is the clear winner.

Cordyceps Militaris Mushroom Extracts

More studies are coming out showing similar benefits from the wild-caught cordyceps, cordyceps militaris. It has traditionally been used as an alternative to Cordyceps sinensis in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Given the prohibitive price tag for cordyceps sinensis, most supplements sold in North America would be extracts made by growing a strain of Cordyceps militaris mushroom. Note that North American-grown cordyceps militaris products are still granular, hyphal, rather than a true fungus extract. Pure mushroom extract powders are sourced almost exclusively from Asia, with China accounting for more than 90% of mushroom production globally.

There are significant differences among the cordyceps militaris products that are available in North America. So, do not run out and run down to that supplement aisle to get a cheap cordyceps bottle just yet. Read below for the essential facts that you need to know before going shopping for your own dose of cordyceps extract.

Quick Supplement Shopping Guide

The supplement is made with cordyceps militaris. As we have stated before, when compared with cordyceps sinensis, Cordyceps militaris produces a far higher quantity of the health-supporting compound, cordycepin (3-deoxyadenosine). Moreover, the price of Cordyceps sinensis versus militaris makes buying a militaris-based supplement an absolute no-brainer. The Cordyceps militaris supplement label says explicitly that it is made with actual mushrooms (fruit bodies) and not from mycelium.

Mycelium-based supplements would include grains that grow on top of those fungal filaments, and would have a lower percentage of the medicine compounds. Cordyceps mycelium on grains would contain virtually none of the mycelium because of the small amounts of mycelium that are present. Learn more about the important differences between supplements made with mycelium and the fruits flesh here.

The supplement label specifies beta-glucan, a key compound in mushrooms that provides the fungus with its health-supporting effects. The Real Mushrooms Cordyceps-M supplement, which is extracted solely from organic cordyceps militaris mushrooms, has more than 25% beta-glucan. Compare this with the mycelium of the cultivated cordyceps mushrooms, which usually has 1-3% beta-glucans. Since Real Mushrooms supplements are all taken from mushrooms (not from mycelium), they contain far higher levels of the essential beta-glucans.

About the author

Bruce Wilson

I've studied Mycology and Forest Pathology and love creating content to help other learn more about my passion. Follow along as I continue to explore the amazing world of functional fungi!

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