(Curtis) P. Karst (1881)
|pores on hymenium|
cap is offsetor indistinct
|hymenium attachment is irregular or not applicable|
stipe is bareor lacks a stipe
|spore print is brown|
ecology is saprotrophicor parasitic
|Literal meaning||spirit mushroom|
|Literal meaning||spirit mushroom|
|Literal meaning||spirit mushroom|
The lingzhi mushroom is a species complex that encompasses several fungal species of the genus Ganoderma. The most common and closely related species are the Ganoderma lucidum, Ganoderma tsugae, and Ganoderma lingzhi. For centuries, Ganoderma lingzhi has been used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Lingzhi is a polypore mushroom. Its red-varnished, kidney-shaped cap gives it a distinct appearance. When fresh, the lingzhi is soft, cork-like, and flat. The lingzhi lacks gills on its underside, and instead releases its spores via fine pores. Depending on the age of the mushroom, the pores on its underside may be white or brown.
With the advent of genome sequencing, the genus Ganoderma has undergone taxonomic reclassification. Prior to genetic analyses of fungi, classification was done according to morphological characteristics such as size and color. The internal transcribed spacer region of the Ganoderma genome is considered to be a standard barcode marker.
It was once thought that Ganoderma lucidum generally occurs in two growth forms: a large, sessile, specimen with a small or nonexistent stalk found in North America and a smaller specimen with a long, narrow stalk found mainly in the tropics. However, recent molecular evidence has identified the first stalk-less form to be a distinct species called G. sessile, a name given to North American specimens by William Alfonso Murrill in 1902.
Environmental conditions play a substantial role in the lingzhi's manifest morphological characteristics. For example, elevated carbon dioxide levels result in stem elongation in lingzhi. Other formations include antlers without a cap which may be a result of carbon dioxide levels. The three main factors that influence fruit body development morphology are light, temperature, and humidity. While water and air quality play a role in fruit body development morphology, they do so to a lesser degree.
Ganoderma lucidum produces a group of triterpenes called ganoderic acids, which have a molecular structure similar to that of steroid hormones. It also contains other compounds often found in fungal materials, including polysaccharides (such as beta-glucan), coumarin, mannitol, and alkaloids. Sterols isolated from the mushroom include ganoderol, ganoderenic acid, ganoderiol, ganodermanontriol, lucidadiol, and ganodermadiol.
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, 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 that of the maple. Only two or three out of 10,000 such aged trees will have lingzhi growth, and therefore its wild form is extremely rare. Today, lingzhi is effectively cultivated on hardwood logs or sawdust/woodchips.
The word lingzhi 靈芝 was first recorded in a fu 賦 "rhapsody; prose-poem" by the Han dynasty polymath Zhang Heng (CE 78–139). His Xijing fu 西京賦 "Western Metropolis Rhapsody" description of Emperor Wu of Han's (104 BCE) Jianzhang Palace parallels lingzhi with shijun 石菌 "rock mushroom": "Raising huge breakers, lifting waves, That drenched the stone mushrooms on the high bank, And soaked the magic fungus on vermeil boughs." The commentary by Xue Zong (d. 237) notes these fungi were eaten as drugs of immortality.
The (ca. 1st–2nd century CE) Shennong bencao jing "Divine Farmer's Classic of Pharmaceutics" classifies zhi into six color categories, each of which is believed to benefit the qi "Life Force" in a different part of the body: qingzhi 青芝 "Green Mushroom" for Liver, chizhi 赤芝 "Red Mushroom" for heart, huangzhi 黃芝 "Yellow Mushroom" for spleen, baizhi 白芝 "White Mushroom" for Lung, heizhi "Black Mushroom" 黑芝 for kidney, and zizhi 紫芝 "Purple Mushroom" for Essence. Commentators identify this red chizhi (or danzhi 丹芝 "cinnabar mushroom") as the lingzhi.
Chi Zhi (Ganoderma rubra) is bitter and balanced. It mainly treats binding in the chest, boosts the heart qi, supplements the center, sharpens the wits, and [causes people] not to forget [i.e., improves the memory]. Protracted taking may make the body light, prevent senility, and prolong life so as to make one an immortal. Its other name is Dan Zhi (Cinnabar Ganoderma). It grows in mountains and valleys.
