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September 22, 2009

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Mushroom of the immortals

THE fabled fungus among us and the magic mushroom is lingzhi bracket fungus that grows on rotting trees and is said to give health, vigor and longevity. Zhang Qian bites.

Chinese sages and the goddess Guanyin are sometimes pictured holding the auspicious lingzhi mushroom, sometimes called the "mushroom of immortality" or xian cao (fairy grass).

Lingzhi literally means "herb of spiritual potency" and in traditional Chinese medicine it is as famous as ginseng and considered one of the great tonics and energy-boosters.

In the "Legend of Madame White Snake," the benevolent serpent sorceress uses lingzhi to resurrect her husband who died of fright when he saw her as a big white snake in their bed.

This mushroom, a tough leathery bracket or shelf fungus, is ganoderma lucidum, known as reishi in Japan, and is venerated in Asia for its immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and general health-conferring properties.

As it often grows on dead and rotting trees, it is said to be an herb of immortality. Some can grow for hundreds of years. It comes in beautiful colors - yellow, orange, red, purple, green, white.

Like any good Asian tonic, it's said to be an aphrodisiac.

Many of benefits are confirmed by Western medicine.

Lingzhi's anti-inflammatory properties are significant because many age-related ailments are linked to persistent and excessive inflammation.

Lingzhi reinforces and nourishes energy; it helps treat heart conditions and lower cholesterol. Some tests show tumor-fighting properties in some cancers and it is used in some cancer treatments.

The fungus is widely sold in traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies in many forms. But the most precious, and beyond the reach of most mere mortals, is the big dark brown hunk of lingzhi (some larger than a hand) that is cushioned on satin and protected in a glass-covered case.

A very large, old, perfectly formed wild lingzhi of a prized species can cost thousands of dollars.

It is too woody to be eaten, so it must be chopped and boiled, often made into tea, soup or wine.

Lingzhi is a flat polypore mushroom often growing as "shelves" on trees and rotting logs. It's soft when young, but hardens with age. The flat cap is kidney-shaped and can be brown or colorful.

It does not release spores through its underside but retains them in tubes.

Lingzhi grows in tropical and semi-tropical zones around the world. In China, it mostly grows in the southeast.

Whole wild lingzhi is highly prized, especially in old forests, and is said to be better medicine because it grows longer and absorbs more nutrients. But commercially grown lingzhi is widely available, effective and relatively inexpensive. It may be sold in chips, "Paobi Baozi Fen (Ganoderma Lucidum Spore Powder).

It costs around five yuan (73 US cents) per gram, or 150 yuan per kilogram.

It is less expensive than aweto/cordyceps and bird's nest.

According to "Ben Cao Gang Mu" ("Compendium of Materia Medica) in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), lingzhi are classified into six categories according to shapes and colors, each said to nourish a different part of the body.

Red is for heart, purple for joints, green for liver, white for lungs, yellow for spleen and black for kidneys (kidneys refers to the reproductive system in TCM).

Lingzhi is a "neutral" herb that travels through heart, lung, liver and kidney meridians to work. "Shen Nong Bencao Jing" ("Shen Nong's Herbal Classic") in the late East Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) first described it as "an innocuous herb that won't do harm even if eaten often and long; instead, it will help reinforce energy, prolong life and delay signs of aging."

Lingzhi can be used for many ailments since it works through so many body meridians. It can reinforce all organs, boost and balance energy.

It has been used to treat fatigue, coughing, shortness of breath, insomnia, indigestion and other ailments.

Inflammation and poor immunity contribute to cancer and lingzhi is used to treat both. Pobi Baozi Fen is popular for cancer patients.

Many HIV/AIDS patients use it as well.

The most commonly available lingzhi are red and purple species, which are commercially raised.

There's a debate over whether natural wild lingzhi or the commercially grown fungus is superior. Wild has a romantic, metaphysical appeal and grows longer but may not necessarily be better, despite some shortcomings in mass production.

Those who support commercially grown lingzhi say only the best and most efficacious species are selected. In addition the spore powder, which is scattered in nature, is collected in a controlled environment.

Both are excellent. On wild and commercial

Commercially grown lingzhi is uniform in size, shape and color. Wild lingzhi is irregular in shape and color. Grass and soil can be found on wild fungus.

Lingzhi has no smell but tastes bitter; an odor means another herb may have been added, usually to a commercial preparation.

Most wild lingzhi is sold complete, rather than in pieces.

Lingzhi tea

Pour boiling water on 10-15g chips. Steep. Drink often. The chips can be reused about four times.

Lingzhi soup

Use 10-15g chips and prepare soup by simmering. Several pots of soup can be made form the same chips. Save. Drink often.

Lingzhi wine

Combine 10-15g chips with white distilled spirit. Bottle and seal. When it turns dark red after three days, add honey or rock sugar to sweeten. Drink 30ml before bed.


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