Are Cordyceps mushrooms dangerous?

Learn about the misconceptions of Cordyceps mushrooms and the balanced, full body energy benefits of its use.

The not-so-scary story behind cordyceps

Cordyceps mushrooms are among the most wild, revered, and misunderstood in the functional mushroom space. Contrary to what you may seen in zombie shows, this mushroom is not dangerous. In fact it holds numerous benefits for humans. 

Cordyceps is getting some infamous press right now for its fictional appearance in zombie TV shows or video games like “The Last of Us.” This is a fictionalized take on the fact that wild Cordyceps grows off of insects. Don’t worry, it is not a zombie fungi that will harm humans in real life! Not only will it not hurt you, but many of the 600+ species of Cordyceps are powerful medicinals that humans have used for thousands of years. The Cordyceps we use (functional, not fictional) are 100% vegan, organically grown, and deliver the key benefits of energy, endurance, and stamina to give you rocket fuel for your day, without caffeine.

The quick and dirty: At Four Sigmatic, we use the fruiting body of Cordyceps militaris, organically grown on a plant-based substrate, and extracted for highest potency. This is your best ally for pre-workout, post-workout, endurance, and energy, all without caffeine or other stimulants.


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Traditional uses paving the way

A little more juicy 

Ready for more? In this section, we’ll go over:

  • Traditional uses 
  • Proper sourcing for highest quality 
  • Effective dose
  • Best time to take 
  • Four Sigmitic products with Lion’s Mane
  • How to maximize benefits by pairing with the right ingredients 

Cordyceps were first discovered by yak shepherds or sherpas of the Himalayan mountains over 2,000 years ago. As legend goes, the sherpas upon reaching altitudes of 13,000 ft+, would watch as their yaks roamed the hills, munching on things they found in the grasses, and then nearly instantly going into heat. It wasn’t long until the sherpas tried these small, strange looking fruits of nature for themselves. And it turns out that the energy and stamina inducing effects observed in the yaks was also experienced by the sherpas. They realized they could breathe easier at higher altitudes, had greater endurance, a lift in physical energy, and experienced a sense of ease and lowered physical stress on long treks. 

The emergence of Cordyceps to the West, and especially among the athlete community, was sparked by a team of Chinese Olympic athletes in 1993. A female running team broke 3 world records and the industry thought they must be doping. How could they achieve such profound performance without the assistance of performancing-enhancing drugs? While rumors spread, the false allocations were stopped by the women’s coach who shared that he had added Cordyceps to their training protocol. Athlete’s have been using Cordyceps ever since.  

Today, Cordyceps is used for much of the same benefits originally discovered by the sherpas and further confirmed by the runners of ‘93. We now have several thousand years of experience using the mushroom, as well as research to validify the compounds in the mushroom responsible for its energizing benefits. Yet these original, wild Cordyceps used by the sherpas were actually growing off of insects out in the wild. With the rise in popularity of Cordyceps, places where the mushroom grows naturally (including northern India, Tibet, China, and Nepal), there is intense competition to collect the mushrooms. Unfortunately, wild-harvesters are not paid fair wages, and the price of wild Cordyceps has literally surpassed the price of gold, gram for gram. Due to these sustainability and ethical concerns, stay away from wild Cordyceps.

Mushroom Cacao Mix with Cordyceps

Instead, most Cordyceps you can find in your Western grocery store today are grown on a substrate (base that mimics the compounds found in the insects it grows on in nature). While we typically avoid any mushrooms grown on substrates other than what they are found on in nature, Cordyceps is the exception. Research shows that consuming the fruiting body of Cordyceps, wild or grown on a substrate, has benefits nearly analogous to the wild varieties. This avoids the sustainability and ethical issues, as well as ensuring you are getting a fully vegan product!

Now, it is still critically important to use extracted organic fruiting bodies and never raw or fermented mycelium. If using a mycelium product, it means you’re purchasing the growing medium (A.K.A. substrate)—a cereal grain like oat or rice—with a bit of mushroom “roots.” And even worse,  if it hasn’t been extracted, your body can’t access all the beneficial compounds in Cordyceps that contribute to its energy and endurance benefits. Before looking at dosage, make sure you know what you are getting! Look for the real mushroom (fruiting body) that is organic and has been extracted, to ensure highest potency and bioavailability for your body. Plus, current studies show that the fruiting body of the mushroom contains 10-30x the amount of beneficial compounds. It’s the gold standard, to put it simply. 

