Cordyceps Militaris aka The Scarlett Caterpillar
Cordyceps militaris, also known as the scarlet caterpillar, was first named in 1753 by Carl Linneaus also known as the “father of modern taxonomy”. This particular species is mainly found sprouting its orange coral-like fruiting body in grasslands or on woodland edges during the late summer and autumn seasons.
Hearing about Cordyceps militaris for the first time and you’ll be shocked. “So you’re telling me that this mushroom mummifies insects AND has functional properties?” Yes, this is absolutely correct and why we believe Cordyceps are one of the coolest mushrooms we have come across and we continue to be amazed at all that they can do.
Cordyceps militaris is an entomopathogenic fungus, meaning it parasitizes insects in order to survive and reproduce. How in this world does this happen you might ask? A simple look at the life cycle biology can help us understand this phenomenon a bit better. In order for this fungus to survive and reproduce it needs to create a parasitic relationship with a host species, typically with insects such as moths, butterflies, or ants. This fungus attacks the host and invades it with a thread like hyphae known as mycelium or the “mushroom roots” which colonizes the living insect and mummifies it. Mycelium is the vegetative part of the fungus which provides a feeding structure for the mushroom. This is similar to how soil or organic matter functions in plants. In this case the mycelium draws out the nutrients from the host that the fungus has attacked. A biomass of mycelium then invades and eventually replaces the host tissue all while the fruiting body of the Cordyceps takes over and produces a mushroom “spore factory”. Spores are like the seeds of the plant world, inherently microscopic, spores are what will allow the mushroom to continue to reproduce. The host or insect is then buried in the ground or in the well decayed wood where the mushroom will then fruit from as an orange club like stem.
This spontaneous attack by the mushroom often reminds us of the famous literary work of Franz Kafka. In his novella The Metamorphosis, Franz describes the lived experience of Gregor Samsa, a salesman, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a huge insect. Similar to how the fungus invades the insects, the insect invades Gregor who eventually dies of starvation. Mushrooms are fascinating and even provide similitudes within literary works. Cordyceps seriously seem like a creature coming straight out of a sci-fi movie. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about having an episode like Mr. Samsa. Our bodies have an innate and adaptive immune response that is better than insects in pathogen control.*
Although there are a variety of Cordyceps species all over the world, Cordyceps militaris is well known due to its use in Traditional Chinese Herbalism. It has been added to dishes as a way to support healthy stamina and energy levels.* For this reason, it is the main mushroom in our Energy tincture. You can take two squeezes of the dropper bulb on the tongue, or in your favorite drink such as a smoothie or juice.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about Cordyceps militaris, happy shrooming ☺
If you’d like to see a video for a visual experience of the Cordyceps life cycle click here!
Written by: Maria Orozco