Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers thousands of years of observation, development, trials, and growth as a complete medical system, with the earliest known written record, the Huangdi Neijing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic), dating from the 3rd Century BCE.
Called the “herb of the immortals,” reishi was reportedly used by the ancients to help them meditate and achieve higher states of mind as well as lengthen their lifespans.
Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing
The first mention of reishi mushrooms was in the herbal pharmacopoeia text, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic). The text is thought to be a compilation of oral traditions for herbal remedies compiled by legendary herbalist-emperor Shen Nong (Han Dynasty, 206 BCE ~ 8 CE). The original text contained 365 entries of herbs and their medicinal benefits, divided into three cateogries: superior, middle, and inferior.
Superior herbs were those said to “nourish life and correspond to heaven.” They ranked as superior if they were nontoxic—allowing for use in large amounts for a long time without harm—and if they could “make one’s body light, boost the Qi, and bestow longevity.”
Six Types of Reishi
The first six herbs listed in this superior category are various types of reishi mushroom and there are six colours of this mushroom: green, red, yellow, white, black, and purple.
While all the reishi mushrooms were called mushrooms of immortality and were reported to “make the body light” and prevent senility, the first five of these colours relate the Chinese medicine elements of Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood, so had different uses.
Ben Cao Gang Mu
In the “Compendium of Materia Medica” (Ben Cao Gang Mu), which contains hundreds of natural medicines the Chinese have used for thousands of years, celebrated physician and naturalist Li Shi Zhen (1518~1593) described the benefits of reishi:
It benefits 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, agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies.
Current Chinese Herbal Classification
Though Chinese herbs can have a broad range of health effects, they are classified in an herbal category that identifies one of their main health benefits. Herbs are also identified as having a flavour(s), temperature, and affinity to enter specific meridians or organs.
Ling zhi, red reishi, is classified as “substances that calm the Spirit.” It is sweet and slightly bitter, neutral to slightly warm, and enters the Heart, Liver, Lungs, Kidney, Spleen, and Pericardium meridians. Its recommended dosage is 3-15g daily.
Its actions and indications are:
- Tonify the Heart Qi, nourish the Heart Blood, and calm the Spirit to treat insomnia, palpitations, forgetfulness, and fright
- Tonify the Lung Qi, transform Phlegm, and stop cough and wheezing
- Tonify the Qi and nourish the Blood to treat shortness of breath, poor appetite, cold extremities, dry mouth, and irritability
- Strengthen the Middle Jiao
- Tonify Jing
Some sources also say that it can improve vision and intelligence, inhibit tumour growth, and detoxify and remove accumulations.
It is said to be incompatible with the herbs chang shan (radix Dichroae) and ying chen hao (herba Artemisiae scopariae).