More than just an exotic-sounding word on a Chinese menu, this medicinal mushroom has been heralded for centuries as a longevity tonic and immune-system booster.
The mushroom Ganoderma lucidum, commonly known as reishi or ling-zhi (spirit plant), has been a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. In ancient China ganoderma was so rare and highly prized, it was known as the ‘Elixir of Life’ and reserved for the emperor’s use. Amazingly, the oldest known Chinese medical text Shinnoh Honsohkyo lists 365 kinds
of medicines classified as superior, average or fair, and of the superior medicines, ganoderma was rated as number one. Today, mass production methods mean it is available to everyone.
In ancient China, ganoderma was used to help people by strengthening and calming the nerves, improving memory and preventing or delaying senility. We now know it is an adaptogen, or natural regulator, which can suppress the immune system if it is overactive, or more importantly, boost it if it is underactive.
According to Paul Keogh, medical herbalist, naturopath and researcher for the Australian Institute of Medical Herbalism, the main therapeutic use for ganoderma is to enhance the immune function of people with conditions such as fatigue, post-viral problems and even for the lingering effects of colds and influenza.
Sourcing the product
Ganoderma mushrooms grow on logs or tree stumps and have six different cap colours: red, green, white, black, yellow, and purple. While some herbalists claim that certain colours are more potent and effective than others, the colours are apparently the same species grown in different environmental conditions.
You won’t find ganoderma in the fruit and vegetable sections of shops as it is strictly a medicinal mushroom, not a culinary one; it is very hard and woody and has a bitter taste. If you see it in its natural form overseas, don’t try and bring it back to Australia. The fungus ganoderma is prohibited in Australia because it attacks trees by rotting the roots, tree and fruit and could therefore potentially kill our native forests.
Paul Keogh says that when sourcing ganoderma products in Australia it is important to look at the quality and, in his experience, products that are produced and tested in Australia are best. “This is because Australian testing requirements and protocols are the most stringent in the world,” he explains. “I’d also advise people to talk to a practitioner or one of the qualified herbalists who often work in chemists before taking ganoderma.”
Australian Ganoderma mushroom extracts are available in capsule form at selected health stores.