Cordyceps sinensis or Dong chong xia cao in Chinese, is probably the most expensive herb that is in common use. Many herbal suppliers do not quote a per pound price the way they do other herbs. Often the price is by the gram, and you have to call to get that daily price. A few years ago I was given a price of over a thousand dollars a pound at the wholesale level.
The Chinese name translates to "winter bug, summer herb" which is actually a very good description of this most unusual of medicinals. Cordyceps is a fungus, a type of mushroom. It infects kills and grows from the head of a specific type of caterpillar found in some isolated remote regions of China. The traditional form of the herb is wild crafted or picked by mushroom hunters out in the wilderness. Imagine wondering around looking for a mushroom the size of a matchstick. This herb is really hard to find, which is why the herb is so expensive. Some is now "farmed" without the caterpillar and called Cordyceps biomass. Despite the farming, the price remains relatively high.
Cordyceps was really unknown in the West until some stories became public about Chinese Olympic athletes using the herb as a performance enhancing supplement. Traditionally this herb was used in formulas to treat breathing disorders like asthma. It's function is to strengthen the Kidneys and the Lungs. In Chinese herbal medicine the lungs are seen as taking in air, yet it is the Kidneys that are seen as providing the lungs the ability to draw the air in. As a result this herb was used in conditions where the patient had difficulty drawing air in. To the athlete the ability to maximize the utilization of the air drawn in could help athletic performance.
The price, and exotic nature of this herb has created demand for it in many herb shops. It is often regarded as a herb to prolong life. While there is some truth to that concept, I always remind my patients that herbal medicine can help you to function better, but that herbs are a waste of money if you don't make positive changes in your life to support what you are trying to do with the herbs. There is an old Chinese proverb to remember; "Those who take medicine and neglect their diet, waste the skill of the physician."
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066