Reishi mushrooms. The name can bring to mind Chinese emperors, ancient forests, and dusty old herbal apothecaries.
Not surprising, as reishi has been used in China for over 2,000 years! This mushroom has a long history of use as an herbal medicine. Modern research is now confirming its healing power in the body.
Let’s take a look at this powerful medicinal. I’ll start with some basic facts and move on to the reported health benefits. Then I’ll explain how to start supplementing and end with some final thoughts.
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- A few species of mushrooms are referred to as “reishi” (including Ganoderma oregonense and Ganoderma tsugae). For this article we’ll focus on the most popular form of reishi, Ganoderma lucidum. More about these other species is here.
- There are six different types of Ganoderma lucidum: red, purple, green, white, yellow, and black. The red mushroom is the most well-studied and is said to possess the most healing properties.
- Reishi appear shiny and brilliant when wet and dry to a dull, dusty color.
- All species of Ganoderma are defined as polypores. This means they have no gills on their undersides and release spores through small pores. If you flip a reishi mushroom over you will see the flat, corky area where spores are released.
- Younger, new growth on the mushroom emerges as a white ring around the outer edge.
- Originally found in China, Japan, and Korea, reishi now grows on hardwoods throughout the world. They prefer tropical and subtropical climates.
- Reishi grow on hardwoods such as maple, oaks, and elms. They are very rare to find in the wild so most reishi sold today is cultivated commercially.
- Most people classify reishi as a saprotroph but some countries (such as Australia) have defined it as a parasite.
- Most will have a red or brown cap with a roughly oval or kidney shape. However, if carbon dioxide levels are high enough a cap will not form and the mushrooms will display long “antlers” or “fingers” instead.
- Reishi is a very safe mushroom to take as a supplement. There are no known side effects beyond some possible dry mouth which will go away with occasional breaks in usage. However, like most herbal medications, it’s important to stop taking it before having surgery.
- Reishi is known as ling zhi (mushroom of immortality) in China and mannentake (10,000 year mushroom) in Japan. It is sometimes also referred to as the “herb of spiritual potency.”
- The Japanese government officially lists reishi mushrooms as a cancer treatment.
Much is said about the health benefits of reishi mushrooms. Studies are ongoing into its immune system enhancing and possible cancer fighting effects. Why all the good news about reishi? They contain multiple active ingredients including: polysaccharides and triterpenes.
Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates made up of chains of sugars. These sugars stabilize blood pressure and blood sugar, and have an effect on free radicals.
Specific polysaccharides, known as Beta-D-Glucans, are also suspected to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. The exact cancer fighting action of these molecules is still not clear and is under study. Rather than attacking tumors themselves, some researchers believe they stimulate the production of T cells to fight the afflicted cells.
Triterpenes are steroid like molecules that inhibit histamine release and have anti-inflammatory properties. The triterpenes in reishi are known as ganoderic acids.
Reishi mushrooms are often taken for the below conditions:
- Cancer, especially leukemia
- As a preventative right before and during flu season
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Inflammatory conditions
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Radiation poisoning
- Candida infections
Do you have any of these conditions and have benefited from reishi? Please contact me, I’d love to hear your story!
You don’t need to be suffering from a disease to take reishi. It is often used as a general tonic for good health and proper immune system functioning.
Does all this talk of good health make you want to start supplementing with reishi mushrooms? First you’ll need to get your hands on some! As they are not often found in the wild, it is easiest to purchase or cultivate your own. Below are some different ways to take reishi:
- Pills or tablets. These are made by grinding up the mycelium or fruitbody of the mushroom. Most research indicates that the fruitbodies are more effective in fighting disease so try to find pills made from those.
- For normal health maintenance and bronchial diseases a dose of 1-6 grams is standard. More serious diseases are usually treated with a 9-15 gram dosage. Start with a smaller dose and work up to a larger one so your body has time to adjust.
- Extracts. The active ingredients are concentrated into a liquid using either alcohol or hot water. The label will tell you how many drops is equal to a gram of the mushroom. The extract can be added to a drink, smoothie, or placed directly on the tongue. Learn how to make your own Ganoderma extract here.
- Dried reishi mushrooms. These can be purchased as a whole or in powder form. They are too tough to eat but will be effective as a soup or tea.
To make reishi tea, either grind whole mushrooms or slice them into long strips. Measure the amount you want and boil in water for a few minutes. Then reduce the heat and simmer the tea for 1-3 hours. Filter the water using cheese cloth or a coffee filter. More detailed mushroom tea instructions are here.
Be aware that the tea will be very bitter! Some fruit juice or honey will make it taste better. You can also use this reishi tea as a soup base, as your water to make rice, or even in coffee. I image you could freeze it and make “frozen reishi pops” although they may be too bitter for a summer treat!
The dried powder is also useful in making “reishi spirits”. Place some powder in a bottle of your favorite vodka, rice wine, brandy, or other alcohol. I’d recommend around 20 grams of dried mushrooms per bottle but you can experiment to suit your tastes. Let this mixture sit at least a month and strain the powder when serving. Now you can have some triterpenes with your next dinner party!
- As with all supplements, talk to your doctor before starting something new.
- Reishi’s effects are cumulative. You probably won’t notice anything after taking it just once or sporadically. Take it every day and be patient. It can take a few weeks to 2 months to notice an effect.
- Take all pills, powders, and teas with some vitamin C. Research shows that vitamin C increases the absorption of polysaccharides in the body. So add an orange or a multivitamin to your reishi routine!
- Try to buy organically grown mushrooms only. They are safer and better for you.
- Purchase from a company that gives as much information as possible about their product. A good company will tell you how the mushroom was grown and the polysaccharide content. The more you learn about what goes in your body the better. However….
- Be aware of companies that make outrageous claims. Statements like “magic pill”, “cancer cure”, and “reverse aging” are simply not true. Reishi supplements are big business and there are lots of people out there trying to get your money.
New research is sure to reveal even more about this powerful medicinal mushroom. I’ll leave you with this passage from Terry Willard’s very interesting book Reishi Mushroom: Herb of Spiritual Potency and Medical Wonder:
So although I had found many answers to my travels and research, some questions remained. Has reishi’s “spiritual strength” come down from the sacred mountain of the ancient Taoists to aid us at this important historical crossroad, when Western society’s health problems seem insurmountable? Will reishi help direct us towards a new medical theory, one that encompasses both Eastern and Western concepts?
Time will tell!