Reishi mushrooms include several species belonging to the genus Ganoderma. They are one of the oldest known types of medicinal mushrooms. Reishi mushrooms have also been the subject of more extensive research than any other type of medicinal fungus. Although, they did not rise to popularity in the Western world until the 20th century. Today, reishi mushrooms are a popular daily wellness supplement around the globe, as well as a component of treatment for a range of acute and chronic conditions.
History of Reishi Mushrooms
As mentioned in our introduction to The Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms, in Chinese medicine, Ganoderma lucidum mushrooms are called “lingzhi”, which means “Ten thousand year mushroom”. Lingzhi is listed in early Chinese pharmacopeia, or pharmaceutical books, from first-century B.C.E.
In these ancient texts, lingzhi (aka reishi) is identified as a way to increase vitality and extend the life span. It’s also listed as a way to treat hepatitis, kidney disease, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, ulcers, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, and various types of cancer. These attributes have been recognized in the various regional common names for this mushroom. This includes
- “Mannentake” (a Japanese name for Ganoderma lucidum) which means “mushroom of immortality”,
- and “Reishi”, which roughly translates to “herb of spiritual power”.
Benefits of Reishi Mushrooms for Your Health
As Reishi is the oldest known type of medicinal fungus, it is also the most heavily studied. Research has often confirmed the assertions made by traditional medicine and herbalists, as reishi extracts and compounds have been found to have many positive health benefits.
In Japan the immunomodulatory effects of reishi are so widely recognized that it is officially listed by the Japanese government as an auxiliary agent for the treatment of various cancers, Alzheimer’s Disease, Diabetes Mellitus and Chronic Bronchitis.
While reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years to improve quality of life and to help treat a multitude of different physical illnesses, they are also considered by many to have spiritual effects as well. Though reishi mushrooms do not cause any psychedelic effects, they are considered an “herb of spiritual potency” and are believed to help open up the crown chakra.
Following we have listed some of the most familiar physiological health benefits associated with reishi mushrooms:
Regulates Immune System
One of the primary active components found within Reishi mushrooms are naturally-occurring polysaccharides called beta-glucans. Beta-glucans help the body to modulate its immune function. This is done by increasing immune response when necessary to protect against infection, but also reducing or regulating an overactive immune system, as seen in many autoimmune diseases.
Adjunct Cancer Treatment & Anti-Inflammatory
Reishi has been shown to help increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy while protecting against some of its damaging effects, as well as to generally improve quality of life for cancer patients. Some studies also show that reishi may influence:
- hematopoietic stem cells,
- T cells,
- dendritic cells (DCs),
- and natural killer (NK) cells,
All of the above play a role in tumor growth. These anti-inflammatory and antitumor effects should make reishi clinically relevant as an adjunct therapy in the treatment of a variety of cancers and other inflammatory conditions.
Preventative Health & Cardiovascular Benefits
In addition to polysaccharides, reishi mushrooms contain triterpenes, including ganoderic acid and lucidenic acid. These triterpenes are thought to potentially play a role in protecting the kidneys and liver and assisting with detoxification of the body. These triterpenes also have potential cardiovascular benefits, helping to lower cholesterol and combat hypertension, as well as preventing arteriosclerosis.
Both the triterpenes as well as the polysaccharides found within the reishi mushroom have been found to help the body metabolize glucose more effectively. This in turn may help to regulate blood sugar, a vital factor in the treatment and prevention of diabetes mellitus.
Allergy and Asthma Management
Another positive effect of ganoderic and lucidenic acids is their role in helping to control the body’s production of histamine. Histamine is the substance responsible for allergic reactions and related inflammation, including asthmatic flares and chronic bronchitis. Due to its ability to combat histamine production as well as inflammation, reishi is quite well-known for its respiratory benefits.
Relaxes Nervous System and Promotes Sleep
Reishi has long been recommended by traditional medicine practitioners for its anxiolytic or “calming” effects on the nervous system.
One of the most popular uses for reishi is as a sleep aid. Many traditional herbalists frequently recommend reishi as a treatment for insomnia. One way reishi is effective at promoting sleep is by improving overall feelings of relaxation, which can help one to fall asleep more easily. Some people have even reported feelings of sedation or tranquility after taking reishi. This may be one reason why it is especially helpful in combating insomnia, which is often closely related to feelings of anxiety.
Even though reishi has not been shown to increase REM sleep, it has been shown to shorten sleep latency, which is the time it takes to transition from being fully awake into sleep. This generally leads to an increase in total sleeping time, which may reduce fatigue.
