Hymenostilbe nutans

Hymenostilbe nutans

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ophiocordyceps sinensis and Cordyceps militaris in Traditional Medicine

There are several hundred species (anamorph and teleomorph) of insect fungi belonging to the order Hypocreales around the World. It would seem they are present from sea level to at least 5500-6000 metres and around the world apart from the extreme polar regions (Arctic and Antarctic). And yet there are only a small few that have been used by man before the modern era. And mostly in what we like to call traditional medicine.

Of course, Ophiocordyceps sinensis is the superstar. But there is also Cordyceps militaris and others such as Isaria tenuipes and Isaria cicadae (whatever these latter two really are). There are also anecdotal references to Cordyceps being used in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

While Ophiocordyceps sinensis has a restricted distribution (the Himalayan Plateau) Cordyceps militaris has a distribution around the whole northern temperate region. It was originally described from Denmark but is now known throughout Europe, Russia, Korea, Japan and North America. For me these are the reliable records. There are other records from around the World that need to be confirmed for sure!

But interestingly, it only became a component of traditional medicines in north eastern Asian medicine (ie China, Japan and Korea). Before the advent of pharmaceutical medicine the west also had a strong tradition of medicine from the land. But for some reason Cordyceps militaris was overlooked in spite of its widespread distribution in Europe. I wonder why!