The Lingzhi/Reishi Mushroom (Lingshi, Língzhī, Young-Ji, 灵芝, 영지, Ganoderma Lucidum)
Lingzhi is a word derived from the Chinese language meaning ‘herb of spiritual potency’. The mushroom is also known as Reishi in Japanese and Linh chi in Vietnamese. In Korean, Lingzhi is known as YeongJi. In English however, Lingzhi also passes for Ling Chih or Ling Chi. In Vietnamese the name means ‘Supernatural mushroom’ when translated directly.
In classic Chinese texts, Lingzhi is mentioned about 100 times which shows just how important the mushroom was to the people from the East. A good example is in Hanshu ‘Book of Han’, where it is referred to as “Mushroom of Immortality; elixir of life”.
This mushroom was extensively used in Eastern Asia where its medicinal value was acknowledged for over 2000 years.
The mushroom exists in different species, most of which carry healing properties. These healing properties have become famous far and wide and Reishi is even lauded in the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium as well as in other literature.
How does Reishi look like?
When fresh, the Reishi mushroom is soft. It is a polypore mushroom and it has no gills on the underside of the cap. It has a kidney shaped cap that has a distinct red varnish. It is classified as a polypore for it releases its spores through some fine pores. According to Lininger SW, Wright JV, et al, eds. The Natural Pharmacy . Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing; 1998:303-304, the Lingzhi varieties, however, have different colours, going to about 6, and each is thought to have different characteristics. They are known as Akashiba (red reishi), Kuroshiba (black reishi), Aoshiba (blue reishi), Kishiba (yellow reishi), Shiroshiba (white reishi), and Murasakishiba (purple reishi).
The "Divine Farmer's Classic of Pharmaceutics" classifies the mushroom into 6 categories too, each supporting human life in its unique way. The red mushroom takes care of the heart as the green mushroom ensures the liver is fit. The yellow is in-charge of the spleen while the white mushroom in in-charge of the lungs. While the black mushroom handles the kidney, the purple mushroom gives essence. The Chinese hold the Reishi mushroom in such high esteem that sometimes they depict Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of healing as a Reishi mushroom.
Where is the Reishi mushroom found?
The Reishi mushroom can withstand varied climates and therefore grows in temperate as well as tropical regions. It has two major varieties and one of them is found in the US while the other is found in the tropics. Some are however found in the Amazon. The other varieties fall in between in their morphological structure. The US variety is large with a short stalk or none at all. The one in the tropics is small and has a long and thin stalk. Environmental conditions can, however, affect their exact look. For instance, an area with excessive carbon dioxide will produce Reishi with elongated stalks. The colour shades also vary amongst the different varieties but the red Reishi is the most popular.
Availability of Reishi
Reishi is found in areas with deciduous trees, where the mushroom grows at the base of the trees and on their stumps. Even then, this species is rare to find. For instance, in a sample of 10 000 old deciduous trees, only 2 or 3 will have Reishi. The availability of Reishi, therefore, can only depend on agriculture. Due to the therapeutic value of the Reishi mushroom, farmers have embarked on organised farming of the mushroom. Some farmers grow it indoors in a sterilised environment while others grow it in the open on woodchip beds or logs.
Therapeutic Benefits of Reishi
Scientific studies have shown that the Reishi mushroom has properties that contribute to the healing of tumours, lowering of blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Laboratory tests have confirmed that the mushroom has extracts that fight some kinds of cancer. These cancers include epithelial ovarian cancer. When tested on an animal, Reishi was found to work just like the Shiitake mushroom in preventing cancer metastasis.
The stage when Reishi mushroom fights cancer best is yet to be specified. It is established though, that it may inhibit fresh formation of tumour induced blood capillaries or veins. This has the impact of cutting food supply to the tumour and curtailing perpetual growth. It may also inhibit movement of cancer cells within the body. It has the potential also to hinder the cancer cells’ ability to multiply. Currently, extracts from the Reishi mushroom are in use commercially in pharmaceuticals. The medication made and sold in these pharmaceuticals is geared towards suppressing the proliferation and spread of cancer cells. MC-S is one such pharmaceutical company.
In addition to fighting cancer, Reishi is also considered important in reversion of viral activity, regulating cardiovascular activity, fighting against chronic fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, and helping diabetes patients. These areas, however, have limited clinical tests to support them.