Reishi Mushroom: The Ultimate Guide
If Chaga is the 'King of Medicinal Mushrooms', Reishi is certainly the Queen.
The Reishi mushroom is an ancient, venerated medicinal mushroom that has been used to improve health and prolong life for at least 2,200 years. Modern science has shown that this tradition is well-founded and that it has a great deal to offer today's society.
What can Reishi do for you? How can you get the most out of it?
This article will answer these questions, and present some recipes to give you some ideas how Reishi can be used in the kitchen.
Reishi, or Ganoderma lucidum to science, is also commonly known by its Chinese name, Lingzhi, which means spirit mushroom. Other Chinese nicknames for Reishi speak to its potent reputation: shenzhi (divine mushroom) and xiancao (immortality plant).
Reishi grows in warm, humid areas of Asia, North and South America, Europe, and Australia. Though it is widely distributed, it is very picky about which individual trees it will grow on. Even in a suitable habitat where they occur, it may only be found on two or three trees in 10,000.
Its natural scarcity and renowned health properties meant that for some time in China it was reserved for royalty. Fortunately, Reishi takes well to cultivation so its benefits can be experienced today by everyone.
Health Benefits and Uses
The Reishi mushroom has one of the longest histories of use in traditional medicine, as well as one of the most extensive collections of research.
Searching the term Ganoderma lucidum on the PubMed site returns over 1,000 studies, trials, and reviews either exclusively about Reishi or including it, ranging from the 1960s to the current year. Over 100 of those are specifically about Reishi's anti-cancer potential published in just the last five years.
To make all of these findings more approachable, we'll divide Reishi's health benefits into two major categories: how it affects the immune system, and how it affects organs and glands.
The Immune System
Polysaccharides are one of the major types of bioactive compounds in Reishi and are responsible for most of the mushroom's immunomodulatory effects.
Polysaccharides are complex molecules made up of other sugar molecules bonded together, and they serve a number of nutritional and structural purposes in our bodies.
The polysaccharides in Reishi enhance the production and activity of several important elements of the immune system that are summarized below:
Increases the Number of Natural Killer Cells
This variety of white blood cell attaches to a tumor cell or virus-infected cell and injects it with a protein called perforin that melts the cell membrane, destroying it.
Natural Killer cells are vital in fighting infections and preventing cancer development and metastasis. Reishi polysaccharides have been shown to stimulate the production of these cells even in advanced-stage cancer patients.
Stimulates Production of Macrophages
Macrophages are another kind of white blood cell. The term macrophage means "big eater," which accurately describes its role. Macrophages absorb and destroy unwanted particles in the body, whether bacterium, virus, fungus or parasite.
Stimulates T-Cells and B-Cells
T-cells and B-cells are the main foot soldiers of the immune system. When a threat is detected, some T-cells kill invading pathogens directly, while others cooperate with B-cells to form antibodies that are like nets that capture the pathogens while other parts of the immune system, like macrophages and natural killer cells, are summoned to kill them.
Increases the Activity of Dendritic Cells
Dendritic cells form a sort of intelligence agency for the immune system, collecting antigen information from invading pathogens and alerting the proper T-cells and B-cells.
Reishi polysaccharides speed up the process of maturation in Dendritic cells and improve their communication with T-cells and B-cells, making them more efficient in dealing with viruses and bacteria.
When the immune system overreacts and attacks otherwise healthy tissue, the result may be an inflammatory disease, also known as an autoimmune disease. This umbrella term includes many chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. More about these disorders can be found here.
In most people, this misfiring of the immune system is prevented by another kind of T-cells called Regulatory T-cells, or Tregs, that suppress other T-cell responses when necessary.
Researchers have found that a particular Reishi polysaccharide called LZ-8 increased the number of Tregs, thereby reducing inflammation. This may be the mechanism behind Reishi's ability to lessen asthma and allergy symptoms.
Organs and Bodily Systems
Reishi mushrooms have demonstrated beneficial health effects on several important organs and systems. In large part, this is due to the antioxidants it holds.
Antioxidants are compounds that occur naturally in the body but that we also get from our diet. Their role is to combat free radicals, which are reactive molecules that can damage a cell's DNA, leading to the cell's death and tissue damage or to mutation which can eventually lead to cancer growth.
When there are too many free radicals for antioxidants in the body to deal with, it causes a condition called oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is now recognized as a major factor in the development and progression of many diseases affecting organs.
By introducing more antioxidants, including its polysaccharides, Reishi makes it possible to neutralize more free radicals, thereby preventing or reducing oxidative stress.
Let's now discuss some specific examples of what Reishi does for our organs, both via its antioxidants and other helpful compounds.
One of the organs most severely impacted by oxidative stress is the liver.
Researchers have discovered that Reishi increases antioxidant activity in liver tissue in both healthy test subjects and those with liver disease, reducing oxidative stress as measured by decreased disease markers in the blood. Additionally, it has been shown to protect the liver from various environmental toxins such as:
The cardiovascular system is also vulnerable to oxidative stress, with research suggesting that it is at least partially responsible for the cardiac and blood vessel problems that claim so many victims every year.
