Cordyceps fungus gains wider acceptance

Nguyen Thi Hong, 35, runs two production units in Thanh Oai district of Hanoi and Da Lat City in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, where she cultivates cordyceps militaris fungi, a valuable medicinal herb, for sale at competitive prices in both domestic and foreign markets.

Cordyceps is of the fungi genus that includes about 400 species. All Cordyceps species are parasites of mainly insects and other arthropods, while a few are parasites of other fungi. From late fall to early winter, the parasites live in pathogens. In summer, when temperatures rise, the mushroom grows into a plant.

Each month, Hong's workshop produces one tonne of fresh cordyceps, 200kg of dried cordyceps and 1.5 tonnes of powder. Her products are exported to Japan, Singapore and Germany. The cultivation brings an annual revenue of VND12 billion (Ú$555,000).

The cordyceps produced at her workshop were cheaper than the ones imported from Japan and the United States at VND180 million (US$8,200) per kilogram, while the original product from China was worth VND1.8 billion (US$82,000) per kilogram, Pham Tuan Anh, one of Hong's colleagues, said.

Last year, Hong's workshop started selling cordyceps seeds to people who wanted to plant them.

In 2003, after graduating from the College of Hanoi Natural Science's biotechnology department, Hong worked for a person who studied several types of fungi.

She read many documents about lingzhi mushroom.

"One day, I saw a report in an English newspaper about cordyceps militaris. I thought it was very interesting," Hong was quoted as saying by Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper.

Hong began working on the methods of cultivating cordyceps militaris after researching documents for six years.

She asked friends to buy samples from Japan and the Republic of Korea, but could not succeed in planting them.

In 2009, she visited China to buy cordyceps bottles, worth VND5 million (US$231), to plant them.

She studied the fungi and created a compound that has a structure identical to the silkworm species with which cordyceps often has a parasitic relationship.

Unfortunately, she failed to cultivate the crop on a large scale.

In early 2012, a strange insect destroyed all 5,000 bottles of cordyceps, worth VND300 million (US$13,900). By the end of that year, she planted more than 10,000 bottles again, but still failed, losing VND600 million (US$27,700).

Not ready to give up, she studied the causes of her failure.

Tuan Anh, her colleague, went to China, and the Republic of Korea to consult experts about the reasons for fungi death. 

Hong herself continued to invest more in research by taking loans from banks, and doing a research course.

In 2013, Hong tried to cultivate the fungus in 20 bottles only and this time, there was no failure. But she failed again when she cultivated on a much larger scale.

She discovered that the fungus seed she had bought from China was in poor condition. So she spent VND50 million (US$2,300) on another sample.

After creating an artificial environment comprising a clean air system, and maintaining moisture and temperature suitable to cultivation, she succeeded.

Despite her success, no one believed her product was true cordyceps.

Hong offered her product for free to some people for two years to gain wider acceptance.

Now her products are sold in the market and have received positive feedback.

Cordyceps is used to treat several diseases, apart from being used to strengthen the immune system, improve athletic performance, reduce the effects of aging and promote longer life, besides improving liver function in people with hepatitis B.

Its value as a medicinal mushroom is much more than gold due to its unique healing qualities.