The reishi mushroom is near and dear to our hearts at Aether. After all, it was the first mushroom we harvested together in the wild.
An incredibly versatile fungi, reishi has been a staple in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. However, its rarity meant it was limited to those who could afford its hefty price tag, namely Chinese royalty. Luckily for us, reishi has become more accessible thanks to its cultivation in the 20th century and we’re overjoyed that it has naturalised in South African forests, growing well on hardwoods such as the African acacia, black wattle and knob thorn.
You may not have heard of the reishi mushroom before, or maybe you’re not even a big fan of mushrooms. But trust us when we say you’ll be racing to add this dynamic superfood to your diet once we’ve told you about its incredible healing properties.
Its traditional Chinese name alone says plenty: “Lingzhi” translates to “mushroom of immortality”. While we’re not sure immortality is reeeeally possible in this case, there’s a lot to be said for living a longer and healthier life - and reishi can help you do just that.
What’s in it?
This particular polypore contains a complex combination of polysaccharides, triterpenes and peptidoglycans, which have been extensively studied for their health effects. While it’s possible to consume these molecules simply by eating the mushroom fresh, the cell walls are coated with chitin, making it difficult for your body to digest. We suggest consuming reishi in powdered or extract form, and we like to combine extracts from seven varieties of reishi in our tincture, enhancing its benefits and catering to a wider range of ailments. The result is the 7 Reishis Tincture, our magnum opus when it comes to medicinal polypores - shop it here to try it for yourself.
How does it help?
Let’s dive into some of the main benefits the reishi mushroom can have on your health and wellbeing. There are just six below but this mushroom really is a jack of all trades, with plenty of other benefits constantly being discovered and studied.
Disclaimer: No medicinal or therapeutic claims are being made or meant to be implied. The information here is for general information and to provide insight into how tonic herbs, medicinal mushrooms and adaptogens have been used historically and are still used by many for general health and wellness. Use your best judgment, seek out good advice and use the herbs moderately. In this way, you will enjoy them immensely and may benefit in many ways. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Aether Apothecary products have not been certified to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or even just the pesky common colds that come around each year, we’re all keen to find new ways to boost our immune systems.
A number of studies have shown reishi mushrooms can affect the genes in the white blood cells that are key to the immune system’s ability to protect the body. The outcome is a change in inflammation pathways which improves the body’s ability to fight off infection.
In some Asian cultures, reishi mushrooms are used as an immunostimulant to treat immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV. The complex sugars, or beta-glucans, in the mushroom are thought to be responsible for this, possibly increasing the number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).
What’s more, studies in cancer patients have shown molecules in the mushroom are able to boost the activity of natural killer cells, an important kind of whie blood cell. The role of natural killer cells is to recognise and kill infected cells, so an increase in their activity helps to provide a more rapid response to viral infection or tumour formation.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Increases the ability to fight infection.
- Acts as an immunostimulant.
- Increases the activity of natural killer cells.
For centuries, Taoist monks used reishi mushrooms to help create a sense of calm in meditation, so it’s no surprise they’ve now been found to assist with mental health.
We all know and love adaptogens - substances that help promote homeostasis and allow the body to cope with physical, chemical or biological stress. Reishi mushrooms also boast these adaptogenic properties.
One of the best illustrations of this was a study of 132 people with neurasthenia, a condition associated with fatigue, aches, pains, dizziness and irritability. Researchers found that after eight weeks on reishi supplements, participants had reduced levels of irritability and fatigue, dramatically improving their wellbeing.
Where anxiety and depression are concerned, the effects of reishi have also been recorded in a study of 48 breast cancer survivors. After four weeks on reishi powder, these subjects reported reduced fatigue and improvements in anxiety and depression brought on by their poor health diagnosis. This suggests these mushrooms could be useful in helping other people with life-threatening illnesses cope with the burden of their stressful circumstances.
- Adaptogenic properties.
- Reduces irritability and fatigue.
- Helps to combat anxiety and depression.
A major proportion of the people consuming the reishi mushroom are doing so for its anti-cancer properties.
Several test-tube studies have identified reishi’s ability to cause the death of cancer cells. Drawing from this, scientists have hypothesised that bioactive compounds in the mushroom may actively seek out cancerous cells in the body and have cytotoxic (meaning toxic/deadly to cells) effects on them.
Triterpenes, in particular, may be able to inhibit the development of tumours. One that stands out is the triterpenoid ganoderic acid, which has been investigated for its ability to prevent the metastasis (ie. spread) of a tumour. In addition, the beta-glucans in reishi (see point 1) have been shown to stop the spread of cancer cells. Researchers believe this is because beta-glucans prevent blood vessel growth - a critical element that cancer cells are dependent on.