In addition to reducing oxidative stress, compounds in Reishi suppress gene expressions associated with heart failure, and many other studies show that it lowers cholesterol by inhibiting its biosynthesis in cells.
In addition to protecting the brain by fighting cardiovascular disease that could lead to strokes, Reishi helps safeguard the brain from the neurological effects of oxidative stress, which includes brain aging and serious diseases like Alzheimer's.
It turns out that some parts of the brain are more susceptible to cell dysfunction and death from oxidative stress, and unfortunately they are cells in vital areas like the frontal cortex and hippocampus.
Scientists have found that Reishi reduces this oxidative stress in the brain and is useful not only as a prophylactic to prevent damage but also as a treatment that reverses it.
Reishi has also been shown to help stabilize moods and sleep. It has properties similar to antidepressants, reducing stress and depression and improving overall sense of well-being, as well as alleviating insomnia and improving sleep.
About 90% of men who live to their seventies will experience symptoms related to an enlarged prostate, which begins growing in their thirties and affects a greater percentage of men in each subsequent decade of their life. This condition is called prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
A 2012 study revealed that Reishi relieved BPH symptoms by inhibiting testosterone-induced prostate growth.
Reishi has also been found to help men with non-BPH-related urinary tract symptoms.
The Pancreas, Liver, and Diabetes Pathology
The Reishi mushroom has some potential benefits for those with diabetes, pre-diabetes, or other issues with insulin and glucose metabolism.
Reishi's polysaccharides have been shown by researchers to increase insulin secretion in the pancreas which lowers blood glucose levels.
Furthermore, when polysaccharides reach the liver, they decrease the production of glucose there, which study authors concluded also improved cardiac tissue health.
Reishi can also help prevent and mitigate damage caused by complications from diabetes. For example, one study found that its polysaccharides improved diabetic subjects' wound-healing capabilities, which can be a major problem for those with diabetes.
A different study showed the same polysaccharides protect the kidneys from diabetic nephropathy, which is organ damage that in severe cases can result in kidney failure.
The eyes are another area vulnerable to damage from diabetes. Though more study is needed, it seems that Reishi inhibits an enzyme called aldose reductase, which is blamed for the development of eye complications in diabetics.
Reishi may then prove to be an excellent compliment to conventional diabetes treatment in keeping the disease from harming various organs.
Usage and Recipes
Reishi mushrooms are often consumed dried either as a supplement powder or steeped in hot water to make tea.
The procedure to make Reishi tea is simple and can be found on this page of our site.
A typically recommended daily dose for health benefits is as follows:
The "tincture" noted above is a dual-extract liquid that uses both hot water and alcohol to get as much of the bioactive compounds out of the mushrooms as possible. These can be found for sale or can be made at home. We detailed how to do this in our Lion's Mane mushroom guide.
If you're buying commercial Reishi supplements, defer to the instructions for that product, or find out how much of the supplement equals one gram of raw mushroom and figure out a dosage accordingly.
Reishi is used in food recipes less frequently than other medicinal mushrooms because it can be somewhat woody and bitter-tasting by itself. This is why our tea recipe above includes some other flavors.
That is not to say that Reishi can't be used in the kitchen, just that it is best when paired with strong ingredients like chocolate and coffee that can absorb some of that astringency. For example, in our article about the top 7 medicinal mushrooms, we used Reishi to make mushroom chocolate truffles.
For these recipes, we'll be using ground Reishi as it's the easiest form to use in cooking. Ground Reishi is commercially available, but it is often less expensive to make your own by buying dried Reishi and grinding it in a blender, food processor, or coffee or spice grinder. You could even use a mortar and pestle.
Recipe: Reishi Super Porridge
Oat porridge is a hearty, traditional morning meal, but by adding Reishi, goji berries, and Greek yogurt, this simple breakfast can be transformed into rocket fuel for your busy day ahead.
1. Bring your milk or water to a boil in a saucepan, then back the heat off just a bit.
2. Add the oats, salt, goji berries, and ground Reishi.
3. Let this simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
4. When it has reached the desired thickness, remove it from the heat and transfer to a bowl.
5. Spoon on the yogurt and honey. Enjoy!
Recipe: Morning Mojo Tonic
Like the porridge above, this ultra-healthy concoction is designed to prime and boost your system.
While the spice of the turmeric and ginger should be balanced pretty well by the dates, some may wish to reduce the spices. Try to keep some of them in the recipe, since they offer significant health benefits.
1. Put your dates in a cup of hot water and soak them for about 5 minutes or until they're soft, depending on the particular dates.
2. While the dates soak, measure out the other ingredients and put them together in your blender.
3. Add in the dates and blend for 30-60 seconds until smooth.
4. Pour into your favorite glass or mug. Enjoy!
5. Spoon on the yogurt and honey. Enjoy!
We hope that this article has demonstrated to you the impressive range of health benefits this special mushroom has to offer. From boosting and regulating the immune system to protecting vital organs, Reishi's properties have been known in folk medicine for thousands of years, and now scientific research has backed up and even expanded that ancient knowledge.