What Are Reishi Mushrooms?

The Reishi Mushroom has many names, including Ling Zhi or Lingzhi, Red Reishi, Mannantake, Spirit Plant, and the Mushroom of Immortality. In Ancient China, use was reserved for the nobility to help extend life and improve general health. The earliest known mention of the fungus dates back to the 29th century B.C. in a book known as “The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica.”

Today, the fungus has taken its place in traditional medicine practices and is attributed with several potential health benefits.

In this article, we will examine the Reishi Mushroom, to better uncover its secret properties and learn how this simple fungus does so much.

What is the Reishi Mushroom?

This woody, hard, and bitter-tasting fungus is not your garden variety mushroom.  The Reishi Mushroom, while not intended for culinary purposes, is a medicinal herb.  It is often compared and contrasted with another fungus used as a medicinal herb, Cordyceps.  Like any other medicine or supplement, use according to dosage directions, or on the advice of a physician. 

Originating in China, this fungus was known as the Lingzhi, the ‘tree of life mushroom’ or ‘spirit plant’.  In Latin, it is called lucidum, which means ‘shining’.  Healers have prescribed these mushrooms for centuries as a tonic to south and nourish the soul. 

There are several ancient Chinese paintings of the Reishi, along with songs and poems proclaiming its special place in the medicinal practices of the Asian cultures. 

The Reishi is a reddish color, shiny, and grows up to a foot wide.  As it matures, the outside edge of a younger specimen will remain white until it dries out and becomes fully hardened.  In addition to the more common red variety, Reishi can develop into other colors as well – including green, black, yellow, white, and purple. 

Most large-scale production is commercially grown.  Temperature controlled grow houses provide the perfect environment for the fungus to develop.  But, many hobbyists also cultivate the mushroom at home. 

An interesting feature of the mushroom is the variety of shapes it takes.  Depending on the environment, it will develop into either a conk or antler form.  Cultivators who wish to create the conk form must limit exposure to CO2. 

In nature, the Reishi starts to appear in the Spring of more temperate climates and found through the late Fall.  It grows on the side of dead or dying hardwood trees but can be coaxed to grow on a variety of substrates. 

Varieties of the mushroom grow on most of the continents, including Asia, Europe, and the North and South Americas.  In the United States, it grows primarily on dead or dying oak trees in the southern states and dead or dying maple trees in the northeastern states.  This is likely due to the prominent populations of these tree types in the indicated zones. 

Many mushrooms have gills, think flaps of fleshy growths on the underside of the cap.  The tough exterior of the Reishi develops pores for releasing its spores.  The hardness of the cap can make harvesting a challenge for novice cultivators. Various forms of this prolific mushroom species can be found all over the world. 

For interested parties, growth kits are available on Amazon and other internet sites.

Reishi Mushroom Benefits

Understanding the origin of the Reishi Mushroom is nice, but most people are interested in its purported properties.  Benefits of the Reishi Mushroom include:

  • Boosts the Immune System
  • Anti-Cancer Properties
  • Lowers High Cholesterol and High Blood Pressure
  • Treats HIV and AIDS
  • Reduces Inflammation and acts as an Antioxidant
  • Relieves Allergies, Anxiety, and Fatique
  • Protects the Kidneys

On the face, it is easy to be skeptical. Many herbal supplements claim to heal or cure any number of ailments, but in the case of the Reishi Mushroom, there appears to be some emerging evidence that real curative effects are possible.

Within the mushroom are a wide array of some 400 bio-active compounds.  Beta glucans, Triterpenoids, and Polysaccharides are frequently mentioned when discussing the science behind the benefits of Reishi Mushrooms.

Studies show that Triterpenoids “exhibit cytotoxicity” against tumor cells.  In other words, Triterpenoids can kill certain unhealthy cells, creating an “anticancer efficacy” in the body.

Beta glucan is a type of fiber strongly linked to improving cholesterol, thus causing an improvement in heart health.
Polysaccharides are chains of simple sugars – carbohydrates – which have shown antioxidant properties, the ability to reduce inflammation and assist in the regulation of blood sugar levels.

Another popularly cited benefit of the Reishi Mushroom is its purported ability to help treat sexually transmitted diseases like Hepatitis B.  While the fungus would not be successful in staving off an infection, there is clinical evidence to suggest that Reishi assists in protecting the liver.  This comes from a combination of both the polysaccharide fractions and triterpenes.

