Although the health benefits of the Reishi Mushroom might just now be starting to garner some fresh attention, this wonderful fungus has long been revered as a medicinal powerhouse.
Known by some cultures as the “mushroom of immortality”, Reishi has been used for thousands of years to increase vitality, bolster the immune system, support cardiovascular health and promote longevity.
So, can this mushroom really stand up to these incredible claims?
(if you want to skip down to some good options for Reishi supplements click here)
What is the Reishi Mushroom?
Let me introduce the Reishi Mushroom.
If nothing else, the Reishi Mushroom is stunningly beautiful. It doesn’t take the shape of your typical cap and stem mushroom, but rather starts as a pencil like “antler” and forms a fan like formation, or “conk”. Because of this, Reishi Mushrooms are easily identifiable, even though they can take on a variety of deep and vivid colors.
In nature, the mushroom grows on dead or dying hardwood trees in deciduous forests all over the world. It can generally be found throughout the warmer seasons, but is most commonly found fruiting in the fall. The fruiting body of the Reishi grows much slower than other mushrooms, but it also takes much longer to decay, sometimes even remaining on trees throughout the winter.
The scientific name for the Reishi is Ganoderma lucidum. It is classified as a “polypore” mushroom, meaning that, rather than gills, its underside is composed of thousands of pores in which it releases its spores. The cap, or “conk”, is exceptionally tough and woody, and the taste is extremely bitter, making the mushroom completely inappropriate for culinary use.
Even though the Reishi mushroom will likely never earn a spot at the dinner table, it’s amazing powers to heal and support the body make it a perfect candidate for regular supplementation.
Health Benefits of the Reishi Mushroom
The reported health benefits of the Reishi Mushroom are nothing short of impressive. That is why it is the most commonly used medicinal mushroom in the world.
With a long history of reported use, and some rigorous science to back it up, one might believe these claims have some serious clout.
Compounds isolated from the Reishi Mushroom have been shown to significantly reduce the incidence of cancerous tumors in lab studies. It has also been shown to reduce the harm caused from Chemotherapy.
Studies have shown that extracts from Reishi mushrooms have the ability to inhibit certain viruses, such as hepatitis b.
Reduces Stress and Anxiety
Reishi is thought to reduce overall stress by calming and relaxing the mind, allowing for a better response to emotional triggers.
Reduces Blood Pressure
The mushroom has been shown to modulate LDL and HDL levels, having a positive effect on maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Support Cardiovascular Health
Aside from its ability to reduce blood pressure, Reishi is thought to support an overall healthy heart by reducing stress and improving blood circulation.
Immune System Support
The most well known health benefit of Reishi is to support the immune system, effectively combating a host of diseases, illnesses and allergies.
These are some pretty impressive health claims- and suggest that almost anyone could benefit from regular supplementation with Reishi. The common theme from the above health benefits is that Reishi seems to be able to improve overall health, by improving the immune system- supporting the body’s natural ability to fight disease and illness.
You can easily see why this leads to the thesis that Reishi mushroom helps promote vitality and longevity, harmonizing the natural rhythms of the body and supporting overall wellness.
So what is actually in the Reishi mushroom that can cause these incredible benefits?
Beta-D Glucans and Triterpenes
The two major components that researchers have extracted and identified as beneficial from Reishi are the water-soluble polysaccharides(beta-glucans) and the triterpenes.
The beta-glucans are thought to be responsible for the anti-cancer effect of Reishi mushrooms. They do this by stimulating and strengthening the immune system, which can reduce tumor proliferation and prevent tumor metastasis. Stimulating and strengthening the immune system also has other benefits, such as reducing susceptibility to colds and flu, and preventing other diseases and ailments.
Reishi also contains a group of triterpenes known as “ganoderic acids”. Other than causing the mushroom to have an extremely bitter taste, these ganoderic acids are thought to be responsible for supporting organ health, notably the liver and heart, improving blood circulation and reducing the incidence of allergies.
Traditionally, Reishi is not taken to combat a specific disease or illness after it has taken hold- but is rather intended to be taken regularly, along with proper diet and exercise.
This helps to support overall health and harmony in the body, which is much harder to define and pin-point with medical terminology. The idea is that it is much easier to prevent disease than to treat illness, and better maintain overall balance in the body than to heal to heal it from sickness.
Here is a quick video of Paul Stamets talking about the health benefits of Reishi Mushrooms.
Reishi Mushroom Studies and Evidence
There have been plenty of rigorous scientific studies done to try and quantify and evaluate the reported health benefits of Reishi Mushrooms. Many of these studies have focused on the beta-glucans and the ability to slow the growth of cancer cells and tumors.
