Mushrooms are biology’s continuum between birth and decay, teetering presumptuously on the precipice between life and death, one foot always in the grave. Ushering one poor soul across the River Styx while sowing the seeds for another sap’s claim on some prime terrestrial real estate, fungi are the entire life cycle manifest. In the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos, I celebrate the shapeshifting shenanigans of the mushroom with a savory Cordyceps soup, based on a medicinal congee recipe from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The Cordyceps is a gloriously macabre mélange of science fiction & Greek myth. Its delicately deceitful spores coyly infect its arthropod prey, killing them softly and re-animating itself within their corpse. When the fungus parasitizes the larva, its mycelia spread through the larva’s body, hijacking its nutrients and sapping all of its succulent Qi. The Cordyceps then springs forth from the larvae’s head, birthed from the brains of its prey like Athena erupting from the head of her father Zeus (oh, the poetry of it all!).
All guts, glory and folklore aside, these lil’ fungi are truly mythical in scope. Is it really a coincidence that the Cordyceps mushroom - hailed on the street as the Himalayan Viagra- is revered for its ability to increase stamina, sex drive, virility, strength, brainpower, athletic prowess & focus? If you’d like to harness the power of the Huntress Athena, boot-up for an all-night Bacchanal, or carouse with the saints of caterpillars past, here’s a recipe for medicinal Cordyceps congee.
For one serving you will need the following accoutrements. Adjust amounts for serving sizes as needed. Cordyceps can stimulate testosterone production, so you don’t want to exceed 2-3 strands a day (I’ve been told by a fellow herbalist that Cordyceps in excess can make you feel all hotsy totsy):
2-3 organic chicken thighs, parbroiled for 2 minutes and cut into pieces
2-3 strands of dried Cordyceps Sinensis (Dong Chong Xia Cao)
I am epically stoked to dig into the bag of Munchable Cordyceps that I procured at Dragon Herbs. You could just as well pick up a few ounces of these at your local Chinatown apothecary. I have been assured that these lil’ guys are the real McCoy, bona fide fungi foraged from caterpillar craniums, nourished in the rustic bosom of Lady Nature (not cultivated in a humdrum lab). No disrespect - many fine mushies are farmed vs. foraged, and I consume them with gabs of gusto on a regular basis. Just let it be known that the wilder the berry, the wiser the Qi.
6 Red Jujube Dates (Hong Zao), rinsed
I love buying these ‘Chinese apples’ at the Hollywood farmer’s market from the sweet ole chap that encloses his hand-written tea recipe with every bag. You can buy them fresh in late summer, dry what you don’t eat, and plop these little ruffians in teas, oatmeal and broth all winter. In addition to being a great harmonizer that mellows the harsh properties of other herbs, it also provides excellent energy and is a powerful Qi tonic, replenishing spleen & stomach Qi, nourishing blood, and soothing the woes of the mind.
A handful of Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zhi)
Goji is the de rigueur antioxidant of the hipsterati elite, but please don’t let that deter you from hopping on its proverbial bandwagon. It is one of the premier anti-aging herbs of ancient Asian herbalism, and is believed to tonify the entire system against disease, improve vision (both literally and metaphorically), and provide the energy to overcome the most difficult of obstacles.
1 nice & thick knuckle of ginger
4 1/2 cups of chicken broth
Place your chicken & medicinals in a large stock pot, covering with stock. Put a lid on it and simmer for 1½ hours. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle some sea salt, and drink to your newfound pomp & circumstance!