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A symbol of long life

January 9, 2011

Yesterday a visitor came to Dokmai Garden with a bag of dried reishi (Japanese) or ling zhi (Chinese) mushrooms bought at a Chiang Mai Macro supermarket. We discussed the potential benefits, so why not share with our readers:

This mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum, is a polypore or bracket fungus growing on dead wood. It is a cosmopolitan species or species complex which I have seen growing wild in Sweden as well as in North America, Japan and even here in Dokmai Garden in Thailand.

There are many Chinese symbols for a long life such as deer, pine, crane, turtle and ling zhi mushroom. The mushroom is sometimes called the ’10 000 year mushroom’ or ‘Herb of immortality’, known since the first Chinese imperial dynasty 2200 years ago. Any practice from the Chinese super power was copied in Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia.

Since it is recommended by the same people who believe stroking a stone turtle will give you long life, one should not automatically believe in everything said. Scientific studies have shown conflicting results, and one should always be wary about ‘medicines’ capable of curing everything. However, it is not poisonous and today it is derived from mushroom cultivation, so consumption does not threaten the forest like in the case of pangolin or tockay ‘medicines’. In addition, edible mushrooms contain dietary fiber, valuable minerals and generally more protein than vegetables.

As little as 3-5 grams of dried mushroom per person and day is a recommended dose. Simply boil the mushroom for 5 minutes and then let the brew cool down before drinking. If you like the taste, and many do, this practice is at least not harmful.

A completely different use would be ling zhi as a garden ornamental. If the substrate is large, such as a freshly cut tree log, one could plug it with fresh ling zhi mushrooms, and perhaps the spores will germinate and colonize the log. If the log is buried to maintain moisture, the emerging fruit bodies will look like little cobras with a lacquered surface. The mushrooms will emerge until the nutrients in the log are depleted, or until competing fungi take over.

This would probably work very well in temperate gardens, but here in the tropics the termites devour the wood rapidly. In a monsoon garden, I should advice keeping the log on a stand or stone platform in a moist area, and sprinkle it with water. In commercial situations, ling zhi is grown on saw dust kept in plastic bags.

Eric Danell

Ling zhi is grown commercially also in Thailand, where they use the same name as the Chinese.


A Chinese plate depicting pine trees, deer and a ling zhi mushroom. This was a very common motif on mass-produced Chinese porcelain. Ming dynasty, late 16th century. From the Seehamongkol private collection.

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