With its kidney-shaped red cap and woody texture, reishi is one of the most beautiful species of medicinal mushroom around. But it’s not just a pretty polypore, this superstar superfood contains a wealth of health-enhancing compounds which are able to strengthen the immune system, lower stress levels, and support the liver.
While it has been prescribed in Asian cultures for thousands of years, word of reishi’s powerful health benefits have only relatively recently made it to the West, where it is fast becoming one of the most-loved natural health food supplements of our time.
The History of Reishi
From ancient Taoist texts to modern day encyclopedias on herbalism, reishi has been mentioned in many books and documents over the years. Medicinal mushroom use spans a range of cultures; the Egyptians hailed them as a gift from Osiris, the Romans called them a gift from god, while the Chinese nicknamed them the elixir of life. Archaeological evidence suggests that reishi mushrooms were ingested by humans as far back as 4,000 years ago, while it was documented in several classic texts which date back to the Han Dynasty. Reishi was such a rare and sought-after mushroom that at one point in China it was solely reserved for use by the Royal Family.
Despite its historical importance, the medicinal qualities of reishi only started to be studied in the early 1960s. Researchers found that red duanwood reishi contained a rare mix of nutritional compounds with powerful nourishing, rejuvenating, and healing qualities.
Reishi Nutrition Information
While common store-bought mushrooms that are typically put on a pizza do contain nutrients, medicinal mushrooms are rich in rare health-enhancing compounds. Out of an estimated 5.1 million species of mushroom on earth, only 270 of them are classified at being ‘medicinal’. Chaga, turkey tail, tremella, and cordyceps are some of the most potent and popular medicinal mushrooms around, yet red duanwood reishi is considered to be the cream of the crop, and it is referred to as the most superior of herbs in Shen Nong’s classic book on herbalism.
There are over 36 bio-active nutritional compounds present in the reishi mushroom: It’s rich in polysaccharides, beta-glucans, triterpenes, antioxidants, ganaddoral, luceidenic acid B, enzymes, and ergosterol. Reishi mushrooms are also a source of minerals including potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Reishi is composed of 90% water, while the other 10% is made up of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and fiber, although the exact percentage varies depending on several factors including its growing conditions.
Reishi to Support the Immune System
Reishi is a valuable substance to take when it comes to immune support. It is classed as an immunomodulator, which means that it has the ability to optimize immune response, decrease inflammation, and help to provide protection against some illnesses. Science puts this down to the presence of polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and canthaxanthin within the medicinal mushroom.
A Medicinal Mushroom for Spiritual Seekers
Over the years, reishi has become a firm favorite with monks and yogis because of its ability to help calm and focus the mind. These effects can be felt almost instantly after drinking a tonic reishi tea, and they are particularly beneficial in aiding long periods of meditation. Reishi is often described as a sacred and spiritually potent mushroom, as many believe that it can help people along their spiritual path.
Taking Reishi to Lower Stress Levels
Reishi is one of 16 natural substances in the world which are labeled as adaptogens. Substances with adaptogenic qualities are able to help the body to combat physical, mental, and environmental stresses, which in turn can help to recharge the adrenal glands and lower cortisol levels. Other famous adaptogenic substances include chaga, ginseng, holy basil, cordyceps, and ashwagandha.
Reishi Health Benefits at a Glance
Immune-Strengthening: Helps to regulate and support the immune system
Antibacterial: Fights against bacterial infections
Anti-Inflammatory: Reduces inflammation and relieves aching muscles
Anti-Aging: Contains antioxidants which act as free radical scavengers
Neuroregenerative: Can enhance memory, focus, and concentration
Adaptogenic: Helps to lower cortisol and support the adrenals
Allergy Alleviator: Naturally inhibits the release of histamine
Liver Support: Supports the functioning of the liver
Fights Fatigue: Provides a near instant boost of energy
Meditation Aid: Is believed to create feelings of calm and peace
Lower Blood Pressure: Triterpenes may lower blood pressure
Safe to Use: No severe reported side effects
How to Choose the Best Reishi
Low-quality reishi can be unethically sourced, have added fillers and even be poorly prepared, so much so that it damages the nutritional content of the medicinal mushroom. For these reasons, it’s extremely important that you do some research and only buy high-quality reishi mushrooms from a trusted reseller. When it comes to buying reishi, you may want to ensure that it is:
Ethically Sourced: Check that is has been sustainably cultivated
Pure: Comes with no added fillers or preservatives
Carefully Prepared: Prepared without the use of chemicals
Ready to Use: Powdered extracts are much easier to use
Reputable: Purchase from a trusted brand with knowledgeable staff
Packaging: Reishi should be sealed in an airtight pouch or container
Concentrated Extract: For a more potent dose of reishi
A reputable reishi reseller will be able to answer all your reishi questions, including where it was sourced from and how it was prepared. If in doubt, check for reishi reviews from past customers, or even ask for a sample.