While Chinese texts have recorded medicinal uses of lingzhi for more than 2,000 years, a few sources erroneously claim it can be traced to more than 4,000 years ago. Modern scholarship accepts neither the historicity of Shennong "Divine Farmer" (legendary inventor of agriculture, traditionally r. 2737–2697 BCE) nor that he wrote the Shennong bencao jing.
The (1596) Bencao Gangmu ("Compendium of Materia Medica") has a zhi 芝 category that includes six types of Zhi (calling the green, red, yellow, white, black, and purple ones from the Shennong bencao jing the liuzhi 六芝 "six mushrooms") and sixteen other fungi, mushrooms, and lichens (e.g., mu'er 木耳 "wood ear" "Cloud ear fungus; Auricularia auricula-judae"). The author Li Shizhen classified these six differently colored Zhi as Xiancao 仙草 "immortality herbs", and described the effects of Chizhi "red mushroom":
It positively affects the life-energy, or Qi of the heart, repairing the chest area and benefiting those with a knotted and tight chest. Taken over a long period of time, the agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies.
Stuart and Smith's classical study of Chinese herbology describes the zhi.
芝 (Chih) is defined in the classics as the plant of immortality, and it is therefore always considered to be a felicitous one. It is said to absorb the earthy vapors and to leave a heavenly atmosphere. For this reason, it is called 靈芝 (Ling-chih.) It is large and of a branched form, and probably represents Clavaria or Sparassis. Its form is likened to that of coral.
The Bencao Gangmu does not list lingzhi as a variety of zhi, but as an alternate name for the shi'er 石耳 "stone ear" "Umbilicaria esculenta" lichen. According to Stuart and Smith,
[The 石耳 Shih-erh is] edible, and has all of the good qualities of the 芝 (Chih), it is also being used in the treatment of gravel, and said to benefit virility. It is specially used in hemorrhage from the bowels and prolapse of the rectum. While the name of this would indicate that it was one of the Auriculariales, the fact that the name 靈芝 (Ling-chih) is also given to it might place it among the Clavariaceae.
In Chinese art, the lingzhi symbolizes great health and longevity, as depicted in the imperial Forbidden City and Summer Palace. It was a talisman for luck in the traditional culture of China, and the goddess of healing Guanyin is sometimes depicted holding a reishi mushroom.
Because of its bitter taste, lingzhi is traditionally prepared as a hot water extract product. Thinly sliced or pulverized lingzhi (either fresh or dried) is added to boiling water. The is reduced to a simmer, covered, and left for 2 hours. The resulting liquid is dark and fairly bitter in taste. The red lingzhi is often more bitter than the black. The process is sometimes repeated to increase the concentration. 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.
Lingzhi is now commercially manufactured and sold. Since the early 1970s, the majority of lingzhi come from artificial cultivation. Lingzhi can grow on substrates such as sawdust, grain, and wood logs. After formation of the fruiting body, lingzhi is most commonly harvested, dried, ground, and processed into tablets or capsules to be directly ingested or turned into tea or soup. Other products of lingzhi include processed fungal mycelia or spores.
A 2015 Cochrane database review found insufficient evidence to justify the use of G. lucidum as a first-line cancer treatment. It suggests that G. lucidum may have "benefit as an alternative adjunct to conventional treatment in consideration of its potential of enhancing tumour response and stimulating host immunity." Existing studies do not support the use of G. lucidum for treatment of risk factors of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Taxonomy and Naming
The name of the lingzhi fungus has a two thousand-year-old history. The Chinese term lingzhi (靈芝) was first recorded during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 9 AD). Petter Adolf Karsten named the genus Ganoderma in 1881.
English botanist William Curtis gave the fungus its first binomial name, Boletus lucidus, in 1781.
There are multiple species of lingzhi encompassed within the Ganoderma lucidum species complex and mycologists continue researching the differences among species within this complex.
