Lingzhi is a mushroom which has been used for medicinal purposes in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. The name lingzhi was first recorded during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 CE), and in 1881, Petter Adolf Karsten, a Finnish mycologist named the genus Ganoderma, which means shiny skin. There are about eighty different species within the genus.
In ancient times it was believed that the lingzhi could revive the dead and bestow immortality and as such, it became a very popular motif in Chinese art. The Daoist, in their search for immortality embraced the lingzhi, and under Ming dynasty Daoist emperors, the lingzhi became a popular art motif. Immortals such as Magu and gods such as Shoulao, both associated with bestowing longevity, were depicted surrounded by sprigs of lingzhi growing from rocks, though in truth, lingzhi grows on the trunks of living or dead trees.
By the Qing dynasty, lingzhi as an art motif was so popular that it eventually lost its earlier religious connotations and became a botanical motif, used on its own, or populating secular landscapes.
t was also believed that deer could sniff out lingzhi in much the same way that pigs could find truffles, and this also became a popular art motif.
Another animal often depicted with lingzhi was the crane, believed to be able to live a hundred years. The crane and deer were both used as mounts by Shoulao, furthering strengthening their associations with longevity.
The shape of the lingzhi also inspired the object known as a ruyi, a scepter used to represent good fortune in Chinese culture. A traditional ruyi has a long gently-curved handle and a head fashioned in the outline of a lingzhi. The name ruyi, means ‘as you desire’ which is where the object gets its auspicious connotations.
Lingzhi is used in traditional Chinese medicine to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. It is also believed that lingzhi can help boost the human immune system, and is currently being investigated for cancer fighting properties.
To find lingzhi today, you no longer need to go into the mountains, asking immortals to point the way. All you need to do is make a trip to any store that sells traditional Chinese medicine and you will find lingzhi extract in capsule form.