– Reishi Mushroom –
THIS ARTICLE WAS FEATURED IN HERBRALLY’S HERBAL MONOGRAPHS SELECTION
Known as the “Mushroom of Immortality”, this infamous mushroom has been revered for its healing, balancing & vitalizing properties for at least the last 2,000 years! Since we still want a robust immune system, peace of mind and a long, healthy life, meet Reishi.
Right now, early Autumn, is a perfect time to start working with immunomodulating (immune balancing) herbs. While most medicinal mushrooms do just this, Reishi gets bonus points for also benefiting the respiratory tract and our ability to withstand viral exposure. Let’s look more into this balancing tonic of the ages.
Names: Reishi, Lingzhi or Ling zhi (in Traditional Chinese Medicine), “Mushroom of immortality”
Species: Ganoderma lucidum (AKA Ganoderma lingzhi).
Note: There are also other similar, related species that are sometimes used analogously.
Description: This polypore mushroom has a fruiting body which grows out from a long, narrow stalk into a fan or disk shape and has a shiny top. This varnished looking texture gave rise to part of the Latin, as lucidus means “shiny” or “brilliant”. The texture is cork-like when fresh and more rubbery wood-like when dried. The fruiting top color includes a variety of colors from dark brown to a warm red to orange and is often in a gradient from the center to the edge.
Habitat: Reishi likes to grow in damp dark forests and rotting logs of deciduous trees (to which it is parasitic to). The range of naturally occurring growth mostly occurs in parts of China and Europe. An analogous species, Ganoderma curtisii, is also found in the Southeastern United states. Cultivation is possible and is often done on bark chips or bark dust, and the shape of cultivated Reishi may have a different aesthetic than wild grown.
Parts Utilized: The fruiting body (which includes the cap and stem). There are also products available with the mycelium grown in (and including) a grain medium such as brown rice.
Energetics: Mildly warm
Taste: Fairly neutral and mildly sweet
Actions: Immunomodulating, Immune Tonic, Nervous system Tonic, Cardiovascular Tonic, Hepatoprotective, Anti-Tumor, Anti-Cancer, Adaptogen, Anti-allergenic
Well known constituents: Beta Glucans, polyphenols, polysaccharides, phenolic compounds, triterpenoids, terpenes ganoderic acids and lucidenic acid
Sources: Conventionally or Organically grown, wild harvested
Balanced Energy & Gentle Recuperation
Whereas caffeine may increase short term energy it also increases anxiety and can lead to a “crash”. Reishi on the other hand can, over time, boost energy and vitality while also promoting a peaceful state of mind. This means it is great for fatigue, low energy and gaining strength back after illness while also being helpful for anxiety, insomnia and tension. This ability to intelligently balance our energy and stress levels is part of why it’s known as a “tonic” herb (as it has both general and localized/targeted “toning” benefits). Older adults, people with chronic illness and anyone convalescing may benefit from this gentle yet strengthening herb. Herbalist and Biologist Christopher Hobbs says of Reishi “I have found it useful for many kinds of deficiency syndromes, such as AIDS, chronic fatigue….to reduce fatigue, “calm the spirit,” promote a restful sleep at night, and reduce anxiety and nervousness in people who have deficiency, or adrenal weakness.”
Seasonal Immune support
Excellent for starting in the beginning of Autumn and especially for those with weakened immunity. When worked with consistently throughout winter, Reishi can support the immune system without overstimulating it (AKA immunomodulating). The beta glucans are antimicrobial as well as helpful at stimulating immune function, enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function and may help us combat infectious diseases such as the common cold or flu. What a great herb to have during a pandemic like this one!
Cancer Treatment & Chemotherapy support
Beyond the historical evidence of ancient cancer treatment in China using reishi, there is also ample modern scientific research on cancer treatment and chemotherapy support (both to improve side effects and work in conjunction with). That being said, the current official conventional medical consensus on Reishi for cancer treatment is “promising” yet “inconclusive” with an acknowledgment that side effects of reishi are uncommon and mild with no major toxicity events reported. (You can check out the sources at the bottom to look at scientific studies.)
Many modern holistic practitioners do work with Reishi (and often in conjunction with other medicinal mushrooms) in a larger healing framework when dealing with cancer and chemotherapy support. Since cancer can be described as a sporadic immune response, it can be helpful to balance – while not overstimulating or suppressing – the immune system. There is also a broad, gentle strengthening of the body and mental state as well as the promotion of rest and relaxation – natural and needed precursors to healing. Since a normal, healthy immune function includes finding and killing cancer cells before they metastasize and grow, herbs which can balance and strengthen a normal immune response may aid in cancer prevention as well as early treatment.
Some studies also suggest that Reishi may benefit cancer treatment (including radiation and chemo) by sensitizing cancer cells to treatments (enhancing cancer cell death), reducing tumor growth and protecting against/reducing DNA damage in healthy cells.
