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].