Cordyceps militaris (a vegan-friendly species) – its bioactive components and uses

Cordyceps militaris is highly appreciated medicinal mushroom with parasitic life cycle, which requires insects, more precisely pupae of butterflies as natural substrate. However, recent biotechnological approach introduced very successful  application for cultivation of Cordyceps militaris on pre-cooked brown rice substrate. Interestingly, the content of cordycepin from brown rice grown species was found to be just as high as the one  from insect cultivated species. The obvious cost  efficiency of brown rice grown mushrooms had an influence on the entire mushroom marked and now Cordyceps militaris is more widely available at a comfortable market price. The brown rice cultivation also allowed the species to be included in organic control and certification, as well as a sustainable food and food supplement, suitable for vegans.

Cordyceps militaris  mushroom has very specific orange-yellow fruiting bodies that arise from the substrate and they are mostly found in the wild in the northern hemisphere [1]. According to Chinese and Taiwanese traditional medicine, these fruiting bodies have high concentration of valuable bioactive compounds, particularly:

  • polysaccharides (beta-D-glucans)
  • adenosine (purine nucleoside)
  • cordycepin or 3′-deoxyadenosine (derivative of the nucleoside adenosine)
  • ergosterol (provitamin form of vitamin D2) and
  • mannitol (sugar alcohol) [2,3,4]

Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies

Therefore, it is very important that fruiting bodies are used to obtain the above  mentioned bioactive compounds. Since fruiting bodies have the best effect as hot aqueous mushroom extract, (tea, soup or stew) it is good to know that fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris, could be successfully cultivated only using Solid State Fermentation (SSF). SSF represents a sustainable way for supply of  organic food, primarily due to increased demand in the market. Cordyceps militaris has began to take its position as a dominant species over the popular in the Western world strain, Cs-4, (Cordyceps sinensis -4), which is commonly produced via SMF (Submerged Fermentation), and therefore cannot produce fruiting bodies.

Cordyceps militaris benefits

Recent scientific research suggests that Cordyceps militaris possess immunomodulatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-allerg and  anti-inflammation activities, mainly due to presence of polysaccharides [1,2,3,4,5]. Furthermore, cordycepin, as natural compound, is considered important in the cancer treatment, particularly leukemia. Therefore, cordycepin is intensively studied [6] in many papers. Additionally, due to presences of adenosine, Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies extract helps generation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is necessary for supplying of energy to the human body and thus being beneficial for supporting of good health and fighting stress, wherefore is considered as energy booster and aphrodisiac [2,7]. Finally, isoflavone genistein 4’-O-β-D-glucoside 4-O-methylate, which is isolated from the methanol extracts of fruiting bodies of Cordyceps militaris proved anti-allergic capability [4].

Cordyceps' bright orange long stems of cordiceps militaris, one of its advantagies is that it can produce fruiting bodies without insects and can be 100% vegan and organic

Cordyceps militaris has 85% same DNA as the wild Ophiocordyceps sinensis but is sustainably cultivated.

Cordyceps militaris mushroom extract

To summarize, Cordyceps militaris mushroom extract is recognized as immunomodulatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant agent that has influence on entire immune system with several benefits for human health and well-being. Together with taxonomically related species Cordyceps sinensis it is considered as significant source of energy, strength and moreover longevity. Due to strong immunomodulating properties, it is important to note that Cordyceps militaris is not recommended for people who suffer from autoimmune disease, in order to avoid potential health problems.

Key words: medicinal mushroom, Cordyceps militaris, fruiting bodies, organic mushroom, mushroom extract, polysaccharides, cordycepin, Solid State Fermentation (SSF), immune system


  1. Wu TF (2016) The Medicinal Efficacies of Cordyceps Militaris (L.) Link. J Microbiol Biotechnol 1: 000110.
  2. Paterson RR (2008) Cordyceps: a traditional Chinese medicine and another fungal therapeutic biofactory? Phytochemistry 69:1469-1495.
  3. Yue K, Ye M, Zhou Z, Sun W, Lin X (2013) The genus Cordyceps: a chemical and pharmacological review. J Pharm Pharmacol. 65:474-493.
  4. Lee HH, Lee S, Lee K, Shin YS, Kang H, Cho H. (2015) Anti-cancer effect of Cordyceps militaris in human colorectal carcinoma RKO cells via cell cycle arrest and mitochondrial apoptosis Daru. J. Pharm. Sci. 23:1-8.
  5. Liu Y, E Q, Zuo J, Tao Y, Liu W (2013) Protective effect of Cordyceps polysaccharide on hydrogen peroxide-induced mitochondrial dysfunction in HL-7702 cells. Mol Med Rep. 7:747-754.
  6. Ko BS, Lu YJ, Yao WL, Liu TA, Tzean SS, Shen TL, Liou JY. (2013) Cordycepin regulates GSK-3β/β-catenin signaling in human leukemia cells. PLoS One. 26;8(9):e76320.
  7. Hirsch KR, Smith-Ryan AE, Roelofs EJ, Trexler ET, Mock MG. (2017) Cordyceps militaris improves tolerance to high-intensity exercise after acute and chronic supplementation. J Diet Suppl. 14:42-53.