Society owes the worldwide availability of chocolate to the enterprising outlook of the explorer Hernán Cortés, who brought the first cacao beans to Europe from the New World. The great conquistador, however, did not covet the beans to fulfill a vision of theobromic delight of bonbons, mudpies, or champagne truffles. He was more intrigued by the fact that the Aztecs, who offered him his first sip of cacao, placed so much premium on cacao that only the royals were privileged to drink it. It was also served in golden goblets that were discarded after a single use.
In another part of the world, many centuries before the serendipitous launch of the global chocolate industry, Qing dynasty emperors in China enjoyed the exclusive use of the prized Cordyceps mushroom that were believed to possess properties that promote health and longevity. Like the Aztecs’ cacao beans which were more valuable than gold, these intriguing mushrooms were so revered that they were often ascribed with supernatural properties.
What makes Cordyceps particularly intriguing is the natural history of the fungus. While fungi, in general, are regarded to be lowly life-forms that predate even plants and animals, Cordyceps is a conquering warlord among fungi.
An indispensable phase in its life cycle is when the fungus colonizes the body of an insect, and uses the creature’s nutrients as food to sustain the mushroom. It is for this reason that the mushroom was hard to come by, and its limited availability caused it to be reserved for the privileged sovereigns of China.
The emperors coveted Cordyceps due to its known health benefits, many of which are currently being evaluated and proven by research institutes in various places. Studies are also underway in the use of this mushroom’s extracts as an agent used among transplant patients to suppress the immune response of the patient to the foreign graft. Most users of Cordyceps extracts, though, are in pursuit of health and wellness, as well as physical prowess.
In the same way that the once rare and precious cacao beans of the Aztecs became a widespread food product that is ubiquitous in virtually every home, the difficult-to-acquire Cordyceps mushrooms have been successfully cultivated by enterprises aimed at bringing the many benefits of medicinal mushrooms to more people.
Today, anybody can enjoy a chocolate bar, just as anyone can enjoy the benefits of Cordyceps through available extracts.
Conquering the Conqueror: Anyone Can Have Cordyceps Mushroom