Respiratory Health & Viral Infections
Reishi has both antiviral properties as well as broad acting respiratory supportive actions. In terms of its antiviral activity, Herbalist Stephen Buhner suggests Reishi (often in formulation with other herbs) for Espstein- Barr Virus and Herpes Simplex Virus 1 & 2.
While the mechanisms are not fully understood yet, Reishi seems to inhibit the release of histamine, which is potentially why it’s been useful for allergies, allergic asthma as well as chronic bronchitis (which can be allergy related). Since respiratory function can be affected by infectious respiratory infections, Reishi benefits the lungs as both a preventive and a remedy for respiratory viral infections like cold & flu. The systemic anti-inflammatory action also benefits asthma as it is related to general inflammation.
Heart Health & Antioxidants
The fact that Reishi can help reduce anxiety and promote rest and relaxation means it can broadly benefit the cardiovascular system by reducing excess adrenaline, cortisol, high blood pressure and tension. More specifically it can help ease palpitations, balance blood sugar and its ability to support liver function can help control unhealthy cholesterol levels. The beta-glucans and triterpenoids in reishi help to lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels which can be helpful to diabetics while reducing the risk of heart disease for anyone. Antioxidant rich foods help to reduce the cellular damage of free radicals (a waste product in the body) which helps to lower inflammation and reduce the risk of inflammation related diseases (including cardiovascular diseases).
Preparation and extraction:
Due to the strength and structure of the cell walls, Reishi should be extracted as it cannot be broken down well by digestion for medical benefit when eaten unprocessed.
- Hot water extraction: Simmer for 20 minutes to 2+ hours. Longer is better and while it can reduce in liquid volume, just make sure to replace the water if it’s getting low enough to burn.
- Alcohol extraction: To tincture mushrooms it’s best to use a double extraction method. There will be alcohol and water extraction done separately, then the liquid from both extractions will be combined. The two most popular methods are as follows: 1. Tincture Reishi in 95% alcohol for 2+ weeks. Strain, save the liquid and mushroom and then decoct the Reishi in water for 20minutes – 2 hours. Strain and combine the liquid. Or 2. Decoct the Reishi first, strain and save then tincture the Reishi in alcohol for 2+ weeks. Strain and combine liquids.
- Powder; Powder can be added directly to decocting teas and soups (before or during cooking to enhance extraction with heat). A powder (made from an evaporated decoction) can also be made or purchased. This option is potent, a great way to unlock bioavailability and can go straight into food or beverages without adding heat.
COFFEE ALTERNATIVES | Rise & Shine Herbal Blends featuring Medicinal Mushrooms | Adaptogen Blends
History of Use:
Reishi has been used for at least 2,000 years and is mentioned numerous times in Chinese historical records going back to 200 BC. Records in China as well as Japan and other Asian countries describe the medicinal use of Reishi for numerous ailments including cancer, fatigue, lung ailments and more. Beyond treating illness, Reishi was also revered as a longevity herb to promote a long and healthy life. You can see Reishi referenced numerous times in relation to the social, spiritual, cultural (including various pieces of ancient art) and political areas to which it grows.
My Experience: When working with mushrooms I often work with a combination of medical mushrooms including Reishi, Chaga and Turkey Tail. Many of these mushrooms share common benefits from their immune balancing & strengthening beta glucans, and the combo creates a synergistic formula. That being said, I have worked with Reishi exclusively on occasion. The effects I’ve experienced and have gotten feedback on are subtle in the short term. With continued use a mild improvement in energy, mood and immune function is noticed (both a lessening of autoimmune allergies as well as a lack of “getting sick” as often). I do appreciate the very mild flavor which is slightly pleasant and hides well in tea, coffee and soup. Especially handy for those who want to experiment with medical mushrooms but don’t like the mushroomy flavor. Full effect is felt after months of use.
Immune stimulation consideration: even though reishi can beautifully balance the immune system, it can also have an immune stimulating effect as well which could potentially interfere with medications that purposefully suppress immune function.
TRILOGY MUSHROOM BLEND | Triple mushroom tincture featuring Chaga, Reishi and Maitake | Double-Extracted for maximum potency.
- “Ganoderma lucidum Polysaccharides as An Anti-cancer Agent” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29141563/
- “Health-Promoting of Polysaccharides Extracted from Ganoderma lucidum” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29141563/
- “Medicinal Mushrooms with Christopher Hobbs” (lecture)
- “Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi)” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/#:~:text=It%20is%20a%20large%2C%20dark,family%20is%20reishi%20or%20mannentake
- Vital Ways School – Notes taken
- “Research Progress on the Anticancer Activities and Mechanisms of Polysaccharides From Ganoderma”
- Personal experience over years in experimentation, consultations and formulation.
- Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160565/
- Herbal Antivirals. Book by Stephen Buhner
- “Ganoderma lucidum enhances carboplatin chemotherapy effect by inhibiting the DNA damage response pathway and stemness” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35865946/
- “Mushroom Medicine: Challenges and Potential” https://www.christopherhobbs.com/library/featured-articles/mushroom-medicine-challenges-and-potential/
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