A fungus that overtakes the body of the worm it grows on, Cordyceps is a traditional Chinese health remedy that improves strength and endurance. At around $3,000 for a small box of the fungus, you’ll be doing your heart a favor too, said Chris Kilham, the Medicine Hunter.
“It imparts energy and makes you very strong,” Kilham said. “Athletes who use this have increased oxygen to their cells, and increased output from the heart.”
But for those who can’t stomach the energy-boosting fungus in its raw form, it also comes in capsule and tablet form and can be found at nutrition stores for a fraction of the price.
While most people are accustomed to seeing shiitake mushrooms in their local grocery stores, many people aren’t aware of their immunity-enhancing powers.“When these mushrooms are cooked, the immunity-boosting beta-glucane compounds are released,” Kilham said.
The savory fungus is a common ingredient in many Chinese soups and broths, and is often used to strengthen the immune systems of patients receiving chemotherapy.
“You know, for some people after chemotherapy -- when their immune system has been suppressed so that the chemotherapy will work -- they need to build up their immune system,” Kilham added.
Why you ask? The truth is, mammals have been eating their afterbirth since the dawn of time and humans are mammals … so it makes sense, right? Well it may sound gross to some, but Chinese women have been using hormone-rich placenta pills for years to help increase milk production and ward off postpartum depression.
Now, women around the world are drying their placentas and putting them in capsules to supplement nutrition and even help restore that youthful glow. “It's kind of like your inner Botox … sort of,” Kilham said.
"Ginseng root has proven to help both the mind and body, as it improves brain function, mental clarity, stamina and endurance," Kilham said. Liquid ginseng extract is especially effective in its ability act fast in the body.
Though the Southwestern Chinese-grown root may resemble feces, notoginseng, a relative of the Asian Panax notoginseng is the number one first aid remedy, according to Kilham. Notoginseng works as a natural healing agent for cuts and wounds, and comes in various forms including pastes, powders, liquids and capsules.
"Notoginseng is also China's greatest cardiovascular medicine -- increasing heart health, lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing serum triglycerides or fat molecules found in the body," Kilham said. "It's something that's virtually unknown in the U.S."
Both aesthetically and functionally pleasing, blossom tea is characterized by flower blossoms that bloom in hot water during preparation. “One of the things the Chinese do that I really admire is they not only make foods that are healthy in different ways but they also make things that are beautiful,” Kilham said.
Chock full of antioxidants, the health benefits of tea have been widely studied. Today teas are often used for their ability to help control blood pressure, decrease LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Because teas also act as anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agents, they are used to calm everything from stress to migraines and nausea.
At $248 per pound, sea cucumber is a foul-smelling Chinese and Japanese delicacy that contains anti-aging properties and cancer-preventing agents. Contrary to popular belief, sea cucumber is actually an animal, and is used in soups or stews to increase the healthy benefits of any meal.
In traditional Chinese medicine, sea cucumbers are used to treat kidney disorders, constipation and reproductive problems, including erectile dysfunction.
"Sea cucumber is a big industry exactly because of the anti-cancer properties," Kilham said. "There's good science to show that compounds in here help to protect against certain types of cancer."
Known as the "mushroom of immortality," Reishi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years to treat things like fatigue, asthma, cough, and liver ailments, and to promote longevity.
"Reishi mushrooms have been shown to enhance immune function, but they’re also considered a longevity elixir,” Kilham said. "They're good for the brain, and should theoretically help you live more youthfully, longer."
In holistic medicine, Reishi mushroom is also used as an immune stimulant by patients with HIV or cancer.
When it comes to eye disease, traditional Chinese herbalists will tell you to use Shi Hu to treat problems like poor vision, photophobia, dry eye, glaucoma, and retinitis – just to name a few. And it can even help common vision problems we experience with our everyday lives, according to Kilham.
"People who stare at the computer a lot of the time, you know how your eyes will kind of get fuzzy after a while? This will supposedly help to sharpen your vision," Kilham said.
If you get a prescription for Shi Hu from an herbal doctor in China, you'll be instructed to boil these rope-like herbs into a tea and drink it.
Momordica charantia, more commonly known as bitter melon, is a green, squash-like vegetable that is used across Asia to make blood sugar-stabilizing tea, according to Kilham.
Bitter melon tea is especially helpful for people with diabetes who need to control their blood glucose levels. "If you make a tea of this or if you eat bitter melon, it will help to keep your blood sugar more moderate," Kilham said.
From placenta pills to worm fungus, the Medicine Hunter shows us some of the strangest natural remedies traditional Chinese medicine has to offer