Reishi is one of the most revered medicines in history. Known as Ling zhi in China, the folklore surrounding this magical adaptogen describes the reverence the ancient Taoists had for this life-enhancing mushroom. Ling zhi means “spirit plant” or “tree of life mushroom”. Reishi really is a supreme protector on every level - spiritually, mentally, physically and immunologically. Today, the medicinal mushroom is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular support and as a powerful immune tonic.
Our Di Tao grown red reishi, held by Mason Taylor (founder of SuperFeast) on his recent expedition to China.
The Latin translation of Ganoderma is ‘gano’ (shiny) ‘derma’ (skin).
Also known as Ganoderma lucidum, reishi is a very safe adaptogen; that means it has the glorious ability to calm the body down, while simultaneously revitalising it. There are six varieties of reishi (black, white, green, yellow, purple and red) according to ancient texts (although some are in fact not in the Ganoderma family); at SuperFeast, we use the red type. Reishi is a type of mushroom also known as a polypore.
Reishi is jam-packed full of powerful constituents:
Reishi is perhaps one of the most well studied herbs of the modern pharmaceutical and clinical scientific worlds. If you do some of your own scouting online (see Google Scholar), you will quickly see the growing evidence that shows the incredibly potent effects of reishi on many levels of health. Through laboratory testing and validation, the red variety of reishi continues to be the most prized and medicinally beneficial of all.
There are certain conditions that require extremely harmful treatments that wipe out immunity (read between the lines here folks); reishi is a powerful immunomodulator and can provide support for the body to build up immunity during these harsh treatments so that we can reduce damage.
Reishi strengthens the immune system by enhancing the monocyte, macrophage and T lymphocyte activity. Furthermore reishi has been shown to increase the longevity and strength of white blood cells (WBC), supporting both the quality and quantity; these cells are significantly lowered during harsh treatments. Reishi has further been shown to protect from radiation and has anti-angiogenesis activity (meaning inhibits the growth of new blood vessels).
The increase of WBC is particularly interesting with regards to cold and flu, reishi can be effective in preventing but also shortening the lengths of flu.
Reishi not only stimulates the immune system once it is weakened, but more so, reishi helps to 'wake up' the immune system prior to full disease, actually preventing it. It is thought it is the high polysaccharide content in reishi that lends itself to its potent immune modulating benefits. For those with Candida albicans, reishi has been shown to help balance candida levels. It's also these powerful polysaccharides are known to increase DNA and RNA in the bone marrow (where some of the immune cells are made).
Both clinical and traditional use suggests that reishi may be beneficial in a range of immune-related sensitivities, like acute and chronic viral conditions such as Epstein Barr Virus, rheumatism, chronic pneumonia and even HIV.
This magical mushroom has long been used to improve cardiovascular health, including to reduce LDL and VLDL cholesterol and lower high blood pressure. Clinically it has been shown to prevent and treat shortness of breath and hardening of the arteries. It is thought to be the triterpenes that are responsible for these improvements. It has the added benefit of balancing the "good to bad" cholesterol ratio also.
Our Oriental neighbours have been using reishi clinically in hospitals in China for decades to treat all kinds of heart issues (palpitations, arrhythmia, heart pain (angina), high cholesterol).
On a spiritual level, reishi nourishes the Chinese heart, which stores Shen, more on this below :)
Acting as an adaptogen, reishi provides an individual with protection from various biological, environmental and social stresses. This herb is a wonderful anti stress gift. The adaptogenic triterpenes in particular have a harmonising effect on both the immune system and circulatory system, thus helping with mental tension, memory and general stress. Mental imbalances can be supported with reishi use; psychological stresses noticeably improve.
Reishi has a calming effect and will relax the central nervous system, helping with insomnia, anxiety and general restlessness, promoting feelings of peacefulness. Reishi can be particularly effective for menopause if anxiety is present.
Reishi works as an antioxidant against free radicals, the ganoderic acid provides anti-inflammatory effects for cells, leading to an overall decrease in physical stress to the body.
Reishi is particularly effective for allergic asthma and alleviating allergies and excessive coughing. How does it do this? The ganoderic acid in reishi inhibits histamine release and for anyone who knows about allergies, histamine plays a key role.
