For a long time I had come across material referencing multiple kinds of Reishi (Lingzhi in Mandarin). A whole rainbow of colors were spoken about yet none of the more exotic varieties had surfaced. So, deciding to dig deep into this subject so that I could get some real evidence for what is a true Ganoderma and what is not, the following is in part the result of the research.
In “The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica”(also known as the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing), appears the earliest known reference to Reishi mushroom. Within its pages, six different varieties of fungi are enumerated. These are in order, green, red, yellow, white, black and purple.
These varieties are interesting in that they correspond to the five phase elemental system (the basis of Chinese Medicine). The translator notes that the purple variety of Reishi is not a “traditional” inclusion in the 5 elemental system, however with the understanding that some of the colors and their correspondances are subject to a bit of interpretation, we need not assume that this entry was added later (as the translator suspects). On the contrary, the way that purple Reishi effects the body is in concordance with it being in a same or similar class as that of the black reishi, that it has action upon the Kidney system.
Of all these varieties, the most highly esteemed is that of the red Reishi. The reason for this is the color red has the correspondence to the Heart system. The Heart is considered to be the most important organ in the body, as it is the governer of all the other organs and bowels. The Heart also governs the Blood and blood vessels, provides residence for the Shen (Spirit), and controls perspiration. Being the “leader” of all the other organs, the importance of protecting, nourishing and strengthening the heart should never be underestimated and this is one of the greatest pieces of knowledge in the wide variety of Daoist health enhancing practices, that when the Heart is calm and relaxed so is the mind. When the mind is still then the qi can flow freely throughout the body and help to extend the vitality and awareness that make life worth living.
With all this in mind, you can imagine how important the red Reishi mushroom was to the ancient Chinese people. So important in fact, that wtihin the same book, Shen Nong goes on to say about red Reishi (amongst many other superior class herbs), that it “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.”
This last piece of information is given to only those medicinals who belong to the Superior Class of herbs (at least the ones known at that time to the ancient Chinese). The idea of “making the body light” may refer to the Jing, Qi, and Shen generated as a product of taking Reishi. This would make sense as most of the medicinals discussed in the book in the superior class either indirectly or directly improve all three of these energies (quantity and/or quality) and their circulation.
The experience that is simply referred to as a “flow state”, where synchronicity happens easily and effortlessly, is greatly enhanced by the consumption of high quality reishi mushroom by not only affecting the physical structure of the body and enhancing its immune system but by the increased efficiency of cellular metabolism, the introduction of unique and powerful compounds that directly work on the development of a higher state of awareness and a profound deep energy that nourishes your experience of reality.
While many will read this and immediately understand the benefits of reishi mushroom from historical anecdote, there is a modern side to understanding how this knowledge has been validated by scientific research. I will go into more detail on these analogous findings in future articles, so stay tuned.
The historical anecdotes have been juxtaposed with more recent scientific inquiry and biological classification systems to help us understand what is considered “real” Ganoderma species from others. In the book “Lingzhi: From Mystery to Science” by Zhi-Bin Lin, is a section which discusses the same passage I have outlined above. In this, the author refers to the work of a prominent Chinese mycologist, Zhao Ji-Ding. He found that the 6 “zhi” (simply, fugus or mushroom) referred to in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing were broken down as follows:
The Red Zhi is the definite article of Red Reishi or Lingzhi (literally: Spiritual Mushroom). This is the fungi that has been used for most of the Chinese medical uses and has such largely reputed effects. There are two recognized varieties of Red Reishi, Ganoderma Lucidum and Ganoderma Tsugae. The former (Ganoderma Lucidum) is the most widly recognized for its health and healing benefits. It is listed in the Pharmacopoeia of the Peoples Republic of China, one of the greatest distinctions that can be made for any medicinal substance.
Ganoderma Tsugae is also recognized as being of great medicinal value and is commonly included in many kinds of health supplements and foods. One distinction is that it may be more specific to certain kinds of diseases, rather than a whole body health tonic (as Ganoderma Lucidum is). The main difference between Ganoderma Lucidum and Ganoderma Tsugae is the trees they grow on, the former growing primarily on maple or oak and the latter grows primarily on hemlock, spruce and pine.
The Green / Blue Zhi is most likely Coriolus Versicolor. This is not a member of the Ganoderma genus (and therefore could not be legitimately called a variety of Reishi) but seems to resemble the anceint descriptions that Ko Hung had put forth (“it is green like the feathers of a peacock”).
The Yellow Zhi has been speculated to be again based upon Ko Hung’s interpretation in the Bao Pu Zi. In modern terms this shelf fungus is most likely Laetiporus Sulphureus, or “Chicken Mushroom”. This fungus is not a part of the Ganoderma family but nevertheless exhibits certain hemolytic properties that may be helpful in sugar metabolism diseases. This mushroom, when prepared in its younger stages of growth, is edible and resembles the flesh of chicken, making it a great meat substitute.
The White Zhi is called “white as fat” by Ko Hung and has gone through a taxonomical change in recent years. Paul Stamets has been largely responsible for the more contemporary attention paid to this mushroom as it is being used in a pivotal role to keep the American northwest forests untouched, due to the rarity of this fungus. Once called Fomitopsis Officinalis, the Laricifomes Officinalis (also colloquially known as “Agarikon”) is now starting to become more widely known for its medicinal properties.
The Black Zhi is similar to Ganoderma Lucidum as it shares a laquered varnish look to the top of the mushroom. This has created some confusion as to the actual identitication with a modern classification system however and several possibilities exist for the modern analog. Both Amauroderma Rugosum and Polyporus Melanopus are possibilities, though neither seems to be well known for their medicinal properties.
The Purple Zhi is most likely Ganoderma Sinense. This is the only other recognized major medicinal variety of the Ganoderma species and is (like Red Lingzhi / Reishi) included in the Pharmacopoeia of the Peoples Republic of China. Ganoderma Sinense is also a wonderful medicine and is commonly used as a substitute for real Red Ganoderma Lucidum. According to the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica, this mushroom has a restorative property to the Kidney system, supplements the ears and hearing, relaxes the joints, boosts jing (essence), fortifies the bones and sinews and keeps the complexion young.
The two main forms of reishi to be aware of for the purposes of longevity are red and purple reishi, the former being the most potent and ubiquitous in its application. The latter is also incredibly helpful in building and replenishing lost or spent jing energy (the formative and creative essences) and should be included in a program to develop the structure of the body and sexual energies.
Always be sure that whenever you are purchasing a reishi mushroom product that you are getting the right kind and that it has all the qualities that are specific to your own body’s needs.
To your health!