In China, for over 2,000 years, the mushroom known as Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has been called “God’s Herb.” Also recognized by its Chinese name, Ling Zhi, Reishi’s reputation for being effective in treating a wide range of ailments moved Chinese Emperors throughout the various Dynasties to order servants to search for wild Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms found atop distant mountains, believing that the consumption of Ganoderma lucidum would grant them eternal youth and enhanced health. Because of the mushroom’s remote habitat and the scarcity of high-quality specimens, the use of Ganoderma lucidum for medicinal purposes was reserved primarily for royalty and wealthy individuals. It was not until the late 20th century, that this once-rare plant, through diligent cultivation by the Japanese, was made widely available to the general public.
The original textbook of Oriental medical science, “Herbal Pharmacopoeia,” was compiled by the founding father of Chinese medicine, Shen Nong (Han Dynasty, 206 BC ~ 8 AD). In it, the legendary herbalist-emperor documented 365 species of plants and classified them into three categories: superior, average and fair. These classifications were based on two main criteria: its benefits, based on consumption on a continual basis, and side effects. For those plants graded as “superior,” the power to harmonize the functions of the body, mind and spirit and the range of ailments they could treat were greater and broader than those of weaker specimens. In addition, they had to have little or no longterm side effects. Among the specimens in this class, G. lucidum was ranked the highest in this classic medical text, even superior to the well known ginseng. In the “Compendium of Materia Medica” (Ben Cao Gang Mu), which contains hundreds of natural medicines the Chinese have used for thousands of years, celebrated physician and naturalist Li Shi Zhen (1518~1593) described the benefits of G. lucidum: "It benefits the life energy, or "qi" of the heart, repairing the chest area and benefiting those with a knotted and tight chest. Taken over a long period of time, agility of the body will not cease, and the years are lengthened to those of the Immortal Fairies.”
Over the ages, Ganoderma lucidum has become ingrained in Oriental art and culture because of its prestigious status in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Since the first Chinese dynasty, paintings, embroideries, buildings, and sculptures of the gods and immortals have depicted G. lucidum as a symbol of divinity, longevity and good fortune. Depictions of G. lucidum are displayed throughout the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace in Beijing as a testimony to its value, and the mushroom’s distinctive shape was a favorite ornamental design feature used by royalty and the wealthy. Even the traditional scepter of the emperors of China was a stylized Reishi, called a "Ru Yi.”
Panax ginseng is believed to have been discovered in the Manchurian Mountains greater than 5,000 years ago. It was most likely first consumed as a source of food. However, archived documents reveal that ginseng was used and revered by kings, emperors, and wealthy households in the Far East for medicinal purposes in pre-historic times. The first written reference of Panax ginseng as a medicinal herb can be found in Shen Nong’s Materia Medica (the Ancient Chinese Canon of Medicine) dated from the 1st century, CE: “Ginseng is a tonic to the five viscera, quieting the animal spirits, stabilizing the soul, preventing fear, expelling the vicious energies, brightening the eye…and prolonging life.” Traditional Chinese herbal remedies stress the restorative properties of ginseng root—its ability to re-energize your chi or life force. In northern China, it is a common practice for the elderly to take low daily doses of ginseng throughout the long, cold months of winter in order to boost their physical endurance and longevity.
The origins of the genus name Panax can be traced back to the Greek root words pan akos meaning “all cure”—an aptly named herb for all its purported health benefits. Acting as an adaptogen, its primary functions are as an anti-inflammatory agent, an antioxidant, immunity booster, and reproductive health tonic. More reported effects include increased muscle mass, physical vigor, and mental performance (memory, focus, and concentration). Clinical studies have shown that Korean red ginseng can enhance male sexual function and vitality. Combined with gingko, red ginseng can help treat erectile dysfunction as well as low sperm count. Ginseng has also demonstrated positive psychological effects in menopausal women by lessening feelings of fatigue and depression.
The part of the ginseng plant used for medicinal purpose is the root. Unlike other common roots found in gardens and grocery stores, ginseng root has an unusual physical appearance. The thicker knob-like top that branches into leg-like appendages gives the rough impression of a human-like figure. According to ancient herbalist beliefs, any plant that bears a resemblance to a certain body part is meant to be good for that body part. Hence, it follows that if ginseng root is shaped like a whole human person, then it must be a unique and powerful herb capable of treating the entire body.
As a slow-growing perennial plant that was historically over-hunted, it is now uncommon to find ginseng in the wild. Ginseng root generally takes four to six years to mature before it is harvested because the quality and potency of ginseng is believed to increase with age. China’s growing demand for ginseng root spurred Korea’s experimentation and cultivation of the world’s first farmed ginseng root in the sixteenth century. Today, both China and Korea have flourishing ginseng farming industries and are major exporters of ginseng products.
Nevertheless, Asian ginseng is not the only type of ginseng available as health supplements. American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolios) was first discovered in southern Canada by a French explorer and thought to be a rare herb to “invigorate the virile powers.” The Iroquois, Menomonee, Cherokee and Creek tribes all used ginseng for its natural curing powers. Native American folklore reveals that ginseng root was an early medicinal herb used to treat nosebleeds and infertility. It is believed that early American settlers discovered ginseng in the mid 1700’s in New England. Ginseng cultivation methods eventually spread West to Wisconsin, which has now become a leading ginseng producer. Americans were first skeptical of American ginseng, but it has since gained popularity in recent years as an aphrodisiac. America exports an estimated $100 million worth of ginseng per year, mainly to Asia where it is highly valued. Asian herbalists regard American ginseng as having “cooling” powers and that type of ginseng is mainly used to treat fevers as well as digestive and respiratory ailments. In contrast, Asian ginseng such as the Korean red (steamed) ginseng and Chinese white (peeled) ginseng are considered to be “hot” herbs used to re-energize the body and restore overall strength and well-being.
(Latin name Eurycoma Longifolia Jack, Japanese Name ナガエカサ/ Nagaekasa ) is a small tree found in the jungles throughout Malaysia and Southeast Asia. Natives consider every part of the Eurycoma Longifolia tree as miracle herbs and often used its root to make soup as health drinks. It has been used in Malaysia for many years by men to increase sexual desire, libido, and sexual performance and to treat erectile dysfunction. To maintain the testosterone normal levels can improve energy, mood, fertility and sexual desire. Tongkat Ali is referred as a miracle herb and widespread in Malaysia and Southeast Asia and now also widely recognized by many countries because of its excellent effects.
Tongkat Ali is a small evergreen tree growing to 15m tall. It is spirally arranged, pinnate leaf 20-40 cm long with 13-41 leaflets. The flowers contain either male or female flowers on different trees never both; they are shaped in large panicles, each flower with 5-6 very small petals. The fruit is green ripening dark red, 1-2 cm long and 0.5-1 cm broad. Unlike most trees, which have a horizontal root system, the root of a Tongkat Ali tree can grow up to 700 meters on sandy soil as understorey treelets. This tough fibrous root penetrates deep into the earth to obtain its nutrients. The Tongkat Ali root takes at least five years to mature.