Reishi mushroom is one of the oldest mushrooms known to be used medicinally by humans. It is highly prized as a major tonic in Chinese herbalism, ranking close to ginseng for its broad spectrum of health benefits. Often referred to as "the mushroom of immortality", it has been valued as a longevity herb in Asian cultures for well over 2,000 years.
Also called "the great protector" due to its qualities as an adaptogen, reishi helps to guard against the impact that physical, immunological and mental stress can have on the body over time.
When taken on a consistent basis, it assists in modulating immune response with effects that calm and protect the central nervous system as well as support liver and cardiovascular functions.
Reishi's active ingredients include water-soluble polysaccharides and peptidoglycans, in addition to more than 100 triterpenes, depending on the strain and quality. Over 50 of the triterpenes are found to be specifically unique to the Ganoderma lucidum species. One primary triterpene called ganoderic acid, in addition to other sterols like ganoderal, ganoderiol, ganodermic acid and lucidenic acid, are known to provide a tumor inhibiting and hepatoprotective influence. (Source)
The mycelium additionally contains many other different constituents including peptides, nucleotides and other elements common to medicinal mushrooms like mannitol, coumarin and various alkaloids, all of which add to the mushrooms properties as an immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory and antitumor agent.
Typically consumed as a tea, powdered hot water extract or used as a tinctured alcohol solution, preparations commonly use the fruiting body of the mushroom. However, more modern-day high quality versions usually always include reishi spores, newly identified for their higher amount of triterpenoid content.
In recent years, reishi mushroom is becoming more accepted in conventional Western medicine as a complementary pharmacological aid in the treatment of cancer, HIV, type 2 diabetes and hepatitis, although it has been utilized in this manner in other parts of the world for several decades. For example, in China the mushroom has been used extensively as a therapeutic adjunct to chemotherapy for its restorative impact on the immune system as well as its ability to reduce unpleasant side-effects associated with chemo and radiation treatments.
Ganoderma lucidum is, in fact, one of the most widely researched medicinal mushroom varieties in Asian cultures, next to coriolus, for its effects on inhibiting tumor growth, especially of the breast and prostate. (*)
According to herbalist Ron Teeguarden, it is a commonly prescribed treatment in Japan for chronic bronchitis, memory loss, insomnia, hyperlipidemia and a whole range of age-related degenerative diseases, including dementia.
Evidence documented in a 2013 study showed that an extract of reishi mushroom inhibited the inflammatory mediator response by suppressing certain signaling pathways and "may be potentially useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases."
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, reishi is valued as premiere Chi (Qi) and Shen major tonic herb, but also strengthens Jing. It is beneficial to the heart, liver, lung and kidney organ systems.
Ganoderma lucidum is a polypore mushroom that is native to woodland regions of China but now grows in forests as far north as Canada. Some species are also found in the Amazon and even parts of Africa where humid conditions persist. Reishi grows wild on decaying wood or at the base of trees (particularly maple), but is not as prolific as other mushroom varieties like turkey tail or chaga.
Red reishi mushroom, or Ganoderma lucidum, is the most common type used for medicinal purposes and is now widely cultivated on logs or wood chip cakes in Asian countries. There are also six other species of reishi in the genus Ganoderma, commonly differentiated by their color and benefits to different organ systems. These types include the more common black reishi or Ganoderma sinensis, in addition to white, yellow, green and the rare purple reishi variety.
Unlike other mushrooms, reishi typically has an unusual woody, cork-like texture and a unique glossy varnished-looking appearance. Ganoderma lucidum is derived from the Greek words gano and derma, which translates "sheen skin" and the Latin word lucidum which means "shining." The fruiting body or cap is rounded on one side with a kidney-type shape, a lighter colored edging and a patchy white to light brown underside.
Also called lingzhi in Chinese, reishi was historically used in China, Japan, Korea and other Asian countries for promoting health and encouraging a "long life." The legendary herbalist Li Ching-Yuen, reported to have lived to the age of 252, consumed daily tonic brews and tinctures consisting of reishi as well as ginseng, fo-ti root, gotu kola and goji berries.
According to the historic Chinese herbal classic, the Shennong Ben Cao Jing, "Long term consumption [of reishi mushroom] will lighten the body and prevent aging, extend one's life, and make one an immortal." In the first volume of Shennong's Materia Medica, reishi is listed next to other top tonics such as ginseng and eucommia bark .
Held in high regard by ancient Taoist masters, reishi is one of the chief Shen tonics known for its ability to induce meditative states and encourage spiritual awareness. Once reserved for emperors and the ruling elite, the reishi mushroom was often found embroidered on imperial clothing, carved into stone and architecture, incorporated in legendary folk stories and painted into famous artwork.
