Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps) in Chinese Medicine

English: Cordyceps

Chinese: 冬虫夏草

Parts used: The entire dried fungus

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Yang Deficiency

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Kidney Lung

Scientific name: Ophiocordyceps sinensis or Cordyceps sinensis

Other names: Caterpillar fungus or Yartsa gunbu

Use of Dong Chong Xia Cao (cordyceps) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Collect the fungus and dry them

Dosage: 6-12 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Tonifies the Kidney Yang and assists the Lung Yin. Stops bleeding and resolves phlegm.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Dong Chong Xia Cao may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Back pain Knee pain Coughing Dyspnea Impotence Wheezing Bloody sputum

Contraindications*: This substance should be used with caution when there is an Exterior condition. Depending on where they were procured, Cordyceps sometimes contain high amount of arsenic and other heavy metals so they should be taken with caution.

Key TCM concepts behind Dong Chong Xia Cao's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Dong Chong Xia Cao belongs to the 'Tonic herbs for Yang Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Yang Tonics are generally used in combination with a small amount of Yin tonics. If Yin is deficient, neither Qi nor Yang herbs alone will be effective. The most common symptoms associated with Yang Deficiency are low libido and impotence. It is worth mentioning that another very effective remedy against Yang Deficiency is regular exercise.

Furthermore Dong Chong Xia Cao is Warm in nature. This means that Dong Chong Xia Cao tends to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess (because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition Dong Chong Xia Cao can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Dong Chong Xia Cao also tastes Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Sweet ingredients like Dong Chong Xia Cao tends to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Dong Chong Xia Cao is thought to target the Kidney and the Lung. According to TCM, the Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.

Research on Dong Chong Xia Cao

Cordycepin, an active component of water extracts of Cordyceps sinensis, might be a candidate anticancer and antimetastatic agent.1

Supplementation with Cordyceps sinensis improves exercise performance and might contribute to wellness in healthy older subjects.2

Bailing Capsule (BLC, a dry powder preparation of Cordyceps sinensis mycelia) could effectively protect liver and kidney, stimulate hemopoietic function, improve hypoproteinemia, as well as reduce the incidence of infection and the dosage of cyclosporine A and tacrolimus used.3

Cordyceps sinensis exerted a protective effect on aminoglycoside nephrotoxicity in the elderly.4


1. Nakamura K, Shinozuka K, Yoshikawa N. (2015). Anticancer and antimetastatic effects of cordycepin, an active component of Cordyceps sinensis. J Pharmacol Sci. , 127(1):53-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jphs.2014.09.001.

2. Chen S, Li Z, Krochmal R, Abrazado M, Kim W, Cooper CB. (2010). Effect of Cs-4 (Cordyceps sinensis) on exercise performance in healthy older subjects: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Altern Complement Med. , 16(5):585-90. doi: 10.1089/acm.2009.0226.

3. Ding CG, Tian PX, Jin ZK. (2009). Clinical application and exploration on mechanism of action of Cordyceps sinensis mycelia preparation for renal transplantation recipients. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 29(11):975-8.

4. Bao ZD, Wu ZG, Zheng F. (1994). Amelioration of aminoglycoside nephrotoxicity by Cordyceps sinensis in old patients. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 14(5):271-3, 259.