An effective dose of Cordyceps extract is between 500 mg - 1500 mg. Always start small and slowly build up after a few days as your body allows. Benefits start plateauing around 3,000 mg/day, but you can combine Cordyceps with vitamin C rich foods or adaptogens like schisandra or cacao to increase benefits. Cordyceps is a perfect caffeine-free way to give your body the physical energy it needs to power through a big day, a workout, or get you past the afternoon slump without having to worry about a come-down later. Since an effective dose of Cordyceps extract is between 500 mg - 1500 mg, we always follow this range in all Four Sigmatic products containing Cordyceps.


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Not sure when to take Cordyceps, before or after a workout? There are benefits to both!

  • Before: Cordyceps supports energy and stamina, so it’s a great addition to your pre-workout routine. 
  • After: Cordyceps is also an adaptogen, so it helps your body to adapt to any extra stress your workout is adding to your day. In this way it can help support recovery.

We only use extracted, fruiting bodies of Cordyceps mushroom, never wild-harvested or sourced from non-vegan sources. Our best selling product with Cordyceps is our Mushroom Cacao Mix with Cordyceps. We also have a caffeine-free Cordyceps Elixir, which is a formula that combines Cordyceps extract with rose hips (for all the vitamin C) and Schisandra and mint, which you can use on its own, or add into coffee, tea, or smoothies.  You can also find Cordyceps in Focus Blend, Plant-based Protein, and Mushroom Coffee with Chaga

Preparing a cup of Mushroom Elixir with Cordyceps

Cordyceps revealed: How it actually works

Super nerd alert 

Oh, you’re still here? I love people like you. Welcome to the deeper, juiciest part of this article.  

Remember in the beginning how I mentioned there are over 600 species of Cordyceps? Well, at Four Sigmatic, and in most supplements selling Cordyceps in the US, the species Cordyceps militaris is used. This differs from the most common wild variety, Cordyceps sinensis. There are a few key constituents found in Cordyceps that we can attribute to the benefits felt when consuming it properly. Here’s what you need to know about these key compounds and what they do in the body: 

  • Cordycepin & Adenosine: support the body’s production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), aka the body’s energy-carrying molecules used by our cells 
  • Cordycepic Acid: anti-free radical, liver supportive, anti-inflammatory 
  • Polysaccharides: specifically 1-3, 1-6 beta-D-glucans, which are immunomodulating (think cruise control for the immune system); balancing, ability to up or down regulate immune activity 

You may notice that the benefits are not isolated to energy, or endurance, or stamina. Like all whole foods or herbs found in nature, there are a myriad of compounds working together to give the said species its action in our bodies. While Cordyceps is primarily used for it’s energizing effects, it's also an adaptogen that supports the body’s stress response, as well as an immunomodulator that acts to balance and support a strong immune system. And I can’t leave you without reminding you of the importance of extraction. Because no matter how much you know about this remarkable species and its benefits, if the Corydceps has not been extracted, you can’t access any of these compounds and experience the benefits. 

Why? Mushrooms have a compound in their cell wall called chitin, it’s the same compound found in crustaceans (think shrimp, lobster, or crab shells)- pretty tough exterior right? So this is where it becomes critical to extract, since that is the one guaranteed way to break down chitin and ensure all the beneficial compounds, in this case the hericenones and erinacines, are actually bioavailable to the body. Be wary of words like fermented, micronized, and raw on mushroom packaging. Only the word extraction guarantees that the chitin has been broken and your body can access all the goodness inside. 

I know this is a mouthful but since you’ve read this far, I know you are ready to experience the practically magical benefits of organic, fruiting body extracts of Cordyceps. Cheers to an energizing day, fueled with the nourishment your body needs to endure whatever comes its way. See you on the adventures! 

Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG)

Author: Danielle Ryan Broida, RH (AHG)

As a Registered Herbalist (AHG), Holistic Nutritionist, and Instructor of Mycology, my passions all blossom from the natural world. I believe fungi are the most important teachers on our planet, silently guiding us towards a world of more connection with each other, the earth, and the answers we need to solve many of Earth’s problems. As the current Instructor of Mycology at CSCH and National Educator at Four Sigmatic, I’m so excited to bring you more education on functional mushrooms, adaptogens, and wellness, totally free.

Four Sigmatic

The statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). The products sold on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided by this website or this company is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your physician, and should not be construed as individual medical advice..