Introduction

Cordyceps sinensis is the complex of fungus Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. (Clavicipitaceae) growing on the larva of Hepialus armoricanus Oberthur, which lives a few inches underground. It is also commonly known as Cordyceps, or ''Dong Chong Xia Cao'' (summer-grass and winter-worm) in Chinese, because of its appearance during different seasons. Cordyceps has been known and used in China for medication for more than 300 years (Fig. 1). Cordyceps is first recorded in Ben Cao Cong Xin by Wu Yiluo in A.D. 1757. Later it was revealed that the original description of Cordyceps was in Ben Cao Bei Yao by Wang Ang in A.D. 1694, who wrote: ''Cordyceps is sweet in taste

Figure 1 Cordyceps is first recorded in Ben Cao Bei Yao by Wang Ang in A.D. 1694. As shown here in Chinese writing, the clinical usages of Cordyceps are described, and Cordyceps derived from Jiading of Sichuan is the highest quality.

and neutral in nature, and replenishing the kidney and soothing the lung, arresting bleeding, resolving phlegm, and killing the cough. Cordyceps derived from Jiading of Sichuan, shows the highest quality. In winter, it appears as an old silk worm in soil, and moves with hair. In summer, hairs grow out of soil, and turn into grass. They have to be collected in summer, if not they will turn into worm again.''

Cordyceps became known to the West in the seventeenth century. In A.D. 1723, Cordyceps was brought from Tibet to France as materia medica and shown at the conference of the Paris Science Academic Institute. Cordyceps was considered a precious medical material and was recorded in the memo of the conference in A.D. 1727. In 1878, the Italian scholar Saccardo named Cordyceps derived from China officially as Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc.; this nomenclature was adopted and is used today. Cordyceps is known to regulate and ensure the normal functioning of various parts of the body, to strengthen the immune system and promote overall vitality and longevity, and it is commonly used in hospitals in China and as a household remedy. However, more than 350 types of so-called Cordyceps or its substitutes have been found worldwide today. Thus, authentication of Cordyceps is a serious problem on the market.

Review of the clinical usages of Cordyceps has been published (1,2). Here, we discuss the biological character, chemical composition, pharmacological activity, fermentation of culture mycelia as substitutes, and quality control of Cordyceps.

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