Cordyceps is known as the Chinese caterpillar fungus because it is derived from a fungus which germinates in the living larva of ghost moths in winter.
When summer comes around, the stalk-like fruiting body of the fungus emerges from the corpse of the caterpillar. Its Chinese name of dongchong xiacao (translated as "winter worm, summer grass") hints at this growth process.
Ms Daphne Ong, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician in Eu Yan Sang's department of product development, said cordyceps were initially classified as "warm" in the Compendium Of Materia Medica (a reference text on Chinese medicinal herbs) in 1578.
With its continued use and proven safety profile, this classification was revised to "neutral with a slightly warm nature" in newer publications from 1757 onwards, Ms Ong added.
Cordyceps is thought to move through the lung and kidney meridians - channels in the body through which qi (vital energy) travels. A good flow of qi and a balance of yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) and yang (the element linked to heat) in the body are needed for good health.
Cordyceps can address both yin and yang deficiencies as it is mostly neutral, said Ms Ong.
In TCM, one's reproductive organs are mainly controlled by the kidneys, said Ms Jie Jun Dong, a TCM physician with more than 20 years of experience. However, a weak constitution, physical exertion, an overactive sex life or an overindulgence in food and drinks can deplete yang in the kidneys.
This results in fertility problems.
Men may suffer from erectile dysfunction and a low sperm count, while women may have painful or delayed periods, said Ms Jie.
Other symptoms associated with a yang deficiency in the kidneys include a sore and weak lower back, fatigue and an aversion to cold.
Cordyceps not only address this deficiency, but they are also useful for people with a yin deficiency in the lungs and kidneys.
Such a deficiency is marked by a dry cough, a dry mouth, shortness of breath, back pain, hot flushes, night sweats and, in men, spermatorrhea (abnormally frequent and involuntary emissions of semen).
Ms Ong said the kidneys and lungs are also related to a person's stamina and energy reserve.
The lungs, in particular, control the body's breathing processes and regulate the flow of qi.
When there is a lack of qi, one would experience breathlessness, catch a cold frequently and have a weak voice.
Having a pair of weak lungs also results in coughing and wheezing, as well as a reduction in one's stamina, said Ms Ong.
Cordyceps can boost the level of qi in the lungs and kidneys.
Ms Jie said the herb is more commonly cooked with duck instead of chicken. Meat from ducks, which are water dwellers, is said to make cooling yin tonics which complement the inherent property of cordyceps.
On the other hand, meat from land animals, such as chickens, would further warm a person's body if eaten together with cordyceps. This is not ideal for those with a yin deficiency, she added.
Abalone soup with cordyceps (Serves three to four)
20g Chinese wolfberries
20g Chinese dodder seeds
50g canned abalone
50g sea cucumber
2 tbs Chinese wine
2 cups chicken broth
2-3 slices of ginger
2-3 sprigs of spring onions
Salt and pepper, to taste
Wash and slice the abalone thinly.
Clean and cut the sea cucumber into 3cm-thick slices.
Rinse and place the cordyceps, Chinese dodder seeds, abalone, sea cucumber and ginger slices into a crock pot.
Add the chicken broth and salt, then bring the mixture to a boil under high heat.
Lower the heat and add the wine and Chinese wolfberries. Leave the mixture to simmer for 40 minutes.
Do not use the spring onions simply as a garnish. Instead, mix them well with the rest of the ingredients to enhance the flavour of the dish before serving.
Source: Eu Yan Sang International
This article was first published on Nov 06, 2014.
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