In one small study, tumour’s shrank when cancer patients took reishi, and whether or not reishi prevents cancer, it has also been shown to alleviate the nausea induced by chemotherapy and it may even improve the efficacy of radiation therapy. This serves as a reminder that reishi should not be taken as a replacement for traditional cancer treatment but as an additional therapy.
- Deadly to cancer cells.
- Prevents the spread of a tumour.
- Helps to alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea.
Several animal studies have shown reishi mushrooms are able to decrease blood sugar levels. The possible mechanism of action here is the inhibition of an enzyme responsible for the production of glucose. Similar preliminary studies in humans have repeated these findings but mixed results mean that more research is required to confirm these potential benefits. If these effects are true, reishi mushrooms could be a helpful treatment for diabetics, reducing the stress on the kidneys that diabetics often suffer from.
A study on rats suggests reishi may also be useful in preventing high blood pressure, and it could also help to reduce heart disease risk factors. How? The triterpenes and beta-glucans in the mushroom may contribute to a decrease in the levels of so-called “bad cholesterol”, thereby promoting heart health.
- Decreases blood sugar levels.
- Prevents high blood pressure.
- Decreases bad cholesterol.
We often hear about the healing capabilities of antioxidant-rich foods, plants, roots and, in this case, mushrooms – but what does this mean? Antioxidants are molecules which assist the body in preventing the cell damage that happens as a result of free radical production. By inhibiting oxidation, antioxidant molecules reduce the production of these free radicals, making sure their levels don’t rise to a harmful level.
Reishi mushrooms have exhibited this antioxidant activity in many in vitro studies, suggesting that supplementing your diet with them could be beneficial. Who wouldn’t want to do something that could reduce the risk of disease and prevent premature ageing? It is called the “mushroom of immortality”, after all.
- Antioxidant activity.
- Prevents cell damage.
Reishi has many benefits when it comes to supporting the liver and kidneys. In traditional Chinese medicine, this was one of its most well-known effects on the body, mainly because the liver and the kidneys are considered life-preserving organs - filtering, strengthening and revitalising the entire body.
High antioxidant levels not only prevent the degeneration of kidney and liver cells but aid in the reversal of injury and damage. Chronic inflammation is one of the most taxing side effects of a poor and unbalanced diet. Combined with stress, this is a recipe for inflammation in the kidneys. However, a study conducted in 2016 showed that a beta-glucan in reishi had an immunomodulatory effect on this inflammation, aiding in the healing of kidney cells.
The liver plays an incredibly important role in eliminating toxins from the body but damage to the organ reduces its efficiency. A study in mice showed reishi mushrooms were able to promote liver cell regeneration, reversing the effects of chemical-driven liver damage. It has been reported that the same triterpenes that had anti-cancer activity in other studies also aid in this process.
Additionally, there has been significant research into how reishi can prevent chronic kidney diseases, aid in kidney health for diabetic people as well as boost overall liver health.
- Reduces inflammation in the kidneys.
- Promotes liver cell regeneration.
So, how do you go about using reishi?
Our favourite way to use reishi is in our extracts. Not only are they easy to administer, but they are also strong. Why is this? There are two major groups of compounds within medicinal plants – one is alcohol-soluble, while the other is water-soluble. Through our dual extraction method, we achieve maximum potency and allow for all of the healing constituents to become bioavailable - and therefore free to provide the desired healing benefits.
This aside, there are lots of fun ways to use reishi without having to worry about this dual extract method and they all start in the same way – finding reishi in the forest! You could, of course, buy reishi powder at a health store; however, we encourage you to crawl through the woods and sniff one out for yourself, perhaps with the help of fungi enthusiasts.
Once you have your mushroom, cut it up and place it in a pot, fill the pot with water and allow it to simmer for at least one hour. From there, the opportunities are endless but here are some of our favourite ways to use this concoction:
- Making stock – place vegetable offcuts in this same pot - or if you want, you can even use the whole vegetables - and allow them to simmer with the reishi for a further 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and allow it to cool to room temperature. Pour it into ice trays and keep it in the freezer until needed for use in stews, curries and soups etc. Use 2-3 blocks depending on preference.
- Tea – this is by far the easiest method. Once your reishi is cooked, simply strain and drink! You can keep cooking the mushrooms for longer until the tea is finished. Alternatively, top up the pot and keep it simmering until the mushrooms are spent (ie. until they have released all of the water-soluble chemicals possible).
- Reishi Cacao – extending on the reishi tea, add superfood powders to create a yummy, healthy and nourishing drink. My favourite involves adding cacao, shatavari and maca for extra support and hormonal balance.
And there you have it! The reishi mushroom really is a wonder, with endless health benefits and possibilities for use. We’d be keen to find out how you prefer to enjoy your mushrooms - let us know in the comments! And if you have any questions, please let us know and we’ll be happy to help.
