Reishi: A Magical Medicinal Mushroom

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The lingzhi mushroom, commonly recognized as Reishi and known for millennia as the “Divine Fungus” or “Mushrooms of Immortality”. Lingzhi is a species complex that encompasses several fungal species of the genus Ganoderma. There are three common species that grow in the Eastern United States, they are all basically the same mushroom growing from different tree sources: Gandoderma tsugae, G. curtsii and G. Sessile. Having over 150 documented Health benefits, reishi extract is something everyone should add to their nutritional cabinet.

Identifying a Reshi

Reishi mushrooms are one of the easiest mushrooms to identify, and a great place to start for beginning mushroom foragers. They appear as early as mid-April and remain fresh through June. The kidney-shaped shiny, reddish cap is one of the main identifying features of the reishi. They vary in size from very small to a foot long and can be as much as 2 inches thick.  More commonly, they’ll be 4 to 6 inches wide and less than an inch thick. They have a strong but pleasant woodsy scent, similar to leaf mulch. Young reishi will be thick and soft and almost entirely white, old reishi will be thin and hard and have very little to no white margin.

 

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They have no poisonous look-alikes, so they’re relatively safe as well.  Though mature reishi is generally too tough to eat, their medicinal properties have been well documented and can be sun-dried and stored in a glass jar in a cool dry place. Young reishi can be stored in a brown bag in the refrigerator and cooked within a few days. Always cook mushrooms at high temperatures, most preferably above 200 ˚F to release their nutrients and render them digestible and safe. I like to add my freshly ground dried Reishi to 200-degree hot water for several hours, I add them to hot chocolate, coffee or into soups, stews and even cooked oats to add thickness and an excellent source of nutrition.

 

All species grow on dead and dying trees or fallen tree logs and stumps. Once you find reishi growing, leave the wood source be and watch the reishi return every year until they consume all the wood substrate. This is the natural cycle of life in the forest, the tree begins to die, the reishi form and consume the dead wood as its source of nutrition, leaving the mushrooms as a food source for humans and animals alike. When an animal bites off the mushroom and travels with it in its mouth dropping spores as it goes, spreading the mushroom love across the forest.

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Reishi can often be confused with the red belted polypore, fomitopsis pinicola. When trying to identify them, you can scratch the underside of the mushroom, the Reishi pores bruise brown to the touch while the red belted polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola) turn yellow/white. Only harvest fresh mushrooms with white undersides, they can potentially harbor dangerous molds when past their prime or damaged and bruised. These should be preserved quickly after harvested since they bruise during the process.

 

Chinese Medicine

Reishi mushroom has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 4,000 years and has proven to be extremely powerful in its immune enhancing properties in animals, from bees to humans. Reishi mushroom extract has been used by mountain climbers for decades to prevent dizziness and shortness of breath on difficult climbs. Chinese medicine discovered that this particular fungus works by improving the body’s intake of oxygen which consequently improves breathing and lessens symptoms common with altitude sickness. The sterols that are found in reishi can act as precursors to hormones in the body, along with substances called triterpenes that may have blood pressure-lowering and anti-allergy effects

The Chinese use reishi to improve vitality, strength, and stamina, and to prolong life in cancer patients. It has also been widely consumed as a dietary supplement by individuals diagnosed with various chronic diseases, due to its apparent absence of side-effects. Reishi mushroom contains complex sugars known as beta-glucans. Lab studies suggest that these compounds may help stop the growth and spread of cancer cells.

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Antioxidant Properties

Reishi mushrooms contain a wealth of antioxidants. Antioxidants help the body combat free radicals which cause cell damage due to oxidation. In one study, Reishi mushroom extract effectively curbed oxidation stress in tissue and prevented damage to the liver. In another mouse study, findings suggested the potential therapeutic efficacy of Reishi Ganoderma lucidum extract to protect against aging and to a certain extent against age-related degenerative diseases.These results suggest reishi mushrooms contain tremendous antioxidant/anti-aging properties.

