Magical mushroom: Scaling up Ganoderma lucidum cultivation will benefit farmers, users

Ganoderma lucidum has over 400 chemical constituents with medicinal properties

By Arvind Bijalwan, Kalpana Bahuguna
Published: Tuesday 05 April 2022

Ganoderma lucidum is a medicinal mushroom in use for centuries to heal diseases like diabetes, cancer, inflammation, ulcer as well as bacterial and skin infections. In India, however, the potential of the fungus is still being explored. 

It is considered one of the most important medicinal mushrooms in the world since its chemical constituents exhibit numerous medicinal properties. They have earned it monikers such as “mushroom of immortality”, “celestial herb” and “auspicious herb”. It is globally also known as “red reishi mushroom”. 

The history of consumption of this mushroom can be traced back to 5,000 years ago in China. It also finds mention in the historical and medical records of countries like Japan, Korea, Malaysia and India. 

Unlike normal mushrooms, the peculiar character of this one is that it grows on wood or wood-based substrate only. 

With time, many researchers recognised this fungus and tried to identify its constituents and properties. The research is still in progress and many interesting facts are being discovered. 

Ganoderma contains more than 400 chemical constituents, including triterpenes, polysaccharides, nucleotides, alkaloids, steroids, amino acids, fatty acids and phenols.  These show medicinal properties such as immunomodulatory, anti-hepatitis, anti-tumour, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-HIV, antimalarial, hypoglycaemic and anti-inflammatory properties. 

The mushroom is shiny red-brown in colour and naturally grows on wood. It prefers broad-leaved tree species like acacia, poplar, oak, maple, melia, eucalyptus, hevea, tectona and grewia. 

The lower surface of this mushroom is porous, pale white in colour and produces red spores on maturity. It thrives well in warm and humid climates, and grows preferably in mixed forests of sub-tropical to temperate regions. 

Attempts are being made to popularise this mushroom for business and livelihood, by cultivating it on wood logs and sawdust. Earlier it was only collected from the wild but its increasing demand pushed the attempts to artificially cultivate it. 

The first successful artificial cultivation was done in 1969 by technicians of the Chinese Academy of Science. Since then, this mushroom has been cultivated in various wood logs as well as sawdust substrates, with wheat bran, tea leaves, cotton husk and others being the additional substrates. 

The mother culture of Ganoderma lucidum is commonly prepared from its fruiting body by tissue culture method; it is further used to prepare its spawn.  

The mushroom takes about a month to mature in sawdust substrate but is mostly harvested once. On wood log substrate, it takes about 15 days to colonise and approximately 3-4 months to mature, with about three subsequent harvests. 

Apart from medicines, Ganoderma lucidum is also used as a base material for manufacturing products such as tea, coffee, energy supplements, health boosters, beverages, baked goods and anti-ageing cosmetics.

Scope in India 

The reason the mushroom has not gained as much popularity as other herbal products might be the fact that its mass production is restricted to countries like China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States of America. 

Most of the Ganoderma products produced in these countries are consumed domestically and a very limited quantity of raw material is exported. The large-scale industries in the Ganoderma business belong mostly to these countries, and so, the products are expensive in the rest of the world. 

Awareness regarding Ganoderma is spreading and the demand of this mushroom has pushed many countries, including India, to produce it on a large scale and manufacture its products. 

Its current production, however, is not sufficient to meet its increasing demand, and thus there is a need to cultivate this mushroom on a large scale. 

India, a country where a majority of population primarily relies on agriculture, has great potential to cultivate this mushroom. It can be grown indoors and is thus safe from the impacts of extreme weather conditions, man-wildlife conflicts, harsh topography and poor soil conditions. 

In India, the mushroom is mostly restricted to laboratory research at present. Some successful attempts for its cultivation, however, have been made by various Indian organisations. 

It is cultivated on wood logs (locally called billets) in the country. 

Ganoderma lucidum can have immense potential for livelihood generation, but there are some challenges as well. Due to the increasing demand of herbal and natural health products during the pandemic, a window of opportunity has been created for its cultivation and marketing on a large scale in India. 

The dried fruiting bodies or raw powder of Ganoderma lucidum can be sold at Rs 4,000-5000 per kilogram. 

There is a need to specifically work toward chemical analysis, quality assessment and marketing of the mushroom grown by farmers, in order to commercialise the products. 

At present, we rely on other countries for raw materials and are importing it to fulfil its demand in India. Thus, Ganoderma lucidum has every potential for entrepreneurship as well as livelihood opportunity in India and only needs proper scaling up among the farmers. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth.

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