Lingzhi Mushroom - Ganoderma lucidum
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Língzhī (traditional Chinese: 靈芝; simplified Chinese: 灵芝; Japanese: reishi; Korean: yeongji, hangul: 영지) is the name for one form of the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum, and its close relative Ganoderma tsugae. Ganoderma lucidum enjoys special veneration in Asia, where it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used in medicine.
The word lingzhi, in Chinese, means "herb of spiritual potency" and has also been described as "mushroom of immortality". Because of its presumed health benefits and apparent absence of side-effects, it has attained a reputation in the East as the ultimate herbal substance. Lingzhi is listed in the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and Therapeutic Compendium.
Taxonomy and naming
The name Ganoderma is derived from the Greek ganos/γανος "brightness, sheen", hence "shining" and derma/δερμα "skin", while the specific epithet lucidum in Latin for "shining" and tsugae refers to being of the Hemlock (Tsuga). Another Japanese name is mannentake (万年茸), meaning "10,000 year mushroom".
There are multiple species of lingzhi, scientifically known to be within the Ganoderma lucidum species complex and mycologists are still researching the differences between species within this complex of species.
Lingzhi is a polypore mushroom that is soft (when fresh), corky, and flat, with a conspicuous red-varnished, kidney-shaped cap and, depending on specimen age, white to dull brown pores underneath. It lacks gills on its underside and releases its spores through fine pores, leading to its morphological classification as a polypore.
Ganoderma lucidum generally occurs in two growth forms, one, found in North America, is sessile and rather large with only a small or no stalk, while the other is smaller and has a long, narrow stalk, and is found mainly in the tropics. However, many growth forms exist that are intermediate to the two types, or even exhibit very unusual morphologies, raising the possibility that they are separate species. Environmental conditions also play a substantial role in the different morphological characteristics lingzhi can exhibit. For example, elevated carbon dioxide levels result in stem elongation in lingzhi. Other forms show "antlers', without a cap and these may be affected by carbon dioxide levels as well.
According to The Chinese Herbal Materia Medica (本草綱目), lingzhi may be classified into six categories according to their shapes and colors, each of which is believed to nourish a different part of the body. (Red-heart, Purple-joints, Green-liver, White-lungs/skin, Yellow-spleen, Black-kidneys/brain).
Ganoderma lucidum, and its close relative Ganoderma tsugae, grow in the northern Eastern Hemlock forests. These two species of bracket fungus have a worldwide distribution in both tropical and temperate geographical regions, including North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia, growing as a parasite or saprotroph on a wide variety of trees. Similar species of Ganoderma have been found growing in the Amazon. In nature, Lingzhi grows at the base and stumps of deciduous trees, especially maple. Only two or three out of 10,000 such aged trees will have Lingzhi growth, and therefore its wild form is generally rare. Today, Lingzhi is effectively cultivated both indoors under sterile conditions and outdoors on either logs or woodchip beds.
Shen Nong's Herbal Classic, a 2000-year old medicinal Chinese text  states "The taste is bitter, its energy neutral, it has no toxicity. It cures the accumulation of pathogenic factors in the chest. It is good for the Qi of the head, including mental activities... Long term consumption will lighten the body; you will never become old. It lengthens years."
Pen-ts'ao Kang-mu ("Great Pharmacopoeia"), a Chinese medical book published in the 16th century, also shows a possible link between modern research and folk knowledge when describing the Reishi mushroom: "It positively affects the Qi of the heart, repairing the chest area and benefiting those with a knotted and tight chest. Taken over a long period of time agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened..."
Depictions of the Reishi mushroom as a symbol for health, are shown in many places of the Emperors residences in the Forbidden City as well as the Summer Palace. The Chinese goddess of healing Kuan Yin is sometimes depicted holding a Reishi mushroom.
Lingzhi research and therapeutic usage
Lingzhi may possess anti-tumor, immunomodulatory and immunotherapeutic activities, supported by studies on polysaccharides, terpenes, and other bioactive compounds isolated from fruiting bodies and mycelia of this fungus (reviewed by R. R. Paterson and Lindequist et al.). It has also been found to inhibit platelet aggregation, and to lower blood pressure (via inhibition of angiotensin-converting enzyme), cholesterol and blood sugar.
Laboratory studies have shown anti-neoplastic effects of fungal extracts or isolated compounds against some types of cancer. In an animal model, Ganoderma has been reported to prevent cancer metastasis, with potency comparable to Lentinan from Shiitake mushrooms.
The mechanisms by which G. lucidum may affect cancer are unknown and they may target different stages of cancer development: inhibition of angiogenesis (formation of new, tumor-induced blood vessels, created to supply nutrients to the tumor) mediated by cytokines, cytoxicity, inhibiting migration of the cancer cells and metastasis, and inducing and enhancing apoptosis of tumor cells.
Additional studies indicate that ganoderic acid has some protective effects against liver injury by viruses and other toxic agents in mice, suggesting a potential benefit of this compound in the treatment of liver diseases in humans, and Ganderma-produced sterols inhibit lanosterol 14α-demethylase activity in the biosynthesis of cholesterol . Ganderma compounds inhibit 5-alpha reductase activity in the biosynthesis of dihydrotestosterone.
Besides effects on mammalian physiology, Ganoderma is reported to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral activities. Ganoderma is reported to exhibit direct anti-viral with the following viruses; HSV-1, HSV-2, influenza virus, vesicular stomatitis. Ganoderma mushrooms are reported to exhibit direct anti-microbial properties with the following organisms; aspergillus niger, bacillus cereus, candida albicans, and escherichia coli.
As weight loss aid
Some oriental preparations containing Lingzhi extract are marketed as a weight loss aid. They are advertised as a "slimming formula" in Japanese markets and Lingzi is combined with other herbal extracts. Research is scarce to show the validity of these claims in terms of Lingzhi as a weight loss aid.
Due to its bitter taste, Lingzhi is traditionally prepared as a hot water extract. Thinly sliced or pulverized lingzhi (either fresh or dried) is added to a pot of boiling water, the water is then brought to a simmer, and the pot is covered; the lingzhi is then simmered for two hours. The resulting liquid should be fairly bitter in taste, with the more active red lingzhi more bitter than the black. The process may be repeated. Alternatively, it can be used as an ingredient in a formula decoction or used to make an extract (in liquid, capsule, or powder form). The more active red forms of lingzhi are far too bitter to be consumed in a soup.
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