Cordyceps Militaris Mushroom Cultivation Notes: Tips and Tricks for Growing Mushrooms

Growing your own mushrooms is a fun and rewarding experience. If you have cultivated more than a few species yourself, you know that each fungus is unique and deserves its own methodologies and techniques. This applies to the entire lifecycle—from culturing in a lab, inoculum, substrate, fruiting, harvesting, and finally consuming. Below are some mushroom cultivation notes for growing the anomalous fungus, Cordyceps militaris.

Finding A Quality Strain

Cordyceps militaris is notorious for being a particularly tricky fungus to cultivate. This is understandable due to its extremely selective and strange food choices in the wild. That is, certain species of insects. More often than not, if you were to culture a specimen found in the woods, it would not yield much fruit, if any, with standard cultivation techniques. This is why it is key to source genetics from a tried and true supplier that has successfully fruited the strain before. Not all Cordyceps militaris strains will in-fact fruit even though the mycelium will colonize the substrate. Even if the strain is coming from a trusted supplier, make sure that they have indeed fruited the culture before as many cordyceps strains on the market will not fruit. Keep reading for more mushroom cultivation notes!

Mushroom Cultivation Notes: Culturing

This step is necessary for anyone who wishes to have continuous growth of C. militaris. In this stage, cordyceps does not deviate much from the preferences of other commonly cultivated fungi and will grow on a variety of nutrient agars. Agars such as Malt extract agar (MEA) or potato dextrose agar (PDA) work great.

However, C. militaris is susceptible to senescing (to deteriorate with age) fairly quickly. One way of prolonging your culture is to do less transfers. This means rather than growing out petri plates to culture again and subjecting the fungus to a multiple different cultures (think of having to move into a new house every week— it will be exhausting) it is better to make a lot of single transfer plates. If you are going to do transfers, make sure you are switching up it’s food source. 

Another way to prevent senescing is to do spore isolation work to isolate single ascospores for breeding. This requires more skill and equipment but it is worth it in the long run. If you do not want to do this yourself, there are a couple people in the U.S. that are started to do this work, including Ryan Paul Gates and Michael Weese.

Mushroom Cultivation Notes: Inoculum

There are two typical ways to create inoculum in mushroom cultivation: grain spawn and liquid culture. Liquid culture has proven to be the more effective and practical choice of inoculum for customary C. militaris cultivation. Sterilized honey water is an excellent choice. Try using distilled or filtered water, and using organic honey.

Pro Tips:

  • Avoid overcooking your honey water, as this will cause caramelization and will result in fewer nutrients and more sediment in your liquid culture. 
  • Make sure you have a good seal on the jar, and some kind of injection port if you plan to use a syringe.
  • Add a marble, coin, or magnetic spinner to break up mycelium once it begins to grow. Be sure to shake or spin your jars at least every other day.
  • With cordyceps, we have found that its best not to use liquid culture that is older than 3 months.

Mushroom Cultivation Notes: Substrate

Many non-insect substrates have been tested out in C. militaris including beans, lentils, quinoa, and rice. Based in many reports and empirical testing, rice has by far rendered the most abundant yields (1). White or brown rice are promising and economical choices.

The added nutrients are also a critical part to successful fruiting. Make a nutrient broth that will be used to cook the rice, try adding nutrients such as nutritional yeast and potato starch. There are many forums and research papers about other nutrients you can add to your broth to feed your cordyceps!

Some pro tips include:

  • Control moisture levels. You don’t want your rice to be too wet, because it will hinder colonization and potentially harbor bacterial growth. On the flip side, make sure your rice has enough liquid added to be fully cooked.
  • Be sure to account for the moisture you will add when you introduce liquid culture.

Mushroom Cultivation Notes: Inoculation 

For smaller growing vessels, a sterile syringe is a great tool for collecting a portion of liquid culture, and for measuring the mL you want to add. There are other methods for larger containers where you mix entire liquid culture jars in with your cooked rice. 

Figuring out proportions that work for you methods may require some experimentation and patience. Make sure to record your numbers and take daily notes on your jars so you can adjust things meaningfully. Data is very illuminating!

Work in a clean environment, ideally in front of a flow hood. Wear gloves, wipe down tools with 70% isopropyl alcohol, and think good thoughts.

Mushroom Cultivation Notes: Harvesting

Once your cordyceps have fully fruited they are ready to be harvested! Timing is key. Too early and medicinal compounds will not be as potent, and too late can result in weaker mushrooms and the unintended growth of a fungus Calcarisporium cordycipiticola which is a common parasite to cordyceps (3). The best time to harvest is 1.5-2 weeks after you notice the formation of perithecium. Perithecia are the spore sacs of the mushroom. They look like the cheeto dust on these cheeto look-alike mushrooms.

After harvesting it’s important to promptly dehydrate your mushrooms. Dry times vary on the quantity and density of your mushrooms, as well as the dehydrator. Continue dehydrating until they are bone dry, and then seal them in a bag or mason jar with a silica packet if they need a longer shelf life.

There are a variety of things you can do with your mushrooms including tea, tincture, or cooking! Check out these blog posts below for ideas and how-to’s.

Tincture: https://www.mushroom-revival.com/medicinal-mushroom-tincture/

Tea & Cooking: https://www.mushroom-revival.com/buy-cordyceps-militaris/

VIDEO on how to make your own cordyceps tea:

More pro tips:

  • Start with small batches, and wait until your mushrooms fully fruit before you chance any big batch cultivation. It’s important to see that the fungus is happy and can thrive in the conditions unique to your space.
  • Aim for an initial 6.0 pH level in your liquid culture. (4)
  • Download our free e-book to get more information on how to cultivate! Learn more about how to make agar, petri to petri transfers, and so much more at : https://www.mushroom-revival.com/mycoremediation-handbook-e-book/
  • Consume the mushroom you are growing! This is the definition of symbiosis. You nourish them, and they nourish you. Many cultivators believe fungi are sentient and that they should be treated more like a pet.  Be kind to them!

Try growing these wacky mushrooms yourself, or let us at Mushroom Revival do all the work and still reap the benefits! We meticulously and lovingly cultivate our mushrooms as best as we can and are constantly looking for ways to optimize our processes. Try our potent, high vibration tinctures or dry mushrooms today!

Sources for This Article:

  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11557-012-0825-y
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304423814003227
  3. https://biotaxa.org/Phytotaxa/article/view/phytotaxa.268.2.4/21870
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1046/j.1472-765X.2001.00950.x
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