Ingredient Spotlight: Reishi

Article written by: Ilana Sobo

What if I told you there was a magical mushroom you could ingest that could bring you serenity, be instrumental in keeping you radiantly healthy, and help you to ward off many of the diseases that affect modern man? Yes, it is true that such a fungi grows deep in the forest waiting for you to discover its gifts. To clarify, this is not “that kind” of magical mushroom, but a rather a whole system tonic that, if regularly used, can take you on a profound life-changing journey. It is a great honor to introduce you to the very powerful, very beautiful, and very healing Reishi mushroom. If you have not met this friend before, it is a polypore mushroom that almost everyone on planet earth could benefit from.

Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) has been much revered as a healing ally for over 2000 years in China and other parts of Asia. The Chinese name for Reishi is Ling Zi, which means “tree of life mushroom” and “spirit Plant.” Its other names include “auspicious mushroom,” “divine mushroom,” and  “immortality plant.” The Latin name lucidum, which means ”shining,” adequately describes this shelf fungus’s appearance and radiant gifts.

While such names sound grandiose, a great many healers over many eras discovered and documented that Reishi was indeed a gift from the heavens. The Taoists monks, who greatly assisted in the development of traditional Chinese medicine, considered Reishi a powerful Shen tonic (that which nourishes the spirit). The fungi consistently demonstrated a profound ability to nourish vitality, relax the nervous system, calm the mind, and promote a state of relaxed focus and concentration.

We are blessed today to have a massive body of empirical studies demonstrating Reishi’s beneficial effect on a wide variety of health challenges including allergies, asthma, bronchitis, cold and flu, candida, chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, cancer, high cholesterol, inflammatory conditions, radiation poisoning, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, insomnia, diabetes, hepatitis and more. So, let’s look a little more closely at this awesome and radiant “Spirit Plant” by highlighting some of its profound gifts.

reishi mushroom images from history
Reishi was much revered in Asia and appears in paintings, poetry and songs

The benefits of Reishi

  1. Reishi supports stress management and emotional equilibrium

    As a healing tonic, Reishi helps manage stress by nourishing and calming the nervous system, helping balance the endocrine system (hormones), assisting as a cardiac tonic, and helping maintain systemic immune equilibrium. Described as a three treasure tonic in Chinese medicine, Reishi aids in the balance of jing, qi and shen, the energies of constitutional vitality, life force energy, and spiritual and mental health.

    In the west we note Reishi’s gifts as adaptogenic. Adaptogens are substances that help the body, mind, and spirit adapt to stressors, be they physical, emotional or psychological. Master Herbalist Donnie Yance shares that: Herbal adaptogens act to normalize homeostasis, optimize metabolism, and improve resistance to a variety of adverse factors. These special herbs contain a wide range of active constituents such as polysaccharides and flavonoids that fortify immune response. They act as biological response modifiers in host defense mechanisms against cancer and other chronic diseases, and help protect the bone marrow, neuroendocrine and endocrine system (including the adrenal glands), as well as the liver, kidney, brain, and other vital organs.

    He also says:

    Adaptogens, besides having stress protective anabolic effects, also possess profound anti-toxic, anti-oxidative, and anti-inflammatory properties.

    Thus an adaptogen like Reishi, which is particularly rich in polysaccharides, flavonoids and triterpenes, can be an incredibly helpful ally in today’s fast paced society by providing systemic support and defense to keep us healthy and strong .

  2. Reishi balances the immune system

    When the immune system is overreacting, we find chronic health challenges like allergies, asthma, and auto immune disease. Reishi is known as an immunomudulator, which intelligently informs the immune system to come back into balance when it is overreacting. Reishi also strengthens immune function where it may be compromised, such as a cold or flu.

    Immunomodulation is of great importance for allergies or autoimmune dysfunction (system attacking itself) because these challenges are indicative of a root problem where the immune system is in hyper mode and would benefit from finding equilibrium (as opposed to an approach where someone is attempting to manage just the symptoms).

    Reishi helps create a lasting balance within one’s whole being by ameliorating  and healing ailments from the root source.