Detoxification

Your liver is responsible for detoxification, but the average person only has 40% function of their liver due to bad lifestyle and eating habits. Alcohol and processed foods can take a toll on the liver when you do not do a yearly cleaning of your organs. The liver’s most important job is to filter your blood and cleanse the body of impurities. A 2013 study found evidence that Reishi mushrooms can fight harmful immune responses that can slow down liver function. The adaptogenic properties of Reishi mushrooms and several other medicinal mushrooms help flush out waste and toxins from the liver.

I recently read an article on PubMed from IMCJ,  Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal. Titled “Immune Modulation from Five Major Mushrooms: Application to Integrative Oncology.” The article was a review to discusses the immunological roles of 5 major mushrooms in oncology: Agaricus blazeiCordyceps sinensisGrifola frondosaGanoderma lucidum, and Trametes versicolor. And they had this to say about medicinal mushrooms:

“Medicinal mushrooms have been proposed as a novel therapy that may improve cancer treatment and patients’ survival. They have been used medicinally since at least 3000 BC. Mushrooms are reported to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular-protective, antidiabetic, hepatoprotective, and anticancer properties. It is well-established that mushrooms are adept at immune modulation and affect hematopoietic stem cells, lymphocytes, macrophages, T cells, dendritic cells (DCs), and natural killer (NK) cells.1 Extensive research over the last 40 years has demonstrated that mushrooms have potent antineoplastic properties that slow growth of tumors, regulate tumor genes, decrease tumoral angioneogenesis, and increase malignant-cell phagocytosis. Additionally, evidence suggests that medicinal mushrooms may safely boost chemotherapeutic efficacy and simultaneously protect against bone marrow suppression. “

Alena G. Guggenheim, ND, Kirsten M. Wright, BS, and Heather L. Zwickey, PhD

PMCID: PMC4684115      PMID: 26770080

 

Heart Health

These mushrooms help minimize cholesterol and fatty acids in the blood, making them a heart-healthy food and extract. Lowering your cholesterol prevent strokes, clogged arteries, and other heart problems. Reishi mushroom helps balances blood pressure with no synthetic medication.

Choosing your Mushroom Extract

I only use organic mushroom liquid extracts and powdered extracts made by Fungi Perecti and Host Defense, owned and operated by leading mycologist Paul Stamets. They use a dual extraction method that releases all the bio-active ingredients of the fungi resulting in additional synergy. Through science, we now know that the main bio-active ingredients are a specific bioactive type of polysaccharide called beta-glucan, triterpenes, polyphenols and phytosterols.

There are many mushroom extracts, supplements and teas on the market today and they are not all equal. Many companies only do single hot water extraction making these products inferior to dual extraction methods. In a hot water extraction, only beta-glucans and polyphenols are bio-available. Bio-availability refers to the degree to which a drug or other substance is absorbed or reaches a target site in the body.

I have seen companies selling capsules but you will not see the word extract on the bottle because they simple ground up dried mushrooms and encapsulated them, these serve no nutritional value and can actually be harmful if they were not heated at the correct temperatures before blending them into a powder. These cheap products are easily recognized by their low price and the lack of information on the label often only naming what type of mushroom is in the powder or capsule you will notice they do not give a breakdown of the bio-active ingredients nor do they explain their extraction method on their website.

Host Defense® encapsulated products have been heated to proper temperature levels to maximize nutritional benefit and safety. Their process includes:

  • Growing mycelium (the root-like life stage) on Certified Organic, cooked, and sterilized brown rice.
  • At peak performance, they harvest and immediately freeze-dry material, to preserve nutrients and prevent oxidation. (Air-drying, a cheaper and inferior processing method, does not achieve maximum constituent levels nor reduce toxin levels, and is vulnerable to contamination and oxidation.)
  • They heat-treat the mushroom mass after freeze-drying, to activate and unlock the nutritional compounds and ensure their bio-availability. Host Defense products are assayed a minimum of four times for quality and purity.

 

 

Disclaimer: The strategies, suggestions and techniques expressed here are intended to be used for educational purposes only. The Author, Kira Miller, is not rendering medical advice nor is she trying to diagnose, prescribe or treat any disease, condition, illness or injury.

If you are under the care of a physician, it is imperative that you consult their advice before beginning any new exercise or nutrition program.

Kira Miller claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss or damage alleged to be caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application or interpretation of the material presented here.

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