Cordyceps is one of the most highly prized herbs due to its rarity as well as its numerous health benefits.
Known as Chinese caterpillar fungus, this herb is the composite of
dead caterpillar larva in winter (dong chong) and the parasitic fungus
which grows on the dead larva during summer to resemble grass (xia cao).
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it has been used to fortify
the lungs and kidneys, supplement one's vital essence and support the
immune system. Its sweet property also makes it a nourishing tonic.
However, the appropriate use of this herb depends on a person's constitution and the environment.
TCM practitioners frequently describe cordyceps as a harmonious
tonic for both the yin and yang elements, though the herb has a
slightly warm nature.
A balance of yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) and
yang (the element linked to heat) in the body is needed for good
health. Just as important is a good flow of qi, or vital energy.
The cordyceps herb is believed to be particularly useful for certain groups of patients.
Cancer patients, for instance, can use it to boost their immunity
before they undergo mainstream cancer treatment, said Ms He Qiuling, a
senior physician at Eu Yan Sang TCM Clinic in Chinatown.
Following surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, such patients may
experience side effects such as dry mouth, dry skin and fatigue.
Cordyceps can address these signs of qi and yin deficiencies and strengthen the body's resistance to aid recovery, she added.
Ms Jie Jun Dong, a TCM physician with more than 20 years of
experience, said the herb is effective for treating tuberculosis,
though it is a rare disease these days.
The herb is now more commonly used to treat chronic asthma, chronic
bronchitis and heart disease resulting from a lung disorder (pulmonary
heart disease). These are conditions which give rise to shortness of
breath, a symptom of qi deficiency.
Ms Jie said she usually prescribes cordyceps for patients with
kidney failure, as they often suffer from a lack of qi, yin and yang in
She said diabetics are also prone to having kidney problems, which
is why they encounter more frequent urination and, as the disease
progresses, fluid retention. They, too, would benefit from using
In TCM, the proper distribution of water in the body depends on the health of the kidneys.
The cordyceps herb can also help those who sweat excessively when they sleep at night, she said.
Ms He said the dosage of wild cordyceps used in prescriptions is
around 10g. If people choose to consume the herb on their own, they
should take no more than 5g a day if they are adults, and no more than
2.5g for children under 12.
Dr Philip Eng, a senior consultant respiratory physician at Mount
Elizabeth Hospital, said there is a lack of data about using cordyceps
to treat asthma and tuberculosis.
He feels that patients should not take the herb alongside Western medicine as their interactions are "unknown and untested".
Chicken with cordyceps (Serves three or four)
1 chicken, about 1kg
20g Chinese yam
30g fragrant Solomon's seal rhizome
6 to 8 pieces dried longans
1 tbs Chinese wolfberries, heaped
1 litre of water
2 tsp salt
Wash and clean the chicken. Remove the skin as it can be too oily.
Rinse the Chinese yam, fragrant Solomon's seal rhizome and dried
longans before soaking them till they are soft. Rinse the cordyceps and
Place the chicken, soaked herbs and cordyceps in a double-boiler.
Fill the outer pot with boiling water till it is about three quarters
full. Simmer over low heat for three or four hours.
Add the rinsed Chinese wolfberries into the soup and simmer for
another 30 minutes. Sprinkle salt into the soup. Dish out and serve.