  3. Reishi may greatly assist people who have cancer

    When I was a young student of botanical medicine, I worked for a herbal apothecary that was largely devoted to supporting the recovery of people with advanced degenerative diseases, most notably advanced stage and rare cancers. Founded by the aforementioned Donnie Yance, this was a place where I witnessed what might be perceived as miraculous healing. The people who came time and time again to this rustic and beautiful center for their teas, tonics, and supplements were often survivors of cancers that had been given dismal prognoses by their doctors. Some, having had stage 4 cancers, massive tumors, or radiation side effects, found themselves entirely well and thriving after following the suggestions outlined in their healing protocols.

    Was it magic? Perhaps. I for one believe in magical healing, but I am also a clinician, so one must look for consistencies and patterns in those healing protocols. Alas, while I am certain that deep nutritional and food-based focus, as well as other anti-carcinogenic herbs and spiritual/emotional tools, had a deep and lasting affect, what stood out most to me about each person’s healing protocol was that almost every single one contained Reishi mushroom (and sometimes other healing fungi, like Cordyceps, Chaga, Maitake and Shitake).

    In his book Herbal Medicine and Healing Cancer, Donnie shares that when someone “develops cancer and is then faced with the toxicities of chemotherapy, the situation calls for Reishi. Reishi’s overall effects could be described as regulatory and beneficial to the restoration of homeostasis. Its effect on the immune system is total enhancement of immune function: increase of white blood-cell count, platelets, hemoglobin, and various tumor-fighting cells.” It is shown in studies and consistent evaluation that Reishi “will also protect the body during chemotherapy and radiation and act as a preventative in the reoccurrence of cancer again.”

    What is particularly wonderful here is that Reishi’s beneficial effect on a variety of cancers is consistently researched and well documented. The findings are astounding, with a tremendous amount of clinical data to explore.

How to find Reishi

It is often said that you don’t find Reishi; rather, Reishi finds you. Being an avid botanical photographer, I lamented not having a picture to share with you here. But, lo and behold, the day after I began writing this article a beautiful mature Reishi patch appeared to me when I was out on a hike with my family. It was a spiritual experience, to say the least, and I gushed over the powerful presence of these mushrooms for a while.

Actually, I almost sunk into the bog I was in. But it was well worth the soaking feet!

Reishi is a relatively rare mushroom to find in the wild. It can be found growing on decaying hardwoods, including oaks, elms, beech, birch, and maples. The most commonly used Reishi mushrooms are the red variety, though there are six colors that can be grown: black, green, yellow, purple and white.

Due to its famed reputation, there are many wonderful sources for organic Reishi powders, extracts, tinctures, teas, and tonics. If you do decide to harvest from the wild, please make sure you can identify Reishi  with 100% accuracy, as some mushrooms are poisonous. Please do take note of this about mushrooms in general.

Also remember that wild crafting a medicinal plant or mushroom asks us to only take as we need, and to do so in a regenerative way without disrupting an ecosystem or threatening the continued proliferation of the Reishi. Make sure to leave an inch or so of the Reishi stem so that it can grow another fruiting body. If you want to help the Reishi grow elsewhere, you can share your harvest with some host trees in the near environment. Please also note that mushrooms uptake toxins from the environment they are in, so know your site.

If you can, only purchase organic Reishi products for consumption right here at MMC in their Harmony Spagyrics. Another idea is to grow your own Reishi! There are wonderful places that sell kits of spawn or dowels, and you can make your own medicine!

To sum up, Reishi is an ancient ally for wellness and balance that many consider one of the greatest natural healing tools of our time. Given the particular stressors that we encounter day to day in the modern world, I hope that this amazing friend makes its way into many homes and hearts, and supports many on their journey to optimal wellness. I leave you now with a quick sum up of Reishi by my hero, earth guardian and mushroom steward, mycologist Paul Stamets.  May the healing force of nature be with you always.

Here’s a little joke: Why did the Mushroom get invited to all the parties? Cuz he’s a fungi!

It’s true! The mushroom of immortality is waiting for you.

How to take Reishi

You can take a tea, a tincture/extract, or use other mushroom products (in which case please follow the recommended dosage on the product). Like any supplement, please check with a clinician before using Reishi if you are taking any medications. It is also recommended to work with an herbal practitioner if you plan to take Reishi over a long period of time. Though side effects are rare, some report mild stomach discomfort, in which case, decrease your intake or eliminate your use until you speak with your practitioner. Harmony has clear instructions how to consume Reishi!