Containing beta-glucan polysaccharides, reishi mushroom is an adaptogen that works to adjust and fine tune the immune system, beneficial for restoring healthy immune functions. Lingzhi is often referred to as an "immune modulating" tonic, which means that it works to regulate immune response whether deficient or excessive depending on what is most appropriate for each unique individual situation.
Its high amount of polysaccharides, or long chain sugars, are known to be extremely effective for autoimmune disorders, where immunosuppression is needed, but can likewise assist in the increased production of immune cells when required, providing T-cell, B-cell and NK cell activity.
It is important to keep our immune systems strong by deeply fortifying it on a regular basis with polysaccharide-rich nutrients and herbs like reishi. This is a preventative approach to sickness and disease that helps to protect us from the negative impacts of viruses, bacteria, malignant cell growth as well as various autoimmune conditions.
"Our immune system is virtually a miraculous network of activities designed over millions of years. It is much better to resist foreign invaders from within a fully nourished system and not become ill in the first place." Ron Teeguarden
Like other adaptogens, lingzhi offers a protective element that helps one make necessary adjustments needed to deal with change and life challenges, decreasing cellular sensitivity to certain stress factors. Consuming reishi teas or extracts on a regular basis is subsequently known to reduce the effects that daily stress and anxiety can have on the body over time.
The polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi are known to play an important role in inhibiting tumor growth. In a study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, extracts of G. lucidum "produced inhibitory effect on cancer cells and may have a potential therapeutic use for the prevention and treatment of this disease."
In another study it was stated that "Our results provide evidence that reishi suppresses protein synthesis and tumor growth by affecting survival and proliferative signaling pathways that act on translation, suggesting that reishi is a potential natural therapeutic for breast and other cancers." (*)
In other research, it was shown that the triterpenoid, ganoderic acid, found in Ganderma lucidum could effectively inhibit tumor growth and lung metastasis through increasing immune function. It does this not only by helping to stimulate NK (natural killer) cells but also the production of interferons and interleukins, potent natural anticancer substances both involved in NK cell activity. (Source)
As we mentioned, reishi mushroom extracts, teas, spore oils and powders can be beneficial immune boosters for those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments, but they can also be taken as essential rebuilding supplements during the recovery process after cancer is eradicated. In such cases, however, it is important to consult your medical physician who is specifically familiar with your own particular health issues and prescribed medications.
Intake of reishi mushroom is additionally known to be helpful in dealing with exposure to radioactive isotopes in the atmosphere as well as contaminated food sources and can be useful for shielding the body against the harmful effects that radiation can have on the body. (*) This can be of particular benefit to those affected by nuclear disasters like Fukushima.
Ganoderma lucidum contains a group of antioxidant triterpenes called ganoderic acids. Ganoderic acid is known to improve the functions of the liver, increase oxygen utilization and also acts as a natural antihistamine, helpful for those with autoimmune disorders or allergies.
As a liver tonic lingzhi helps to cleanse and nourish the blood and its antihepatotoxic compounds, like ganoderic acid A and ganoderic acid B, have been recognized to guard against liver damage. In one 2013 study, the ganoderic acid found in reishi was shown to protect mice from liver injury and in an earlier study was identified as a potentially therapeutic substance for those with hepatitis B. (*)
The Chinese word for reishi, lingzhi, means “herb of spiritual potency.” Although it is tonifying to all "three treasures" (Jing, Qi and Shen), it is considered a particularly potent "Shen" tonic. Working with the heart and kidney organ systems, it helps to calm the nerves and promotes a clear and peaceful state of mind.
Encouraging a meditative state, helpful in developing spiritual awareness, it has been used throughout history by Taoist monks and spiritual seekers to sharpen concentration skills, build will power and expand inner consciousness.
It is important to note that wild reishi mushrooms are particularly famed for their higher Shen-like qualities.
Because of reishi's effects at soothing the nervous system, consistent use of the tea, extract or spore concentrates is considered to be one of the top Chinese remedies for those who suffer from insomnia. Reishi helps one achieve restful sleep yet sustain high levels of energy throughout the day.
Reishi mushroom is known for its health enhancing effects to the cardiovascular system and has been used in Asian cultures for centuries to improve heart health. It has been shown useful for lowering LDL cholesterol, blocking the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver, reducing risk of arteriosclerosis and has been found to inhibit angina, shortness of breath, high blood pressure and other conditions associated with cardiovascular disease.
The calming, centering and anti-stress properties are also beneficial for those with anxiety-related heart conditions. The energetic attributes of red reishi are specific for the heart organ system and believed to "open and calm the heart" as well as boost heart Chi (Qi) in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
At the end of the reishi mushroom's growing season it releases millions of "spores", or very small microscopic seeds, which coat the fruiting body and naturally spread to surrounding habitats to generate more mushrooms. These spores are known to be extremely rich in triterpenes and can be collected as a powder which is cell wall cracked to make them medicinally absorbable to humans.
