In China, the mushroom known as Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has been called “God’s Herb” for over 2000 years. Also recognized by its Chinese name, Ling Zhi, Reishi’s reputation moved Chinese Emperors throughout the various Dynasties to order servants to search for wild Reishi mushrooms. Found atop distant mountains, it was believed that the consumption of Reishi would grant them eternal youth and enhanced health. Because of the mushroom’s remote habitat and the scarcity of high-quality specimens, the use of Reishi for health purposes was reserved solely for the Imperial family. It was not until the late 20th century, through diligent cultivation by the Japanese, that this oncerare plant was made widely available to the general public.
The original textbook of Oriental science, “Herbal Pharmacopoeia”, was compiled by Shen Nong (Han Dynasty, 206 BC ~ 8 AD). In it, the legendary herbalist-emperor documented 365 species of plants and classified them into three categories: superior, average and fair. These classifications were based on two main criteria: their benefits, based on consumption on a continual basis, and side effects.
For those plants graded as “superior”, they had to have the power to harmonize the functions of the body, mind and spirit. In addition, they had to have little or no long-term side effects. Among the specimens in this class, Reishi was ranked the highest, even surpassing that of the well-known ginseng.
Over the ages, Reishi has become ingrained in Oriental art and culture because of its prestigious status in traditional Chinese herbalism. Since the first Chinese dynasty, paintings, embroideries, buildings and sculptures of the gods and immortals have depicted Reishi as a symbol of divinity, longevity and good fortune. Depictions of Reishi are displayed throughout the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing as a testimony to its value. The mushroom’s distinctive shape was also a favourite ornamental design feature used by Emperors and the nobility.