Mushrooms are associated with many things. From magic and spirituality, to danger and poison. And, to be fair, many mushrooms do a little bit of it all. Today, however, I wanted to introduce you to the mushroom that has been used medicinally for the longest time in recorded history. Reishi.
Reishi, Ganoderma lucidum, is a polypore mushroom that are soft corky and flat, with a red-varnish, kidney shaped cap. They do not have any gills on their undersides. They are hard to the touch, with a leathery feel, meaning they are resilient and can last for many years, as opposed to many other fungi that only last a few days. They grow as a parasite, or saprotroph, on a wide variety of trees and aid in the decomposition process of wood. There are around 219 species of Ganoderma in the world, 80 of which are of commercial use. There are six different species used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and several other close relations used by herbalists world wide. Ganoderma grow in the North Eastern Hemlock forests and have a worldwide distribution, typically in both tropical and temperate regions. When found in nature, Ganoderma prefer to grow at the base of deciduous trees, and are particularly fond of maples. The Ganoderma genus is becoming more and more complex as we develop and use DNA analysis. Every year we are finding out more and more about Reishi, and other fungi, and learning that we know even less than we thought we did. Several species of medicinal Reishi have recently been found to actually be multiple different species, which could go a long way to explaining the different variations that exist within this genus. While Ganoderma has been used, in TCM, for over 2,000 years, there are really six dominant species that have been in use, each of which is classified by color and potency. Our local varieties are the Ganoderma curtisii and the Ganoderma zonatum.
While there are so many species that have medicinal value, I tend towards the utmost caution when it comes to our fungal friends. Mushrooms tend to have varied effects from species to species. Some species may not have a noticeable effect at all, and some may be so strong as to be considered toxic. This is one medicinal I would only get from a trusted source, at least until I have enough experience working with it myself (preferably under the guidance of a mycological mentor).
Common Names- Reishi, Red Reishi, Mushroom of Imortality
Scientific Name- Ganoderma lucidum, G. lingzhi, G. curtisii, G. zonatum
Edibility- It’s edible, but very bitter.
Summary of Actions- Antiallergic, antiatherogenic, anticonvulsant, antimicrobial, antiviral, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, diuretic, immunomodulating, laxative, sedative, and tonic.
Parts Used- The whole mushroom
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Known as Ling Zhi in TCM tradition, there are six different types of Ganoderma lucidum. Each one is classified by color and each has slightly different properties. The most commonly used, and most potent, is the red variety. It is used to calm Shen, tonify Wei Qi and Blood, nourish the heart, remove toxicity, disperse accumulations, and support the Three Treasures (Jing, Qi, and Shen).
Stress Management- Reishi is an adaptogen, a classification of herbs that help flush out harmful stress related toxins and help our bodies adopt a healthy response to stress. This helps to alleviate anxiety and improve symptoms associated with stress, such as insomnia.
Increased Immunity- While some details are still uncertain, test-tube studies have shown that Ganoderma can affect the genes in white blood cells, which are critical parts of your immune system. What’s more, these studies have found that some forms of Ganoderma may alter inflammation pathways in white blood cells. There is a question to Ganoderma’s effect on healthy people as some studies have shown that there is no increased white blood cell activity in healthy patients, only in ill ones, or in athletes who have been exposed to stressful situations.
Fatigue- One study examined its effects in 132 people with neurasthenia, a poorly defined condition associated with aches, pains, dizziness, headaches and irritability. The researchers found that fatigue was reduced and well-being was improved after 8 weeks of taking the supplements. Another study found that fatigue was reduced and quality of life was improved after 4 weeks of taking Ganoderma powder.
Cardiovascular Health- One 12-week study of 26 people showed that Reishi may increase “good” HDL cholesterol and decreased triglycerides. The effect of Reishi on blood pressure is conflicting. Taking Reishi doesn't seem to lower blood pressure in people with only slightly high blood pressure. But it seems to lower blood pressure in people with more severe high blood pressure.
Cancer- Studies seem to suggest that cancer patients who supplement with Ganoderma extract are more likely to respond positively to chemotherapy and radiation than those who do not supplement. However, it does not have a significant effect on killing cancer cells when used alone. Patients taking Ganoderma have reported a better quality of life, but no studies recorded whether or not patients who took Ganoderma lived longer than those who did not. Other research in cancer patients has shown that some of the phytochemicals found in the mushroom can increase the activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells, which fight infections and cancer in the body. Consult your doctor before supplementing with Ganoderma as it does interact with certain medications and treatments.
Allergies- Reishi has been used for allergies and allergic asthma reactions for quite a long time. Modern studies have shown that the ganoderic acid present in Reishi acts as an antihistamine, reducing the body’s histamine response. Some of these studies have also shown that Reishi, while supporting the immune system, can also regulate the body’s immune response, helping to stifle an overactive immune system.
Cautions, Contraindications, and Warnings- Reishi mushroom extract is safe when taken by mouth, in the correct dosage, for up to one year. Reishi mushroom is safe when taken by mouth in a powdered form for less than one month. Use of powdered Reishi, for longer than one month, has been associated with toxic effects on the liver. Reishi mushroom can also cause other side effects including dryness of the mouth, throat, and nasal area along with itchiness, stomach upset, nosebleed, and bloody stools. Drinking Reishi wine can cause a rash. Breathing in Reishi spores can trigger allergies. There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking Reishi mushroom if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use. There are some drug interactions reported, if you are taking any medications please consult your doctor. Reishi is associated with increased risk of bleeding in people who have bleeding disorders. Consult with your doctor if you think you are at risk. Also, discontinue the use of Reishi for at least 2 weeks prior to any surgeries as it may increase your risk of complications.
I only included a basic introduction to this wonderfully useful fungus. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram or updates on my adventures in Nature. Find me on YouTube and check out my videos! I also have a few things up on Teespring, check it out! Also, if you like what I do and what to see more, Become a Patron!
6 Benefits of Reishi Mushroom (Plus Side Effects and Dosage): Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reishi-mushroom-benefits
The Benefits of Reishi Mushroom: Four Sigmatic: https://site.foursigmatic.com/blog/reishi
The Benefits of Reishi Mushroom: Landish: https://landish.co/pages/reishi
Everything You Need To Know About Reishi Mushrooms: Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326520
Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi): Herbal Medicine – Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/
Polypore: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polypore
Reishi: White Rabbit Institute of Healing: https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/reishi/
Reishi Mushroom: The ASCO Post: https://www.ascopost.com/issues/august-10-2018/reishi-mushroom/
Reishi Mushroom : Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/reishi-mushroom
Reishi Mushroom: WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-905/reishi-mushroom
Reishi, the Queen of Medicinal Mushrooms: Ayurveda Mandala: https://ayurveda-mandala.com/blog/reishi-the-queen-of-medicinal-mushrooms/#:~:text=Reishi%20or%20Ganoderma%20Lucidum%20as,spirit%20and%20calm%20the%20mind.
Scientific Research & Medicinal Fungi: North American Mycological Association: https://namyco.org/scientific_research_and_medici.php