Hymenostilbe nutans

Hymenostilbe nutans

Friday, October 18, 2013

Isaria cicadae and traditional medicine

My work appears to be drifting further away from insect-fungus biodiversity research and more towards their uses in traditional medicine. Of course the most famous of these beasties is Ophiocordyceps sinensis. Followed closely by the original insect-fungus Cordyceps militaris. But there are others also. One that has been popping up in various searches I have made is Isaria cicadae. This was first described from South America (Brazil) and then transferred to Cordyceps. From the early 70s it was placed in Paecilomyces. Any internet searches need to consider all three genera Cordyceps, Isaria and Paecilomyces.

But the question needs to be raised. What is Isaria cicadae? Since a fungus under this name is featured in Traditional Asian Medicine it is important to get the scientific name right. Isaria cicadae was named from a very brief description lacking many of the features we would consider important today. Quite simply I do not believe that what Miquel described from Brazil almost 200 years ago is the same as what is being called Cordyceps/Isaria/Paecilomyces cicadae today in East Asia.

Insect-fungi are becoming increasingly popular in traditional medicine. And it is increasingly important that we know exactly what it is that we are working with.