Daoist Elixir of Immortality
Chinese athletes are said to get a competitive edge from — perfectly legal — mushroom extracts to win more Olympic golds. A leading Japanese politician takes three different kinds of Asian healing mushrooms for breakfast every day.
One of the most important of these mushrooms is Reishi. You see them in Chinese paintings of Daoist sages and also ancient Chinese emperors.
These are the gnarly, strange-looking fungi, often purple, sometimes shown as green, brown, black or red.
Several of the Northwest Asian mushrooms have a reputation for pharmacological properties — healthy phytochemicals — in addition to their role as foods.
It is certainly true that the class of Asian medicinal mushrooms have been esteemed for centuries for use in producing healthy tonics. These are taken usually in teas and infusions, sometimes in combination with other foods.
There is a growing body of research from several countries that indicates several of these mushrooms may help in support the immune system, resist infections and even inhibit tumor growth or prevent tumors, possibly even malignant ones.
It is certainly true that the class of Asian medicinal mushrooms has been established for centuries for producing healthy tonics. These are taken usually in teas and infusions, sometimes in combination with other foods.
Among the most highly valued of these mushrooms are the type known in Japanese as Reishi and also by its Chinese name Lingzhi. These are different pronunciations of the same Chinese characters 靈芝, Reishi mushrooms were first used in ancient China.
Reishi are used as an ingredient in a tonic tea or in traditional pharmacopoeia in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
The mushroom is known as yeong ji in Korean and linh chi in Vietnamese.
In ancient times Reishi were associated with the Daoist sages and immortals and thought to confer longevity.. They were symbols of Imperial power and connected with the Chinese emperors. This type of mushroom is rare in nature and only grows naturally on a small percentage of fallen, decaying trees.
There’s a parallel with pearls — Once you had to search for a pearl in wild nature and they were extremely rare and valuable. After Mr. Mikimoto learned to cultivate pearls, they became much more available. The same is true of the Reshi mushrooms, which are now grown on wood chips in Northeast Asia.
Reishi differ from the other medicinal mushrooms in one important respect — these other mushrooms can usually be eaten as they are or in combination with other foods. Reishi, however, has a special characteristic that makes it inappropriate as a food.
Reishi mushrooms are covered with a special dense, glossy coating, called chitin, which is protein in nature and very hard. The chitin coating of Reishi mushrooms has to be broken down for it to release its beneficial properties.
How do you do this? You can try a coffee grinder or food processor to break it up into small pieces. Some people have reported that Reishi wrecked their coffee grinder, so you need to be careful.
Or you could use a Chinese cleaver, which will usually work to divide a whole Reishi mushroom and make it easier to infuse.
If all else fails, you can just boil a whole mushroom. It may take a bit longer, but will still work.
Here’s a recipe for infusing Reishi Tea:
4 ounces dried Reishi mushrooms
8 cups water
Chop the dried Reishi mushrooms coarsely and then grind to a fine powder using a spice mill or mortar and pestle. Wrap the powder in cheesecloth and tie securely.
Bring the water to a boil, then drop in the Reishi bag and lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the liquid is reduced to half, about 1½ hours. Strain the tea into a storage container. You can repeat the process one or more times until the liquid no longer has a color or bitter taste. The resulting tea can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Once prepared, you will find Reishi Mushrooms have another special characteristic that makes them inappropriate for eating as a mushroom, and also a bit of a drawback as a tea — their bitter taste, which many people find unpleasant. The simple solution is to mix a small amount of honey with the tea before drinking.
n any case, the traditional way of using Reishi Tea is to take a cup a day for up to a month and then stop for a while. Advocates claim it is useful in helping strengthen the immune system, fighting infections and inhibiting tumor growth. You will be imbibing the elixir of the Daoist immortals!
For Further Information:
“Lingzhi mushroom,” article, Wikipedia — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingzhi_mushroom
Robert A. Barnett, Tonics: More than 100 Recipes that Improve the Body and the Mind (Harper Perennial, 1997) — http://www.amazon.com/Tonics-More-Than-Recipes-Improve/dp/0060951117
Mushroom Appreciation.com, “Reishi Mushroom Tea Recipe” — http://www.mushroom-appreciation.com/mushroom-tea.html
Terry Willard, Reishi Mushrooms: Herb of Spiritual Potency and Medicinal Wonder — http://www.amazon.com/Reishi-Mushroom-Spiritual-Potency-Medical/dp/0962563803