A recent meta-study, completed in April 2016, set out to evaluate “the clinical effects of G. lucidum on long-term survival, tumour response, host immune functions and quality of life in cancer patients, as well as adverse events associated with its use. The study involved 5 trials, which analysed 373 subjects suffering from various stages of cancer. These subjects were administered Reishi mushroom during the course traditional treatment methods. Placebo groups were also included in the trials.
Although the study could not conclusively state that Reishi mushroom alone were as effective as other treatments, it did find that “patients who had been given G. lucidum alongside with chemo/radiotherapy were more likely to respond positively compared to chemo/radiotherapy alone.” It also found that “patients in the G. lucidumgroup were found to have a relatively better quality of life after treatment than those in the control group.”
This study would suggest that, since there were very low and minor incidences of adverse reactions to Reishi, it would be worth taking in addition to traditional treatment.
Other more recent studies, have shown that extracts from Reishi mushrooms have a inhibitory effect on certain viruses. These studies have isolated certain triterpenes that have been shown to bolster the immune response to hepatitis b and other diseases. Animal studies with mice have shown that these extracts are able to protect and heal the liver from damage caused by these viruses.
From one study “Ganopoly, the polysaccharide-containing preparation of G. lucidum, was proven in a double-blind, randomized and multicentered study in patients with chronic hepatitis B… …33% of treated patients had normal aminotransferase values and 13% had cleared hepatitis B surface antigen from serum.”
Check out this article for an excellent summary of much of the research done involving Reishi and other medicinal mushrooms.
Reishi Mushroom Farmer, image from http://www.nammex.com/mushroom-quality-control
How is Reishi Grown for Supplementation?
Reishi mushrooms are usually grown on either logs or stumps in green houses or outdoor farms. They are also commonly grown on supplemented sawdust fruiting blocks, just like other gourmet mushrooms.
Unlike Lions Mane, in order to get the full health benefits of the Reishi Mushroom, the mushroom must be grown to completion and the entire fruiting body should be harvested.
This is because the beneficial compounds of the Reishi, notably the beta-glucans and the triterpenes, are not found in high concentration in the mycelium alone.
If the extracts are taken from grain spawn, they will contain high levels of starch and up to 25 times less concentrated compared to extracts from the whole fruiting body.
Ways to Get Reishi in Your Diet
At this point you might be convinced that it couldn’t hurt to try and get some of the benefits of Reishi Mushrooms. You aren’t going to find fresh Reishi at your grocery store.
So what options do you have to get some Reishi in your diet?
Finding Wild Reishi Mushroom
You could always try your hand at finding this mushroom in the wild. Luckily, it is reasonably common and can be found growing on hardwood trees and stumps throughout the world, and commonly throughout the United States. In the southern states, you are likely to find it in oak forests, while in the Northeastern states, it is frequently found on maples.
Reishi mushroom identification is relatively easy. Look for a reddish-brown “conk” shape, (although reishi can take on a variety of colors) growing at the base of trees, with pores rather than gills.
When foraging for any wild mushroom, ensure that you have a good guide book and are 100% confident in your ability to identify the species properly before consuming it. Reishi is unique and relatively easy to identify, but you are always best to play it safe when hunting wild mushrooms.
Hunting for Reishi in the wild is exciting and rewarding, but might not be the best way to ensure a steady supply of the mushroom if you are looking for regular supplementation.
Image by James Lindsay from http://www.commanster.eu/commanster.html
Growing Reishi Mushroom
Of course, a better way to ensure the availability of fresh Reishi is to grow it yourself! While definitely not the most cost effective option, growing Reishi is relatively easy and- compared to hunting it in the wild- you can be sure of what you are getting.
The easiest way to grow Reishi at home is to use a kit. This is essentially a pre-colonized, ready to fruit block of mycelium on sawdust. All you have to do is cut slices in the bag, trying not to damage the mycelium, and keep the kit in a relatively moist environment. Reishi is slow growing, but quite tenacious, and should be able to grow well even if neglected.
You could also try growing Reishi mushrooms from scratch, starting with a culture and eventually making your own fruiting blocks, using the growing methods explained on this site. This option is much more involved, but if you are interested in growing mushrooms as hobby, it’s by far the best way to go!
Whole Dried Reishi Mushroom
A much easier option to get whole Reishi mushrooms is to purchase dehydrated and packaged Reishi mushrooms from a reputable supplier. This saves considerable time and effort over harvesting and drying the mushrooms yourself.
As with anything you consume for the health benefits, you want to make sure you are getting a quality product. Try to find organically grown Reishi, free from pesticides or heavy metals.
Reishi Mushrom Tea
If you are able to obtain dried or fresh Reishi pieces, one common way to supplement with Reishi Mushrooms is to make a tea. This is essentially a hot water extract, which draws out the medicinal benefits from the mushroom fruiting body into a bitter tasting tea. It can be “enjoyed” hot, or it can be brewed in large batches and placed in the fridge where it can last up to a week. This way you can take a quick shot of the tea as part of your regular routine.