Reishi possesses true immune-modulatory and amphoteric action. We've mentioned reishi supports and stimulates the immune system, when required, but it also has the ability to down regulate over active immune systems. This means it possesses compounds that can down regulate pro-inflammatory cytokine signalling (seen in allergic and exaggerated immune responses), whilst up-regulating innate and adaptive immune responses where genuinely required. Relief from chronic bronchitis, in particular for older patients, is seen with a consistent reishi practice.
The use of reishi in pregnancy is steeped in tradition and empirical knowledge, having been used for thousands of years. Traditional uses saw reishi providing a calming anchor for mothers during pregnancy, as well as during the birthing process.
Master Herbalist, Ron Teeguarden reports that pregnant women in Asia seek reishi as an immune builder for themselves and their foetus. Teeguarden spoke of "reishi babies," babies whose mothers took reishi throughout pregnancy. "I saw some of these children, older and newborn, and they appeared uniformly calm and focused. The infants had little or no inflammations on their face or hands, cried little, and appeared to take in their surroundings with incredible acuity."
But full disclosure here: if it is your first time using the herb, then always work with your practitioner. There is very little peer-reviewed research available on the use of tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms during pregnancy and because this process involves changes in immune function, it is best to proceed with care. Work with your instincts, and see make sure you feel into the flow that reishi is providing you. And start slow :)
Reishi was first cited in the very famous Chinese text “the Shen Nung Ben Cao Jing” in 206 BC. Its legend, rooted deep and well throughout ancient Taoist philosophy, continued throughout the ages and reishi remains highly praised for its tonifying action of the heart, liver, immune system and blood. This adaptogen has traditionally been used to treat 'ageing blood' and 'knotted hearts' - issues like heart problems, high blood pressure, blocked arteries and nervous conditions. During the process of enhancing immunity, reishi builds Qi (specifically Wei Qi, which is the protective Qi) and is also used as a blood builder.
However it is reishi's spiritual potency and its ability to tone Shen (one's spirit), that is key. Known as the premier Shen tonic in Taoist herbal traditoins, you can read more about reishi being the superior builder of spiritual essence here.
The ancient Taoists believed in immortality and viewed the revered reishi mushroom as a key ingredient to longevity, perhaps through its ability to tone and nourish all three treasures. Li Shih Chen (a 16th century physician) stated that the use of reishi will promote agility and increase longevity and when taken over a long period of time will lengthen the years of those who consume it. Reishi was thought to sharpen the wit and help cultivate virtue.
In fact, it was so revered, that reishi was once reserved use amongst emperors and royalty only. Immortalised all throughout Chinese art, temples, statutes and paintings, reishi mushroom was held in the highest esteem among Chinese royalty and is surrounded by many legends over the past 4 millennia. This adaptogen was extremely prized amongst the Orient and often hung above doorways as a protector.
Please note, you can add reishi to ANYTHING. Reish is relatively bitter, with slight umami undertones. So savoury meals (think chocolate, broths, bolognese, curries and soups are a nice fit). And remember, it is not heat resistant. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:Raw Reishi Chocolate
No contraindications have reported in medical literature concerning the consumption of reishi mushroom. However, interactions are theoretically possible in patients using immunosuppressive medication. For those with internal bleeding reishi is not advised as it may thin the blood in the short term. For those who are experiencing extremely low blood pressure due to illness we advice you use blood building Jing herbs in conjunction with reishi.
We know you guys love it as much as we do :) She really is the queen. Make sure you check out our epic podcast episode (episode #8) covering reishi and all her benefits. We've also got a beautiful article on how you can take your meditation to the next level (hint, its reishi!)
Anticancer Effects of Ganoderma lucidum: A review of Scientific Evidence (Yuen and Gohel 2005)
Ganoderma lucidum suppresses angiogenesis through the inhibition of secretion of VEGF and TGF-beta1 from prostate cancer cells
Healing Thresholds: A Modern Journey into Taoist Health Philosophy, by Rehmannia Dean Thomas. pp. 180–189
Rogers R, The Fungal Pharmacy 2011, The complete guide to medicinal mushrooms & lichens of North America, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California.
Suppression of inflammatory and allergic responses by pharmacologically potent fungus Ganoderma lucidum