Introduction

Mushrooms are considered a special kind of food, items of ''food delicacy'' because of their characteristic texture and flavor. However, it was not until the 1900s, when antibiotics were obtained from the mold Pénicillium, that the potential medicinal value of fungi attracted worldwide attention. The chemical, biological, and biochemical properties of mushroom fruiting bodies are numerous, and higher Basidiomycetes mushrooms have been used in folk medicine throughout the world since ancient times (1-5).

Ganoderma lucidum, an Oriental fungus, has been widely used for promoting health and longevity in China, Japan, and other Asian countries (6-11). In China, G. lucidum is called ''Lingzhi,'' while in Japan the name for the Ganoderma family is ''Reishi'' or ''Mannentake.'' In Chinese, the name Lingzhi represents a combination of spiritual potency and essence of immortality. Thus, it is regarded as the ''herb of spiritual potency'' (9-10,12). G. lucidum is a large, dark mushroom with a glossy exterior, and its texture is similar to that of wood (Fig. 1). The Latin word '' lucidus'' means'' shiny'' or ''brilliant'' and refers to the varnished appearance of the surface of the mushroom. Among cultivated mushrooms, G. lucidum is unique in that the pharmaceutical rather than the nutritional value is paramount. A variety of commercial G. lucidum products are available in various forms, such as powders, dietary supplements, and tea, and these are produced from different parts of the mushroom, including mycelia, fruit bodies, and spores (10,13). The ''love affair'' of Asian people with the Lingzhi mushroom can be traced back several thousand years. More recent reports on its usage, mostly from Asia but also from North America and Europe, give credibility to some of the ancient claims of its biomedical benefits. G. lucidum is reputed to extend life

Figure 1 The Lingzhi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum). (Courtesy of North American Reishi/Nammex.)

span and to restore youthful vigour and vitality. Specific biomedical applications and reported effects include control of hypertension, lowering of blood lipids, modulation of the immune system, and bacteriostasis (79,11,12). However, the beliefs regarding the health benefits of G. lucidum are based largely on anecdotal evidence, traditional use, and cultural mores. Most of the published reports on this mushroom are in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese and, as such, data are not readily accessible to non-Asian researchers. Furthermore, it should be noted that, in traditional Oriental medicine, the approach is holistic. Treatment is often a combination of herbs, and is aimed at the person rather than the disease. This is quite different from the reductionist perspective of Western medicine in which purified, active pharmacological agents are prescribed, each targeted toward the causes or manifestations of a specific disease. It is not easy to reconcile these very different approaches in terms of symptoms, signs, and treatment strategies. However, the desired outcome of each is the restoration and maintenance of human health, and the promotion of functional longevity. The long history and well-regarded reputation of Chinese medicines, such as G. lucidum, demand the respect and attention of Western scientists. The aim of this review, therefore, is to present the current evidence regarding the health effects of G. lucidum (Lingzhi, Reishi), and to provide an objective and scientific view of the health claims and research needs in relation to this popular Chinese herb.

Herbal Healing For Everyone

Herbal Healing For Everyone

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