Food as Medicine

This simple graphics is from The Wall Street Journal article on Dr. Akira Endo.

Last Thursday, my family and I went to a Chinese restaurant recommended by my daughters' piano teacher.

We ordered a course for four, and I chose a mushroom dish as one of the four dishes which we could order as part of the deal but I didn't touch the mushrooms until my wife served me a large piece of the top, which looked like two round pieces attached together. I ate it with little thought but in about half-an-hour, I experienced an amazing, almost overwhelming change. After a long, tiring day, I had suddenly become more clear and alert. My eyes, which are usually equiped with glasses, seemed to be viewing a further and wider scope, and I seemed to be present in the moment with a pleasant sensation throughout my body. When I talked about this to my wife and daughters, they dismissed it with a laugh but after some insistence on my part, we started looking at the table to search for what had affected me. Other than the duck tongues, I had had everything else before in some setting. The only thing new was the mushrooms. We summoned the floor manager, and asked him about the mushrooms.

They were Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma Lucidum / Ling Zhi). On our return home, my wife looked up the Net for information on these and found a wealth of material refering to their medicinal effects.

And this morning, just before departing home, I spotted a Wall Street Journal article on Dr. Akira Endo, a Japanese scientist who has cultivated fungi for their medicinal, anti-cholesterol and other effects since the 1960s. ("Stalking Cholesterol: How One Scientist Intrigued by Molds Found First Statin — Feat of Japan's Dr. Endo Led To Heart-Care Revolution But Brought Him Nothing — Nature as a Drug Laboratory" Peter Landers, WSJ, January 9, 2006; Page A1.)

Dr. Endo's research led to the discovery of some of the first anti-cholestral drugs, and his techniques were used by giant drug companies to discover other drugs of the same family. The main point of the article is that many artificial drugs have tremendously negative side effects but that, ever more, drug discovery efforts in giant companies are turning their attention to discovery of materials in nature. With all the tools and techniques of modern science (and science is little else without these techniques and tools), we can only discover a fraction of all that is offered in nature and that can be found useful to medicine and human beings. This should be enough to invoke a feeling of wonder, awe and respect.

Returning to Reishi, much useful information can be found on the web. For example, see references by Dylan Kosma and Daniel J. Royse. It is also mentioned by the Taoists as the "Elixir of Life". People interested in Reishi might also be interested in Lichens. UC Davis, where I spent 7 years doing graduate work, offers a course in edible mushroom cultivation.


Yes... you want to be a bit careful about Taoist ideas of 'the elixir of life', though:

(1) some of it seems to depend on your ability to perform 'internal alchemy', beyond the norms of the gastric process ;\^), and

(2) bear in mind they also thought cinnabar was 'the elixir of life'. I used to think that sounded confortingly similar to cinnamon and was probably a spice of some kind... but it's actualy the main ore used to produce mercury. So not terribly good for you, then.

all the best, Robin

Posted by Robin Wilton on January 11, 2006 at 11:46 PM PST #

Yes, you're definitely right. Much of Taoism is about internal alchemy. On the other hand, the separation between internal and external alchemy remains a vague boundary. A way of life and interacting with environment leads to interactions that make the boundary porous.

I was less interested (and somewhat surprised) in what Taoists thought of this and more interested in its immediate effect on me.

It could be that the effect depends on the individual and mood variations, including certain states of Taoist bliss ! ! ! (. . . but I don't think Taoists think or have the word "bliss" for anything . . . )

Another important point is that the world is full of resources suited to each of its occupants and found in surprising places.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on January 12, 2006 at 12:48 AM PST #

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