The spores also contain an oil which is commonly extracted for its triterpene concentrations. In addition, triterpene crystals, the most condensed form of triterpenes created from the spores, are also available through high-tech extraction methods.
Recent scientific attention has been given to Ganoderma lucidum spores because of their proven high triterpene content. According to North American
Journal of Medical Sciences "the triterpenoids were found to be the most important
substances for its [reishi's] numerous pharmacological uses."
In this same documented study it states that "Triterpenoids isolated from ganoderma spores showed significant anti-HIV-1 protease, antitumor, and anti-complement activities. Triterpenoids are the main active constituents of ganoderma spores and show various bioactivities for its medicinal use."
The spores have also been shown to have potent inhibitory effects on the Epstein-Barr virus (herpes) as well as various degenerative diseases. In an Asian study published in the journal entitled Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine it was shown that "our results support that Ganoderma lucidum (GL) may be a promising agent for the treatment of PD through anti-inflammation."
With the help of modern science, extracts are now available in the form of reishi spore oil, reishi spore powder and reishi spore triterpene crystals. They are definitely one of the most powerful ways to consume reishi for those in need of super concentrated doses. However, we also recommended simultaneously consuming the teas or powdered hot water extracts of the reishi fruiting body for the highest health benefits.
Dragon Herbs Duanwood Reishi - This is an encapsulated powdered hot water extract. Duanwood reishi is a type of red reishi cultivated for commercial use but is of a significantly higher quality, grown on certain types of hardwoods indigenous to specific regions of China.
Jing Herbs Reishi Powdered Extract/w Cell-cracked Spores - Comes as a loose powder in 50g or 250g sizes and is a combination hot water extract along with the mushroom spores. It is derived from wildcrafted or "ye sheng", reishi as opposed to cultivated.
Lost Empire Herbs Powdered Extract - This is a four powdered blend of red, purple, black and white reishi mushrooms to provide a broader range of benefits.
Mountain Rose Herbs, Dried Reishi and Extract - Organically certified dried whole red reishi mushroom and slices. They also offer a liquid extract, which is a double extraction of the fruiting body using a combination of both hot water and alcohol solutions.
Dragon Herbs Wild Reishi Drops - This product is made from wild Changbai Mountain red reishi fruiting body using a double hot water alcohol extraction method.
Mushroom Science - This is a powdered hot water extraction, standardized to provide 4% triterpenes and 12% beta-glucan polysaccharides.
Dragon Herbs Reishi Spore Oil - Softgel capsules (500mg) of reishi spore oil, contains over 150 mg of triterpenes.
Living Nutritionals Reishi Spore Oil, Powder and Triterpene Crystals - These are very high quality cell-wall broken spore derived products, some of the best on the market and one of the only brands that sell the triterpene crystals.
Fungi Perfecti Reishi Mycelium Biomass - A reputable top-notch medicinal mushroom brand that uses activated, freeze-dried, certified organic mycelium powder in capsule form.
Reishi mushroom, in all its forms, is best and most effective when consumed on a regular basis. Small doses taken throughout the day for the long term is better than high doses taken only for short periods of time.
Medicinal mushrooms need to be heated in water to break down the outer chitin shell. This releases the polysaccharides that are not otherwise bio-available to our digestive system in their fresh or dried state. Alcohol solutions are also used which work to specifically extract the triterpenes. For these reasons double extraction methods, using both hot water and alcohol, are commonly employed.
You can use the dried mushroom slices, pieces or powder alone or with other Chinese or Ayurvedic herbs and create your own tonic herbal formulations specific to your unique health goals. Whole mushrooms can be ground up in a Vitamix or other high speed blender for quality freshness and used in tea decoctions. (For a recipe using reishi see our Energy Tonic Tea)
Reishi is a bitter woody tasting mushroom with a slightly sweet flavor. Powdered extracts can be mixed into hot water or teas and sweetened to create a bittersweet coffee-like drink. These powders can also be blended into tonic elixirs, shakes and even desserts, like our chocolate cake recipe. Hot water extracts also come in capsule form for convenience.
Spore powders, reishi spore oil and triterpene crystals can likewise be integrated into drinks or mixed with water.
Follow the recommended dosage amount on the reishi product, usually most will give average to high dosage amounts which can be followed accordingly depending on your own unique body type and current health issues. Generally between 1/2- 1 1/2 teaspoons (2-6 capsules) of powdered extract is recommended once or twice a day.
Reishi is one of our personal favorite top 10 superfoods, but for more on other medicinal mushroom varieties see our pages on: lions mane, agaricus, maitake, cordyceps and shiitake in the links below this page.