The reishi mushroom is an amazing fungus which acts on several of our organism’s systems, maintaining the health and balance of our vital functions. It affects our immune, respiratory, cardiac, and nervous systems in particular, as well as the liver’s functions.
The reishi mushroom is held in very high regard in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which names it “ling zhi”, the spirit plant. Chinese culture associates it with images of wise elders, and it can even be found in the iconography of the Forbidden City. (1)
Ganoderma lucidum (its Latin name) is found in temperate, subtropical and tropical regions all around the world, on dead tree trunks and roots, near the ground. Most recipes use the mushroom’s fruiting body, and occasionally its mycelium, its ‘roots’, or even its spores.
The reishi mushroom and the immune system
The reishi mushroom has many effects on the immune system, depending on our organism’s needs. It can strengthen a deficient immune system, as well as dampen the response of an overly reactive one, as in the case of allergies or autoimmune diseases. This ‘immunomodulating’ effect is made possible by the presence of more than one hundred polysaccharides and just as many triterpenoids in the reishi mushroom. (2)
This mushroom increases the production of all kinds of immune cells: natural killer cells, macrophages, immunoglobulins, T lymphocytes and others. Furthermore, according to scientific studies, the reishi mushroom has anti-tumor effects, as it multiplies tumor necrosis factors between 5 and 29 times. In order to benefit from these effects, however, it is necessary to consume reishi mushrooms for several consecutive weeks. Reishi mushrooms will not be of any help if you are already suffering from an acute illness.
The reishi mushroom and the nervous, cardiac, and respiratory systems
The reishi mushroom harmonizes the nervous, cardiac and respiratory triad, which function in close cooperation. Its nickname, the ‘spirit plant’, comes from its ability to clarify thought and alleviate mental agitation. The relationship between our heart’s sensibilities and our soul’s depiction of them is harmonized, fostering a simpler and clearer understanding and expression of our needs and moods.
This mushroom has long been used to prevent altitude sickness as it boosts cellular respiration. Its anti-inflammatory effects help those suffering from asthma and chronic pulmonary congestion. Clinical studies carried out in China on thousands of patients suffering from chronic bronchitis have shown improvements in 60% to 90% of patients (Chang & But, 1986).
Considered to be an adaptogen, reishi mushrooms also gradually regularize the function of the adrenal glands, which are involved in stress management. At the circulatory level, reishi mushrooms diminish cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. They have also been shown to reduce angina, or heart pain, and arrhythmia, all while preventing atherosclerosis. (3)
A wide range of benefits
Concerning the liver, reishi mushrooms help regulate blood sugar, triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They also protect cells from the destructive effects of toxins and radiation, in part thanks to their antioxidants, which eliminate free radicals. Reishi mushrooms are also anti-inflammatory, decrease the sensation of pain and accelerate bone regeneration.
With so many benefits, one might believe the reishi mushroom to be a cure-all, or even question the veracity of these claims. This mushroom is in fact one of the substances of natural medicine having driven the most scientific research, and this research substantiates most of these virtues.
Nevertheless, the reishi mushroom does not excel in every one of these areas. It is not the most powerful anti-inflammatory, and it does not help control blood sugar as well as the best medicinal plants in this regard. Its most important quality is the multiplicity of its harmonizing and regulatory effects at different levels within the organism. It should be noted, however, that its mitigating effect on our immunity has rarely been equaled by other medicinal plants.
Reishi mushrooms should not be combined with synthetic blood thinners, due to their ability to inhibit platelet aggregation, although this theoretical incompatibility has not been substantiated factually. Certain individuals may be allergic to them, but being allergic to edible mushrooms does not guarantee that you will be allergic to reishi mushrooms, as they belong to separate taxonomic orders of mushrooms.
Since reishi mushrooms improve hepatic function, they may lead to faster drug elimination, which could interfere with prescribed dosages in very sensitive patients. No matter the case, you should speak to your doctor if you think your medication may be affected.
All in all, there are no major contraindications for reishi mushrooms, although some individuals may experience different types of discomfort when consuming them: headaches, digestive discomfort, etc. These are isolated cases and their occurrence can be compared to the unpleasantness of consuming a new kind of food which we have trouble digesting.
How to consume the reishi mushroom
Reishi mushrooms should be consumed consistently over several weeks in order for them to provide the desired effects. A period of 6 to 8 weeks is suggested, which can be repeated several times a year or as necessary. There are no contraindications to consuming reishi mushrooms all year long, this will only depend on the desired effects. Speak to an herbal therapist to design a therapy tailored to your individual needs and integrate the reishi mushroom into a more complete protocol.
This mushroom can be ingested in different forms, but the best way is to prepare a decoction. This is done by boiling 30g of reishi mushrooms in 3 liters of water until the mixture has boiled down to 2 liters. You can then press the reishi mushroom pieces to extract any remaining liquid and throw them out. Store the resulting decoction in your refrigerator and drink a half cup (125mL) twice a day, mornings and evenings: this will last you eight days before having to prepare a new batch. Some prefer to make a syrup using the same recipe, by concentrating the decoction further.
You may also purchase capsules, but it is preferable to use the whole mushroom, without it undergoing any of the alterations which processing may cause. It is better to preserve a mushroom’s integrity in order to benefit from the natural synergy of its various molecular components. According to a mycologist at the University of Neuchâtel, Daniel Job: “as soon as we try to isolate an active ingredient from a mushroom extract, we lose its biological activity (Le Temps, Geneva, pp. 13-19, Oct. 2011).
(1) Willard, Terry. Reishi Mushroom, Sylvan Press, Seattle – Washington, USA, 1990.
See the central booklet’s illustrations.
(2) Willard, Terry. Reishi Mushroom, Sylvan Press, Seattle – Washington, USA, 1990. pp. 40-41.
(3) Winston, David and Maimes, Steven. Adaptogens, Healing Art Press, Rochester – Vermont, USA 2007. pp. 186-187.
(4) Article: Les champignons médicinaux avec Mr. Hobbs
Chandler Frank (Ed.) Herbs –Everyday Reference for Health Professionals, Canadian Pharmacists Association and Canadian Medical Association, 2000.
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