Last week I got a call from a man who lives down the street. Even though Jonathan’s a neighbor, he and his wife are busy raising small children, so our paths rarely cross, and he knows nothing about my cancer. Jonathan’s an amateur mushroom hunter. He phoned in reference to a conversation we’d had three or four years ago about ganoderma mushrooms, highly prized tree fungi used in Chinese medicine. I had forgotten about this conversation, but fortunately Jonathan had not, since he had just found more hemlock reishi (ganoderma tsugae) than he could use and wondered if I’d like the extras. Fresh, wild, local ganoderma! Of course I’d like the extras!
“Reishi” is the Japanese name for what the Chinese call “ling zhi.”
Let us now pause for a small Chinese language lesson. “Ling” means “spirit, spiritual, soul, miraculous, sacred, or divine.” Chinese herbs designated as “zhi” are considered to be longevity herbs, but “zhi” can also mean “excrescence.” I had to look up that last word: “excrescence” is an outgrowth on an animal (including humans) or plants, and it’s usually the result of disease or abnormality. “Ling zhi” is commonly translated as “divine longevity herb,” and it’s classified as a Superior herb–one which treats many conditions but has negligible side effects. Coded into the name, perhaps, is its cancer-fighting properties, since Chinese herbalism, like our Western traditions, sometimes follows the Doctrine of Signatures. The fungus itself is an excrescence of trees; cancer is an excrescence in animals.
A great deal of research has been done on ling zhi’s effect on various cancers. See, for example the article in the October 2006 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17034284?dopt=AbstractPlus. It turns out that the hemlock reishi specifically treats breast cancer, and the results are promising.
There are many varieties of ganoderma. Chinese herbal medicine classifies them and their actions according to their colors. Ganoderma tsugae and ganoderma lucidum are both red, which, in Five Phase/Five Element theory, is the color of Fire/Heart/Summer. Red ling zhi enters the Heart, Liver, and Lung channels. It’s primary traditional action is to Nourish the Heart and Calm the Spirit. As such, ling zhi smoothes out difficult breathing and also serves as an anti-anxiety medicine and sleep aid. Modern research has also discovered and confirmed red ling zhi’s immune-enhancing properties. Even if subsequent research should find ling zhi’s anti-neoplastic actions to be weak or non-existent, cancer patients taking ling zhi strengthen their immune systems, enjoy more nights of peaceful sleep, and feel less anxious about their health. Who wouldn’t want such a sense of well-being, of feeling whole-hearted?
The earliest recorded mention of this fungus is from the third century, BCE. At that time, ling zhi was called “ruicao.” “Cao” means plant, or herb. Rui means auspicious or felicitous omen.
In spite of the dramatic results I’ve seen so far by choosing classical Chinese medicine to treat my cancer, sometimes I feel disheartened about how long this haul is and start to doubt the wisdom of my choice.
Then the phone rings, a gift is offered, and once again, an auspicous, felicitous omen encourages me to continue on this path. Thank you, Jonathan.