Mushrooms and Traditional Chinese Medicine

Medicinal mushrooms, or as we like to call them functional mushrooms, have been used for thousands of years in many ancient healing traditions around the globe.

Especially in traditional Chinese medicine (TMC), the mushrooms are a highly valued herb, and they have found that these functional mushrooms can play a vital part in helping to safeguard and benefit one’s health, as well as prevent and treat different conditions and diseases.

TCM: Materia Medica

The oldest official texts called Shennong Bencao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica), and it consists of 365 medicinal substances dating from the 29th century BC.  The 365 substances covered are categorized into three books, associated with Heaven, Humanity, and Earth, individually. The texts contain several mushroom species used for different medicinal purposes, like, well-being and longevity. One of the most famous examples is Ganoderma lucidum, also known as Reishi.

Because of Ganoderma’s presumed health benefits and the apparent absence of side effects, it has attained a reputation in the East as the ultimate herbal substance.

In modern TCM, mushrooms are offered as a medicine in capsules, powders, and teas and in various nutritional items such as soups and stews.

Mushrooms and cultivation

From about 600-1000 AD, the Chinese have discovered cultivation techniques for many medicinal and culinary mushrooms to meet the ever-growing demand – for food and effective medicine.

The popular Shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes) was cultivated in China around 1000 AD.

It is estimated that China nowadays is responsible for 70 percent of the world’s mushroom production. Reports tell us that over 35 million people in China work in the mushroom industry.

Kampō; Japanese traditional medicine

At the beginning of the 7th century, TCM was introduced in Japan and significantly influenced Kampō, Japanese traditional medicine.

These two healing traditions are quite similar to each other, but Kampō has a greater emphasis on using medicinal “herbs” (including a lot of mushrooms, especially Shiitake and Reishi). Medicinal mushrooms like Reishi and Shiitake are deeply cherished herbs with a long history of use.

Today in Japan, Kampō is integrated into the Japanese national health care system. Some time ago, a nationwide study reported that 72% of registered physicians prescribe Kampō medicines.

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