Sending you all blessings of radiant health :)
EcoWatch. 2021. 6 Health Benefits of reishi Mushrooms - EcoWatch. [online] Available at: <https://www.ecowatch.com/reishi-mushroom-benefits-2654930407.html> [Accessed 11 February 2022].
Healthline. 2018. 6 Benefits of reishi Mushroom (Plus Side Effects and Dosage). [online] Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/reishi-mushroom-benefits#TOC_TITLE_HDR_6> [Accessed 11 February 2022].
Mindbodygreen. 2019. reishi Mushrooms: 6 Awesome Health Benefits Of This Super-Delicious Supplement. [online] Available at: <https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/reishi-mushrooms-6-awesome-health-benefits> [Accessed 11 February 2022].
Well+Good. 2018. reishi Mushrooms Are Popping up In More Wellness Products, but What Are the Benefits?. [online] Available at: <https://www.wellandgood.com/reishi-mushroom-benefits/> [Accessed 11 February 2022].
Lin ZB. Cellular and molecular mechanisms of immuno-modulation by Ganoderma lucidum. J Pharmacol Sci. 2005 Oct;99(2):144-53. doi: 10.1254/jphs.crj05008x. PMID: 16230843.
Cheng CH, Leung AY, Chen CF. The effects of two different ganoderma species (Lingzhi) on gene expression in human monocytic THP-1 cells. Nutr Cancer. 2010;62(5):648-58. doi: 10.1080/01635581003605516. PMID: 20574926.
Gao Y, Zhou S, Jiang W, Huang M, Dai X. Effects of ganopoly (a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract) on the immune functions in advanced-stage cancer patients. Immunol Invest. 2003 Aug;32(3):201-15. doi: 10.1081/imm-120022979. PMID: 12916709.
Tang W, Gao Y, Chen G, Gao H, Dai X, Ye J, Chan E, Huang M, Zhou S. A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia. J Med Food. 2005 Spring;8(1):53-8. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2005.8.53. PMID: 15857210.
Zhao H, Zhang Q, Zhao L, Huang X, Wang J, Kang X. Spore Powder of Ganoderma lucidum Improves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:809614. doi: 10.1155/2012/809614. Epub 2011 Dec 10. PMID: 22203880; PMCID: PMC3236089.
Liu YW, Gao JL, Guan J, Qian ZM, Feng K, Li SP. Evaluation of antiproliferative activities and action mechanisms of extracts from two species of Ganoderma on tumor cell lines. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Apr 22;57(8):3087-93. doi: 10.1021/jf900011f. PMID: 19368349.
Chen NH, Liu JW, Zhong JJ. Ganoderic acid T inhibits tumor invasion in vitro and in vivo through inhibition of MMP expression. Pharmacological Reports. 2010 Jan;62(1):150-63.
Gordan JD, Chay WY, Kelley RK, Ko AH, Choo SP, Venook AP. And what other medications are you taking?. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2011 Apr 10;29(11):e288-91.
Xiao C, Wu QP, Cai W, Tan JB, Yang XB, Zhang JM. Hypoglycemic effects of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides in type 2 diabetic mice. Arch Pharm Res. 2012 Oct;35(10):1793-801. doi: 10.1007/s12272-012-1012-z. Epub 2012 Nov 9. PMID: 23139131.
Gao Y, Lan J, Dai X, Ye J, Zhou S. A phase I/II study of Ling Zhi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.: Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) extract in patients with type II diabetes mellitus. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2004;6(1).
Tran HB, Yamamoto A, Matsumoto S, Ito H, Igami K, Miyazaki T, Kondo R, Shimizu K. Hypotensive effects and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitory peptides of reishi (Ganoderma lingzhi) auto-digested extract. Molecules. 2014 Sep;19(9):13473-85.
Chu TT, Benzie IF, Lam CW, Fok BS, Lee KK, Tomlinson B. Study of potential cardioprotective effects of Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi): results of a controlled human intervention trial. Br J Nutr. 2012 Apr;107(7):1017-27. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511003795. Epub 2011 Aug 1. PMID: 21801467.
Wu Y, Wang D. A new class of natural glycopeptides with sugar moiety-dependent antioxidant activities derived from Ganoderma lucidum fruiting bodies. J Proteome Res. 2009 Feb;8(2):436-42. doi: 10.1021/pr800554w. PMID: 18989955; PMCID: PMC2656399.
Wu YS, Ho SY, Nan FH, Chen SN. Ganoderma lucidum beta 1, 3/1, 6 glucan as an immunomodulator in inflammation induced by a high-cholesterol diet. BMC complementary and alternative medicine. 2016 Dec;16(1):1-1.
Jin H, Jin F, Jin JX, Xu J, Tao TT, Liu J, Huang HJ. Protective effects of Ganoderma lucidum spore on cadmium hepatotoxicity in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 Feb;52:171-5. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.05.040. Epub 2012 May 29. PMID: 22659462.