Talk with any mycologist these days—really, anyone who’s obsessed with fungi—and it won’t take long to arrive at the subject of the zombie apocalypse. 

You can thank The Last of Us for that. In the hit HBO show, a zombie fungus based on Cordyceps infects the majority of the human race, and chaos ensues. The premise takes inspiration from the very real-life effects of entomopathogenic fungi, like Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, which corkscrews parasitic threads into an ant’s brain, hijacking and puppeting its body until it reaches the perfect spot (maybe you saw this harrowing moment on the BBC’s Planet Earth) to spew spores into the wind. 

Obviously, fungi can be terrifying. They are the gods of the underground, responsible for one of the largest living organisms on the planet; they can be honeycombed or fantastically red and spotted; and they are often stupefyingly good when bathed in butter and garlic. Their spores are in every square inch of air we breathe. But can a global infection happen, like the HBO show portrays? It depends on who you ask.

Jordan Jent, head mushroom farmer of the Dallas–Fort Worth area’s Texas Fungus wholesaler, has a totally not-disturbing take on whether a Cordyceps-born pandemic could occur.

“In my opinion, yes,” he says. “Not right now. Give it ten, twenty years and it could be.” Jent’s studies of the mushroom kingdom have made him a believer in “mycelium intelligence,” the consciouslike communication between fungi and the neighboring environment. Cordyceps, as he tells it, has figured out where, how high, and what direction is best to harness the wind to carry its spores. As the earth warms, Cordyceps will thrive (most fungi fruit in the balmy range of 60 to 80 degrees). According to a recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report, studies have found that certain fungi responded to heat stress with adaptive measures. The report predicts a global increase in fungal infections as the earth heats up. For Jent, evolving mycelial intelligence plus a hotter climate could equal a very moldy apocalypse.

Still, right now, it’s perfectly fine to consume certain varieties of the parasitic Cordyceps. The species Cordyceps militaris (as opposed to the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a.k.a. the inspiration for the The Last of Us fungus) is actually great when plinked with an eyedropper into a cup of coffee. A couple of milliliters a few times a week has been said to energize the mind and, occasionally, invigorate the libido. 

“I guess I do get high on my supply,” Jent says, laughing. He replaces his caffeine a few times a week with a dose of Cordyceps he grows himself. He’s spawned militaris in his own tiny mushroom kingdom—a balmy trailer in Arlington. When the Cordyceps stems look like long, wild-grown Cheetos and the hot orange, noodle-y bodies are preparing to release spores, Jent dries them or extracts the essentials (using hot water and alcohol) for a rich, amber-gold liquid for tinctures. 

If you’re thinking, “Why in the name of dung truffles would I drip parasitic-fungus extract into my water?” Angel Schatz, a coleader of the Central Texas Mycological Society, has comforting news for you. Fungal spores have already spread everywhere. “There’s a certain measurable amount already in our food,” she says. “People don’t like to hear that, but, yep, it’s in there.” Schatz likes to dab on Cordyceps before going on high-altitude climbs. Some research says it stimulates mitochondrial ATP generation, which has beneficial effects on the body.

Here’s the good news: the zombie fungus, in its current state, poses no threat to humans. Unless you’re Ant-Man, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis requires a specific host: a specific insect from a specific genus. João Araújo, the assistant curator of mycology at the New York Botanical Garden’s Institute of Systematic Botany, says, “If the fungus really wanted to infect mammals, it would require millions of years of genetic changes.”

The medicinal effects of Cordyceps have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The “most valuable parasite in the world,” Ophiocordyceps sinensis, has been cultivated from the mountains between Tibet and Bhutan for hundreds of years. Today it’s known as “Himalayan Viagra” and can sell for tens of thousands dollars a pound. 

Schatz has spotted Cordyceps tenuipes, which can infect butterflies and moths, sprouting like snow-white rock candy in Central Texas. But you do not need to forage for Cordyceps specimens—they can come straight to you! After mixing Texas Fungus’s Cordyceps militaris powder into my morning coffee, I can report my energy reached a level akin to Tom Cruise’s during his bombing-run scene in Top Gun: Maverick. I felt less jittery and less breathless than I do when I drink espresso. The flavor is far more interesting than that of coffee—washes of browned butter and something like rained-on moss. 

So, where in Texas can you find the good stuff? The blazing Cordyceps that’ll fire up your nervous system without turning you into an extra for a horror movie? At health stores, you’ll find cheaper Cordyceps capsules with filler (usually rice). But these spots offer the real juice: the uncut Cordyceps. One even throws some ants into the bag as a crunchy snack.

Texas Fungus

Jent’s Cordyceps militaris can get shipped right to your door as a tincture or a bouquet of parasitic mushrooms. The whole mushrooms are more expensive ($400 per pound). If you want to chat up Jent in person, Texas Fungus has stands at Dallas-area farmers markets. 3201 E. Pioneer Parkway, Suite 9, Arlington

Hi-Fi Mycology

Packages of dried Cordyceps and bespoke tinctures are available on Hi-Fi’s website and via programs like Farmhouse Delivery and Farm to Table Texas. Hi-Fi Mycology fans can also buy in person from various markets in Austin and San Antonio. 9702 Gray Boulevard, Austin

Texas Mushroom Monks

Neat packages of snackable, culinary-grade ants—just for a bit of extra crunch—are bundled with a tangle of in-house Cordyceps, for delivery or pickup. The Monks also sell their stuff at markets in San Antonio (check the website for specifics). 

Vision Adaptogenic Coffee + Tea 

A cup of joe spiked with a umami-packed blend of mushrooms, including Cordyceps, is the whole deal at this Austin-area shop. The custom blend is jarred and available to purchase online, and it uses lion’s mane mushrooms, chaga, Cordyceps, and ashwagandha. The Cordyceps will light up your brain like the Griswolds’ house in Christmas Vacation7601 S. Congress Avenue, Suite 500, Austin

Nourish Juice Bar + Kalós Coffee Co.

Avocado toast is still with us, and you can down an order alongside a cold brew that’s been lightning-struck with Cordyceps at this cafe. The fungus is also available as an add-on to your cold-pressed juice for a buck fifty. 2155 Durham Drive, Suite 101, Houston; 1000 W. Gray, Suite 200, Houston