In the Chinese language, lingzhi is made up of the compounds ling 灵 "spirit, spiritual; soul; miraculous; sacred; divine; mysterious; efficacious; effective" (cf. Lingyan Temple) and zhi 芝 "(traditional) plant of longevity; fungus; seed; branch; mushroom; excrescence". Fabrizio Pregadio notes, "The term zhi, which has no equivalent in Western languages, refers to a variety of supermundane substances often described as plants, fungi, or 'excrescences'." Zhi occurs in other Chinese plant names such as zhima 芝麻 "sesame" or "seed", and was anciently used a phonetic loan character for zhi 芷 "Angelica iris". Chinese differentiates Ganoderma species between chizhi 赤芝 "red mushroom" G. lucidum and zizhi 紫芝 "purple mushroom" G. japonicum.
Lingzhi has several synonyms. Ruicao 瑞草 meaning "auspicious plant" (with rui 瑞 "auspicious; felicitous omen" and the suffix cao "plant; herb") is the oldest; the (c. 3rd century BCE) Erya dictionary defines qiu 苬 (interpreted as a miscopy of jun 菌 "mushroom") as zhi 芝 "mushroom" and the commentary of Guo Pu (276–324) says, "The [zhi] flowers three times in one year. It is a [ruicao] felicitous plant." Other Chinese names for Ganoderma include ruizhi 瑞芝 "auspicious mushroom", shenzhi 神芝 "divine mushroom" (with shen "spirit; god' supernatural; divine"), mulingzhi 木灵芝 (with "tree; wood"), xiancao 仙草 "immortality plant" (with xian "(Daoism) transcendent; immortal; wizard"), and lingzhicao 灵芝草 or zhicao 芝草 "mushroom plant".
Since both Chinese ling and zhi have multiple meanings, lingzhi has diverse English translations. Renditions include "[zhi] possessed of soul power", "Herb of Spiritual Potency" or "Mushroom of Immortality", "Numinous Mushroom", "divine mushroom", "divine fungus", "Magic Fungus", and "Marvelous Fungus".
Reishi synonyms divide between Sino-Japanese borrowings and native Japanese coinages. Sinitic loanwords include literary terms such as zuisō 瑞草 (from ruicao) "auspicious plant" and sensō 仙草 (from xiaocao) "immortality plant". A common native Japanese name is mannentake 万年茸 "10,000-year mushroom". The Japanese writing system uses shi or shiba 芝 for "grass; lawn; turf" and take or kinoko 茸 for "mushroom" (e.g., shiitake). Other Japanese terms for reishi include kadodetake 門出茸 "departure mushroom", hijiridake 聖茸 "sage mushroom", and magoshakushi 孫杓子 "grandchild ladle".
In Korean, it is called yeongji (영지; 靈芝). The word is cognate with Chinese língzhī (灵芝; 靈芝) and Japanese reishi (霊芝; れいし). It can also be called yeongjibeoseot (영지버섯, "yeongji mushroom"), bullocho (불로초; 不老草, "elixir grass"), or jicho (지초; 芝草). According to color, it can be classified as jeokji (적지; 赤芝) for red, jaji (자지; 紫芝) for purple, heukji (흑지; 黑芝) for black, cheongji (청지; 靑芝) for blue or green, baekji (백지; 白芝) for white, and hwangji (황지; 黃芝) for yellow.
The Vietnamese language linh chi is a Chinese loanword used in tiếng Việt. It is often used with the Vietnamese word for mushroom nấm (nấm Linh Chi) which is the equivalent of Ganoderma lucidum or reishi mushroom.
English lingzhi or ling chih (sometimes spelled "ling chi" from French EFEO Chinese transcription) is a Chinese loanword. The Oxford English Dictionary gives Chinese "líng divine + zhī fungus" as the origin of ling chih or lingzhi, and defines, "The fungus Ganoderma lucidum, believed in China to confer longevity and used as a symbol of this on Chinese ceramic ware." The OED notes the earliest recorded usage of the Wade–Giles romanization ling chih in 1904, and of the Pinyin lingzhi in 1980. In addition to the transliterated loanword, English names include "glossy ganoderma" and "shiny polyporus".
Thai เห็ด หลิน จือ (mushroom hlin cheu) is a Chinese loanword.
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Media related to Ganoderma lucidum at Wikimedia Commons