While there is a lot of positive research underway, there is a downside to the clinical evidence.  Most of the published research was conducted on animals, with a lack of clinical research which includes human trials.  While the potential for benefit is available, some of the research still needs to be proven out.

Additional, but less scientifically-asserted claims include:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved focus
  • Prevents altitude sickness
  • Excellent source of vitamins, including Vitamin D, Vitamin B-Complex, and Selenium
  • A natural antibiotic (even penicillin came from a form or fungus)
  • Helps with sleep
  • Detoxifies the liver
  • Support mitochondria, protect cell integrity, and get rid of dead or harmful cells
  • Helps to protect the body against radiology, including isotopes in the atmosphere or absorbed by the body due to chemotherapy treatments
  • Free radical-protective abilities which leads to lower cellular degeneration (helps with slowing the cellular aging process)
  • Reduce wrinkles and the appearance of aging due to antioxidant properties
  • Improves focus, memory, and overall reduction in the risk of neurological disorders
  • Extracts are claimed to possess anti-anxiety and anti-depressant compounds.
  • As a dietary fiber, assists with heart health
  • Functions similar to a prebiotic to assist with gut health
  • Assists in managing the symptoms of diseases like Fibromyalgia and other inflammatory conditions
  • Reduces suffering from Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriasis, Celiac disease, and other auto-immune conditions
  • Relieves certain allergies when the extract is taken, easing the symptoms and onset of chronic bronchitis and histamine-based conditions

It is important to note that various strains of the mushroom may have varying levels of the beneficial compounds.  Verifying the ‘strength’ of the supplement you are taking is just as important as selecting the correct supplement for your desired effect.  Many manufacturers claim they sell high quality products with the greatest strength available in the market.  As always, when working with under or un-regulated industries, it is a ‘buyer-beware’ scenario, and you are expected to conduct your own research.  Look for results produced by independent laboratories.  Such research studies can be found online, but again, ensure you are reading an accurate report – not something focused on marketing a specific product.

This is also true if you decide to harvest the mushroom.  The age of the fungus colony, the specific species strain, the substrate upon which is grows, and other factors all play a part in the ‘strength’ of the desired effects.

One Reishi Mushroom producer said it best:

“Given that the scientific community has been testing for the triterpenes and polysaccharides in Reishi extracts for a number of decades, and that there are two test methods for measuring polysaccharide levels published in the research, it is curious that other mushroom companies refuse to list the levels of active compounds on the labels of their Reishi supplements.”

What About Side Effects?

Understanding the potential side effects is just as vital as celebrating the benefits.  Reishi Mushrooms are relatively harmless, but there are known interactions with other medications and other impacts to health that a consumer should understand before taking the supplement.

As always, to fully understand the impact on a specific drug regimen, it is best to consult with a pharmacist or a physician.

Anecdotal interactions and side effects include:

  • Lowers testosterone, which in-turn creates a perception of a reduced ability to obtain or retain an erection and a lessened libido (however, various clinical studies conflict whether testosterone levels are actually affected by short-term or prolonged use of the Reishi Mushroom)
  • Feelings of being anti-social or withdrawn

Common interactions and side effects include:

  • Dryness of mouth, throat, and nasal area
  • Skin Rashes
  • Digestive distress, including upset stomach, nausea, cramping, and diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Nosebleeds
  • General pulmonary reactions or allergies from inhalation of spores

Serious interactions and side effects include:

  • Increased risk of bleeding in patients with certain clotting disorders
  • Interaction with:
    • blood pressure medications, or in patients with low blood pressure;
    • blood thinning medications, increasing the chance of bruising and bleeding;
    • Chemotherapeutic agents

Case reports of severe adverse reactions include:

  • Hepatoxicity, or liver damage. Two confirmed instances, with one case leading to death
  • Chronic Diarrhea. The case of a middle-aged man with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma following prolonged use of powdered Reishi Mushroom extract
  • Intestinal Parasites caused by infested source supply

Additionally, many manufacturers include suggestions for restricting the period of time Reishi Mushrooms are taken.  Advice ranges from one month to one year, depending on the method of delivery. 

How Do I Find Reishi Mushrooms In Nature?

Reishi Mushroom stalks grow once a year but will continue to grow on a particular tree until all of the wood substrates is consumed. 

Younger mushrooms appear as mostly white, growing bright red-orange until it becomes reddish-brown at full maturity.  Only harvest mushrooms with white undersides.  Harvest the stalk by cutting away the antler or conk growths. 

