Reishi mushrooms, which are native to East Asia, have been used for millennia in Chinese medicine and are now gaining popularity among Western herbalists.
Reishi exhibits adaptogenic functions that may help you feel better from the inside out.
It's been said that reishi can help to support blood sugar levels, boost the immune system, support liver health, and more.
Reishi Mushroom Overview
Reishi, a fungus that develops on decaying wood and is referred to as the "Immortality Mushroom", is one of the most important herbal remedies in traditional Chinese medicine.
In China, reishi is called lingzhi.
Reishi is a large, dark brownish-red fungus with a glossy surface and woody texture. The mushroom has a varnished sheen to its outer layer.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Reishi has been used for millennia for its various medicinal benefits.
Reishi is said to restore Qi, relieve stress and anxiety, and alleviate cough and asthma, among other things. It's also used for dizziness, sleeplessness, palpitation, and shortness of breath.
In modern times, Reishi is typically used to support the immune system. It’s also considered an adaptogen.
Recent studies also suggest that this fungus may have anti-cancer properties.
1. Immune System Support
Evidence suggests that reishi can help to support a healthy immune system.
Various lab-based studies suggest that the phytochemicals within Reishi can help to increase white blood cells, NK cells, and increase macrophage activity.
In particular, reishi is thought to increase the body's innate immune function.
Innate immunity, often referred to as natural immunity or non-specific immunity, is a group of immunological responses that are quick in reacting to various pathogenic microorganisms.
Having a strong innate immune system can help to ensure that your body stops foreign pathogens in their tracks.
Studies have found that a variety of innate immune cells such as macrophages, natural killer cells, and dendritic cells can regulate the innate immune response.
Enhancing the body's non-specific immunity is critical to improving overall immune function.
Additionally, a study found that reishi may alter inflammation pathways in white blood cells, which could work to improve immune health.
2. Mood Support
Reishi has been linked with improved mood and mental health.
A recent study looked at the mood-boosting effects of reishi in women with fibromyalgia. The researchers reported that their results did not show any statistically significant between-group differences. However, a distinct trend of improved levels of happiness and satisfaction with life and reduced depression were evident at the end of treatment compared to the baseline in the reishi group.
Animal studies have shown that reishi has an antidepressant-like effect on rats.
Further clinical research is needed to verify these initial findings.
3. Strong Antioxidant Properties
Reishi is high in antioxidant compounds that are beneficial to one's health.
Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage, which helps to decrease the development of mutations and cancer. Antioxidants also help immune cells maintain immune surveillance and response by shielding them against oxidative damage.
One test-tube study found that the antioxidants in reishi helped to inhibit lipid peroxidation and oxidative DNA damage.
4. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Reishi has been found in recent studies to have a potential role in combating cancer.
The first studies on reishi and cancer were conducted in the 1980s in animal models. In a number of experiments, a significant reduction in tumor growth was observed after taking reishi.
While early animal studies appeared to be quite promising, human clinical trials have yet to be as definitive.
One study found that taking 5.4g a day of reishi mushroom helped to increase immune function in some of the patients. While definitive results were not seen, the researchers mentioned that reishi may be a helpful adjuvant when combined with traditional cancer therapies (such as chemotherapy).
Naming & Taxonomy
Reishis is known scientifically as Ganoderma lucidum.
The Latin word "lucidum" means shiny, which refers to the varnished appearance of the surface of reishi mushrooms.
The Chinese name for this fungus is Lingzhi, which means "spirit plant."
Red reishi is a rare wild fungus in China, and its use was limited mostly to the emperor, his court, and the upper classes throughout history.
History & Traditional Use
For almost 2,000 years, Reishi has been used in Chinese medicine.
Wild lingzhi is hard to find, and in the years before it was cultivated, only the nobility could buy it.
The fungus was considered holy because it grew in the dwellings of the gods, "on the three aisles of pleasure" along China's coast.
Its well-known reputation as a "cure-all" remedy may have been enhanced more by its scarcity, and use by the rich and powerful members of Chinese society, rather than by its genuine health effects.
Nevertheless, reishi continues to be a popular traditional medicine in Asia and its use is growing throughout the world.
Reishi contains a variety of immune-boosting polysaccharides known as ß-glucans (or beta-glucans).
It also has bitter triterpenes such as ganoderic acid and ganoderenic acid.
Reishi also contains a protein known as ling zhi-8 protein.
Reishi is a safe mushroom with adaptogenic and immune-supporting properties, as well as the potential to help manage blood sugar.
Consider using reishi mushrooms and helping to naturally support your body.
As always, speak to your doctor before starting any herbal regimen or supplement plan that may interfere with medications you are taking for existing medical conditions.
Do you take reishi? What's your favorite way to consume this medicinal mushroom?
Daniel Powers has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He's the founder of The Botanical Institute, where he writes about herbs.
Disclaimer: The information stated in this article is for educational purposes only. The information stated is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure any disease, condition, or other physical or mental ailment of the human body. The desire to make any changes to one's dietary habits or supplementation should be consulted and discussed with a licensed medical professional.