Move over, acai and white tea: There’s a new superfood attracting the attention of medical researchers and health devotees around the globe. It’s a type of mushroom called Cordyceps sinensis, and has long been a staple of Chinese and Tibetan medicine. And now modern medicine has also bestowed a seal of approval when it comes to boosting the energy and immune systems of elderly patients, people with heart and respiratory conditions, and others.
Also known as caterpillar fungus, dong chong xia cao (in Chinese), and yatsa gunbu (in Tibetan), this mushroom is the product of a symbiotic relationship between the fungus and the larva of a specific ghost moth found in China, Tibet, and the Himalayas. It’s highly sought after in these regions’ folk medicines and is used as general tonic for virtually anything that ails you, including cancer, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction. It's regarded as having an ideal proportion of yin and yang because, as a fungus, it is considered to be both animal and vegetable.
While all these claims have yet to be substantiated, a handful of in vitro and animal research studies reported on by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have found the fungi to have “antitumor, radio-protective, and anti-diabetic effects.” You can find Cordyceps extract in both liquid and powder forms, and the recommended dose cited is 3 to 6 grams per day. Read on for two recipes for super-beneficial soups made from this wonder food.
This hot pot soup is simple to cook and the ingredients can be found at many Asian markets and health-food stores. Black chicken is a type of poultry popular with Asian cooks, who prize its deliciously gamy flavor. Black chickens are increasingly available outside of Asia, but if you can’t locate one, just use a traditional white hen—the health benefits will be just as super! Assemble the ingredients in your slow cooker when you leave for work, and you’ll have a wondrous, healthy soup by day’s end.
10-20 grams Cordyceps sinensis
10-20 grams ginseng slices
1 black chicken, quartered and skinned
Salt and pepper
Heat a large pot of water (about 70 percent filled) on high. Add the Cordyceps and ginseng, reduce the flame to medium, and boil for 15 minutes. Next, add the chicken, reduce the heat to low and simmer for two hours. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper, and serve piping hot.
Aside from the mushrooms, this recipe calls for bird’s nest, a second exotic ingredient that is also quite expensive. In a pinch, you can substitute angel-hair pasta shaped to resemble a nest.
¼ lb. "superior" bird’s nest, soaked until soft
½ to 1/3 oz. fresh Cordyceps, washed
4 red dates, cored
1/3 lb. lean pork
Parboil the pork, then remove, rinse, and drain. Next, transfer the meat to a Dutch oven or large soup pot, and then add the Cordyceps, dates, and 2 cups boiling water. Cover the stew and let it simmer for three hours. Add the bird's nest and simmer for an additional 30 minutes, then salt to taste.