Reishi’s history as the “mushroom of immortality” makes it clear that it has wide-ranging benefits that help to protect against some of the more detrimental effects of aging. While it is not entirely clear exactly how reishi works within the body to achieve this, we have learned that certain substances within the reishi mushroom called oligosaccharides have an anticonvulsant effect, as well as neuroprotective properties, including reduced degeneration of certain brain cells. This could help to explain why reishi is considered so beneficial in the treatment of Alzheimer’s, as well as its ability to promote “longevity”.
Research shows that reishi mushrooms act as antioxidants, which means that they are effective at helping to maintain the body’s internal balance of free radicals. If the body becomes overwhelmed with free radicals, it will begin to suffer the effects of oxidative stress, leading to cell and tissue damage. Thus, it is important to include a wide variety of naturally occurring antioxidants such as reishi in your wellness regimen.
Where can I find Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms, like most medicinal mushrooms, may be found in nature. However we can not over-stress how critical it is to always make a 100% positive identification of any wild mushroom before ingesting even a small amount. Many mushrooms have a similar appearance to one another and some mushrooms are extremely toxic. For this reason, we recommend seeking the assistance of an experienced guide when you are first beginning to forage wild mushrooms. Local guides will be most familiar with your regional landscape and will be more easily able to identify where to find the mushrooms you seek.
Looking in Nature
Some species of Ganoderma can be found on the base and stumps of a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees. It depends upon species and region. Reishi are colorful, flat-topped mushrooms that are shaped somewhat like a saucer or kidney bean atop a thick stem, with a characteristically shiny top layer. Younger ganoderma mushrooms are typically bright shades of red, yellow, and orange. Older reishi mushrooms develop deeper maroon, red and purple shades as they age. We advise that you only harvest the more mature mushrooms, leaving the younger ones to drop spores and replenish the species.
Reishi is a type of “shelf” or “bracket” fungi, which means that in the wild it will be found growing from the base and sides of trees. This opposed to growing up from the soil. It is a sturdy mushroom that can be difficult to harvest, requiring a fair amount of twisting and pulling to separate it from the tree to which it is attached. For reishi mushrooms that are especially difficult to remove, a saw may be helpful. If foraging isn’t for you but you still want fresh mushrooms, you can also grow reishi mushrooms at home!
Harvesting Reishi Mushrooms Yourself
Once gathered, the reishi mushrooms should be wiped off to remove dirt. However, do not submerge the mushroom in water, as it will absorb far too much moisture. After cleaning, it is time to dry your reishi mushroom. We recommend cutting the reishi into strips using a serrated blade, then place into a food dehydrator. You can also use a conventional oven set to the lowest temperature. Ideally, this should be around 135 degrees Fahrenheit or 57 degrees Celsius. You will be able to tell when the mushrooms are done drying by trying to break a piece in half. Since it is essential to remove as much moisture from the mushroom as possible, you will know it is sufficiently dehydrated when a piece of the mushroom snaps like a cracker. Once the mushrooms are fully dried, you can then use them to brew tea or make your own mushroom tinctures.
Purchasing Reishi Mushrooms
Of course, we all have very busy lives these days, and we understand that the time required to grow or forage and prepare your own medicinal mushrooms is simply not a luxury shared by most people. In many cases, it may be more practical and preferable for you to purchase a prepared reishi mushroom product. As with all natural supplements, it is crucial to do your research before you buy. Due to the increasing popularity of medicinal mushrooms, many products have hit the market recently that do not actually contain the ingredients listed on their labels, and/or which are not produced in the most sustainable and ethical ways.
At Growing Organic, we are on a mission to improve personal health while simultaneously healing the planet. In line with these values, we are happy to offer a selection of high-quality Reishi products in our shop, including:
- North Spore Reishi Tincture containing wild reishi foraged from the woods of Maine. It is extracted using a double extraction technique that involves a month-long alcohol soak. This is followed by a hot water decoction for optimal extraction of both alcohol- and water-soluble constituents
- North Spore Natural Immunity Blend Mushroom Tincture contains a combination of medicinal mushrooms including Reishi, along with Chaga, Shiitake, and Hen of the Woods (Maitake). This tincture is also double-extracted to ensure inclusion of both alcohol- and water-soluble elements.
- Growing Organic Get Well Herbal Glycerite which contains Reishi along with other immunity-enhancing ingredients. This includes Astragalus, Echinacea, Ginger, Chaga and Wild Blueberries, all working together to help your body get and stay healthy,