There is no doubt, it tastes awful, but considering the benefits one can get from this mushroom, it might just be worth it.
How to Make Reishi Mushroom Tea
Making Reishi Mushroom tea is relatively easy, and can be done at home with dried or fresh Reishi and common kitchen items.
Obtain whole Reishi conks or antlers (the fruiting body), which can either be dried or fresh. Fresh Reishi works better for making a tea, but can be hard to come by unless you grow it yourself or are skilled at identifying and hunting in the wild.
Cut the Reishi into thin slices. Reishi is extremely tough and woody, so you will have to work pretty hard to slice it up. Be careful not to cut yourself!
Place the Reishi strips into a pot of boiling hot water. The recommended ratio of mushroom to water varies depending on how concentrated you want your tea. If you are new to Reishi, it is suggested to start with a lower concentration at first to see how your stomach reacts, and how easily you can handle the bitter taste.
A good amount to start is about 5 grams dried Reishi (25-30 grams if fresh) per 4 cups of water. If you don’t have a scale, 5 grams of dried Reishi should fit nicely in the palm of your hand. It doesn’t have to be exact.
Once you’ve added the Reishi to the boiling water, reduce the heat and let simmer for about 2 hours. Yes, this is a long time, but it takes a while for the hot water extraction process to take place, and too short a simmer time would be a waste of mushroom.
Remove the pot from the heat. Once it’s reasonably cooled, strain the tea to remove the woody mushroom pieces. You can use cheese cloth, or even a regular kitchen strainer.
Enjoy? You can either drink the tea hot, or place it in the fridge were it will last a couple of days to a week. You can try and cut the bitter taste with honey, but honestly, you might just need to embrace the flavor. Another common way to get over the bitterness is to just take 1 oz shots with cold Reishi tea from the fridge.
Supplementing with Reishi Mushroom Extracts
By far the easiest way to add Reishi Mushrooms to your diet is to supplement with a pill, powder, or liquid extract.
There are many well respected suppliers to choose from with high quality, analytically tested and certified organic Reishi mushroom extracts.
Fungi Perfecti’s line of myco-medicinals has a Reishi supplement in pill form. This is an ultra-convinient way to get a daily dose of reishi, that you can take with you anywhere.
The problem with the Host Defense brand Reishi is that it is made from grain spawn, and doesn’t actually use the fruiting body of the mushroom. The final product ends up being containing a large amount of starch from blending up the brown rice.
You will still get some of the beneficial compounds found in Reishi, but it will be at a much lower concentration.
Host Defense is a good choice if you want mushroom products that are grown in the USA though, as they are grown organically in Washington.
Host Defense also has a liquid extract Reishi Product that actually contains an extract from both the mycelium and the fruiting body.
This is an alcohol extract, which helps ensure that all the beneficial compounds are extracted from the mushrooms. This is different from a hot water extract (such as a tea) that won’t actually get all of the compounds.
The extract is a little less convenient that pill form, but at least you are getting a full spectrum product. Still, it’s hard to tell how much Reishi you are actually getting because of the “proprietary blend” extract contains both mycelium on grain and dried fruitbody.
Reishi Powder Supplements
If you want to ensure you are getting a product made from the full fruiting body, check out the Reishi Mushroom Extract Powder from Real Mushrooms.
Real Mushrooms uses the whole fruiting body, which is 100% organiclly grown. They perform a dual extract (both hot water and alcohol) which ensures all the beneficial compunds (beta-glucans and triterpenes) are extracted from the mushroom.
The extract is analytically tested to ensure quality, and the package actually states the amount of beta glucans and triterpenes in the powder. This level of resolution to what is actually in your mushroom product is somewhat unprecedented and definitely deserves some recognition.
The problem with taking Reishi Mushrooms in the form of a powder that you can add to smoothies, tea or coffee is that it is incredibly bitter. You might even struggle to get it down most days. But, believe it or not, the bitterness is actually a good thing. The face twisting bitterness actually comes, in part, from the triterpenes extracted from the mushroom fruitbody.
So in a way, you want your Reishi to be bitter. It tastes awful… but it works.
Take Reishi for Your Health!
The Reishi mushroom has been used for thousands of years as a way to reduce blood pressure, fight cancer, support the immune system and promote longevity and vitality.
Not only is there a long history of anecdotal evidence, there is also some serious scientific research backing up these claims.
You could try hunting it in the wild or growing it yourself, but the easiest way to get Reishi into your diet is to simply buy a supplement in the form of a pill, a powder, or a liquid extract. And the most efficient way to do it is to make sure your supplement contains extracts taken from the whole fruiting body.
With all the potential benefits of the Reishi mushroom, it might make sense for you to give it a try. If taken regularly, along with a healthy lifestyle, it might just be the superfood you’ve been looking for!
Thanks for reading!
spread the spores