To ensure ongoing viability of the fungus, do not disturb the growing site.  When harvesting, leave at least an inch of the stem so it can continue growing.  Only harvest mushrooms from natural sources, as the fungus will take in any toxins from its host environment – so never harvest from treated woods, or sources covered in herbicides or pesticides, as it may taint your harvest.

How Do I Purchase Reishi Mushrooms?

As a supplement, Reishi Mushrooms is widely available.  Health food stores offer the supplement in a variety of forms.  Consumers can find the product as:

  • Capsules
  • Ground Powder
  • Liquid Extracts
  • Teas
  • Facial Peel Masks
  • Soft-chew Candies
  • Yeast Packets

TheMushroomForager.com, a site with Reishi-related posts, included a Reishi Mushroom Recipe for homebrewed tea.

Reishi Ginger Tea

  • 3 grams dried Reishi Mushroom (25 grams if fresh)
  • 3 grams fresh ginger, grated or minced
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 5 cups of water

Bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat. Add the Reishi Mushroom and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes, adding water as necessary. Add the ginger and allow it to simmer another 5 – 10 minutes.
Strain with a fine mesh. Add the honey and stir until dissolved. Makes 2 Servings.

The same blogger posted recipes for a homebrewed Mushroom Moonshine – made of Reishi Mushroom-infused vodka – and a Reishi tincture.

Growing Reishi Mushrooms at Home

Cultivating the mushroom at home is possible. The types of kits available vary based on the skill and interest level of the hobbyist. 

Start with a package of spores and detailed instructions on how to set up a growing space, or you can get a head start. 

Do it yourself start kits, like the Small Plug Spawn Starter, include 250 pre-grown immature stalks, known as plugs.  Holes are drilled into wood and the plugs placed inside.  The kit comes with aluminum tags, wax to seal in the plugs, instructions and various Reishi Mushroom recipes.

There are also Reishi Table Top Farm kits, a block of hardwood sawdust with ‘ready-to-fruit’ mushrooms already grown.

How Do I Dry My Harvested Reishi Mushrooms?

Getting your recently harvested mushrooms ready for consumption means you can either prepare a tincture, or you can grind the Reishi into magic dust.  The powdered form of the mushroom lasts the longest and is the most versatile when using it in other preparations besides tea.

Start by slicing the stalks into thin strips as soon as possible after harvest.  This will make it easier, because the stalks will get very tough as they dry out.  Once you have thinly cut strips, you can begin the drying process.

If you are experienced in drying herbs, you can use a similar process.  Hanging the strips on a string, while positioning the dangling pieces in the sun, will definitely get the job done – eventually.  However, you can also use a drying rack, or an evaporation tray.  Read this in-depth article to find out more about harvesting and drying Reishi mushrooms.

An Unexpected Use

Interestingly, the Reishi Mushroom is used in a very unexpected way.  Mycelium, the fine filaments of vegetative matter in a mushroom, is being used to create textiles.

The biotechnology company, MycoWorks uses Reishi Mushrooms in the production of leather, plastics, and other base products.  The company, claiming a goal of sustainability, has engineered a process where Reishi Mushrooms are harvested and then transformed into a strong, flexible, and durable material much like conventional leather.  The ‘fabric’ is made from natural fibers and said to be safe and 100% biodegradable.

The ability to ‘grow’ leather means that MycoWorks can offer its customers a product of any size or shape – which has a wide range of applications. Another benefit of using mushroom fibers to develop leather means the time to production is greatly reduced.  Where it may take a few weeks or months to grow enough vegetable matter, while a cow takes years to fully mature. 

Recipes and Uses

As with any tea-based treatment, there are a variety of recipes and uses available online.  These Reishi preparations include:

  • Mushroom, Carrots, and Kale Soup
  • Reishi Lemonade
  • Reishi-Mocha Smoothie
  • Include into most any broth recipe
  • Chocolate and Reishi Mousse

A typical daily dose of the mushroom is dependent on the preparation.  If the Reishi is dried, you may take up to 9 grams.  Concentrated powders should be limited to 1.5 grams.  Liquid tinctures should be limited to 1 milliliter.  Again, this is a daily dosing guideline, but always follow manufacturer dosing directions when buying a commercial product.

What's Your Experience With the Lingzhi?

It is undeniable that Reishi Mushrooms have been an active medicinal treatment for thousands of years. Patients swear by the benefits and even science hesitates to reject the age-old claims.

Tell us what you think.  Has the Reishi Mushroom helped you in some way? Leave a comment below.

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