Pharmacological basis of 'Yin-nourishing' and 'Yang-invigorating' actions of Cordyceps, a Chinese tonifying herb

Life Sci. 2004 Dec 10;76(4):385-95. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2004.07.014.


Cordyceps sinensis (Berk.) Sacc. (Cordyceps), a popular Chinese tonifying herb, was revered for being both 'Yin-nourishing' and 'Yang-invigorating' in Chinese medicine. In order to establish the pharmacological basis for the 'Yin-nourishing' and 'Yang-invigorating' action of Cordyceps, the effects of wild and cultured Cordyceps on concanavalin A (Con A)-stimulated splenocytes, an in vitro bioassay for 'Yin-nourishment', and myocardial ATP generation capacity, an ex vivo bioassay for 'Yang-invigoration', were investigated in mice. The results indicated that methanolic extracts of wild and cultured Cordyceps enhanced both the Con A-stimulated splenocyte proliferation in vitro and myocardial mitochondrial ATP generation ex vivo in mice, with no significant difference in potency of action between the two types of Cordyceps. While the immuno-potentiating effect was associated with the increase in interleukin II production, the stimulation of myocardial ATP generation was paralleled by an enhancement in mitochondrial electron transport. When compared with typical 'Yin' and 'Yang' tonifying Chinese herbs, Cordyceps was found to possess both 'Yin-nourishing' and 'Yang-invigorating' activities, with a lower potency in both modes of action. The pharmacological characterization of Cordyceps by means of contemporary bioassays is consistent with the time-honored clinical observation from Chinese herbalists.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / biosynthesis
  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Concanavalin A / pharmacology
  • Cordyceps / chemistry*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / administration & dosage
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / pharmacology*
  • Electron Transport
  • Female
  • Heart / drug effects*
  • Interleukin-2 / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mitochondria, Heart / drug effects
  • Mitochondria, Heart / metabolism
  • Myocardium / enzymology
  • Spleen / cytology
  • Spleen / drug effects*
  • Spleen / metabolism
  • Yin-Yang*


  • Drug Combinations
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • Interleukin-2
  • Concanavalin A
  • Adenosine Triphosphate