How to Prepare Reishi
If you have some raw, whole reishi mushrooms, then you will first need to wash and slice them, boil them in water for several hours, strain them, and then use the remaining water as a reishi tonic tea. This process can be time-consuming and messy, so you can skip the preparation by purchasing a prepared reishi powder or a reishi concentrated extract. The reishi mushroom will come ready prepared in a finely-milled powder which will dissolve in warm water very quickly.
How to Make Reishi Tea
For a speedy reishi pick-me-up, just add half to one teaspoon of the powder to a mug of warm (not boiling) water. Reishi does have a woody and bitter taste which can take a while to get used to. If you want to mask some of the flavor then you can mix in in nut milks, natural sweeteners or spices such as cinnamon. If you’re feeling creative, experiment with incorporating other medicinal mushrooms, tonic herbs, and superfood supplements into you the mix to create powerful longevity tonics.
Reishi can also be used in all sorts of food recipes including those for sauces, soups, dressings, raw chocolates, cakes, and snack bars.
Reishi Dosage and Side Effects
Reishi is a potent medicinal mushroom, so extra care needs to be taken when using it for the first time. It’s recommended that you start with a small dose of reishi powder that is less than 1/2 a teaspoon in size. You can then adjust the reishi dosage to around 1 tsp in size should you require it. Larger doses are sometimes prescribed by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners for therapeutic reasons.
The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia states that reishi is safe to use, but on rare occasions it may cause an upset stomach, dry mouth or headaches. If you experience any of these symptoms then you should lower your dose or make an appointment to see your doctor. Reishi can also increase energy, and acts as an almost instant pick-me-up. For this reason, it is best to take it in the morning or afternoon but not right before bed.
Cinnamon Reishi Latte
For a delicious winter warmer, make a reishi mushroom tea then add a dash of almond milk, a pinch of cinnamon, and your sweetener of choice.
Reishi Coffee Recipe
Reishi’s bitterness pairs well with coffee and it also helps to give it a nutritional kick. To make reishi coffee, first prepare your coffee exactly how you like it, then dissolve up to a teaspoon or reishi along with a teaspoon of raw virgin coconut oil and natural sweetener in the coffee if required. You can mix the liquid in a blender to create a smooth, creamy and frothy reishi coffee drink.
No-Bake Reishi Protein Balls
If you're in need of a healthy snack that will provide you with a dose of energy, then these tasty reishi protein balls could do the trick. Mix 1/2 a cup of rolled oats with 1 teaspoon of chia seeds, a pinch of cinnamon, 1/2 a cup of your choice of smooth nut butter, 3 teaspoons of natural sweetener, 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 2 teaspoons of reishi powder. Use your hands to mix up the ingredients. Slowly pour in a small amount of nut milk in order to get the right consistency where the balls will easily stick together and not crumble. Roll the mixture into small balls then place them in the fridge to set for 30 minutes.
Name: Reishi (Red Duanwood Reishi)
Latin Name: Ganoderma lucidum
Common Names: Lingzhi, Mushroom of Immortality, Ganoderma Motif, Spirit Plant
Reishi References and Sources
If you want to discover more about the incredible healing properties of reishi and other medicinal mushrooms then we highly recommend reading these books:
Nong, Shen: Shennong Bencao Jing (The Classic of Herbal Medicine)
Hobbs, Christopher: Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, & Culture
Rogers, Robert: The Fungal Pharmacy:The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms and Lichens of North America
Stamets, Paul: Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
Powell, Martin: Medicinal Mushrooms - A Clinical Guide