Ganoderma tsugae (in northern forests), G. lucidum (in southern forests), G. lingzhi (China), and other Ganoderma species native to North America. Most research is done on G. lucidum, however there is some evidence that G. tsugae may be even more medicinal.
Reishi (Japanese), Ling-zhi (Mandarin Chinese). A rough translation of lingzhi is "spirit mushroom" or "divine fungus".
Mature fruiting body (mushroom).
Glossy red-brown tree mushroom with a red neck that sticks out of the log (other red tree mushrooms generally don't have a neck). When it's younger it has yellow and white rings on the outer edges. Reishi is a polypore mushroom, meaning that it has tiny holes on the pale underside where its spores come out. In the northeastern U.S., G. tsugae grows only on dead hemlock logs. Other ganoderma species may grow on other tree species, such as maple.
Growing and Harvesting
In the northeast of North America, harvest the mushroom just before the fruiting body gets completely ripe, before all the white/yellow disappears. Once the fruiting body has completely matured (has no more yellow or white left on its rim) it begins to breakdown and become more susceptible to fungal, bacterial, and insect infection. In Vermont, the first harvest is in July, and sometimes there is a second growth in September or October. Make sure to tap the fruit on dead hemlocks to spread the spores. Always cut it off the tree with a knife so as not to damage the mycelial network underneath the bark. A reishi log will last 3-4 years. Slice the mushrooms into thin strips before they dry out and leave the slices out in the sun to cause vitamin D2 production. Fungi are very similar to humans in a several ways, and one of those ways is that we each can create our own supply of vitamin D through sun exposure (though we produce vitamin D3 and they produce vitamin D2, which are not equivalent but are similar). One can also inoculate logs directly or grow reishi indoors on grain substrates (usually done in a commercial setting).
Strips of dried mushroom are widely available commercially from international organic herbal distributors like Mountain Rose Herbs or from Chinese herb stores. As with all herbs sourced internationally, it's very important to know where the herb comes from, how it was grown, and if it is certified organic or some equivalent. Most reishi is grown in China, and herbal contamination with pollutants or non-medicinal plants is a serious issue. So make sure you are buying it from a legitimate source. The best way to ensure quality is to harvest or grow your own! Unlike some other wild medicinal mushrooms such as chaga, reishi is not threatened and grows quickly and easily under the right conditions, so overharvesting and sustainability is not as much of an issue. But the mushroom is not plentiful, so if you find it, make sure not to harvest all of it and also make sure to protect its habitat since they only grow on dead hemlock trees in the wild. It is always important to be conscious of sustainability and so it is a good idea to leave some mushrooms to allow them to spore and spread their spores in the forest to ensure future propagation. I was taught that after harvesting a mushroom you can knock the mushroom against other fallen hemlock logs in the forest to inoculate them.
You can also buy powdered mushrooms, ideally steamed or autoclaved to break down the chitin, improving bioavailability. In our apothecary we buy our steamed powder from Mushroom Harvest. Reishi is also available in capsules from Paul Stamets' company Host Defense.
Bitter and slightly chocolatey.
Neutral and slightly cool. Moderately drying.
Immunomodulant*, anti-allergy*, tonic*, adaptogen, hepatic, anticancer, hypotensive, hypoglycemic, styptic topically (stops bleeding).
[*indicates primary uses]
- Immunodeficiency, autoimmunity, allergies - turns up Th1 (innate immunity) and turns down Th2 (acquired immunity)
- Allergies - seasonal, food, chemical sensitivities
- Asthma and lung weakness - has an affinity for strengthening the respiratory system
- Reduces high cholesterol, balances blood sugar dysregulation, reduces high blood pressure
- Cancer - turns up the activity of natural killer cells responsible for hunting for and killing cancer cells
- As an adaptogen, helpful for chronic stress that leads to burnout, immunodeficiency, or disturbed Shen (emotional upheaval, mania, psychosis)
- Autoimmunity - rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s (hypothyroidism), lupus, etc.
- Traditionally used to increase longevity (immortality), especially in the Taoist tradition
- Polysaccharides (long-chain carbohydrates): beta-glucans and glucoronoglucans, proteoglycans
- These polysaccharides are immunomodulating, stimulating the activity of natural killer cells and white blood cells to kill pathogens and potential cancer cells.
- Steroidal triterpenes: ganoderic acids
- May interact with stress hormone production in the adrenal glands, given the steroidal backbone giving reishi its adaptogenic qualities. Studies have shown is also has anticancer effects.
- Simple phenolic acids - cinnamate
- Polyphenols - catechins
- Anti-inflammatory, immunomodulating - shifts Th2 responses to Th1
- Vitamin D2 (if exposed to sunlight)
In a clinical setting, I use reishi primarily when the client has disturbed immune responses, either with low immunity, autoimmunity, or allergies. Reishi helps shift an allergic or hyper-reactive response that harms the body towards a response that is less inflammatory and focuses more on pathogens (microbes). The short hand for this transition is called shifting the Th2 immune system (also called acquired immunity, which is antibody-based) towards Th1 immunity (or innate immunity, which does not involve antibodies). When the gut microbiome is disrupted or when the person is exposed to certain viruses or pollutants, the body can develop antibodies to things that are not harmful to its health, such as pollens, animal dander, and even its own tissues. Part of the solution to this problem is to calm down this antibody-mediated side of the immune system with herbs that shift Th2 to Th1. Reishi is one of the most powerful of these herbs.
Here is a diagram showing the two sides of the immune response:
Clinical and Pharmacological Studies
- Triterpenes have a direct cytotoxic and cytostatic effects in cancers, sensitize cancer cells to chemotherapy, inhibit metastasis. Enhances oxidative stress and apoptosis in cancer cells but not healthy cells. Also enhances T-cell recognition of cancer cells (Cheng, 2015).
- Leukemia, lymphoma, cervical, colon, breast, melanoma, etc. (in vitro)
- Polysaccharides inhibit tumor growth, induce apoptosis (Cheng, 2015).
- Stimulates WBC (lymphocyte) activity against cancer cells
- Ethanol extracts (tincture) and polysaccharides reduce acute and chronic inflammation (NF-kB mediated), which leads to cancer, in animal and in vitro models → potential for cancer prevention (Cheng, 2015).
- Reduces TNF-a mediated inflammation in steroid-resistant asthma models (specifically ganoderic acid) (Liu, et al., 2015). Triterpenoid extracts of G. tsugae were anti-inflammatory and reduced Th2 immune responses in asthmatic mice without suppressing the immune system (Chen, 2007). Reishi polysaccharides shifted immune responses from Th2 to Th1 in the blood of asthmatic children allergic to dust mites (Jan, et al. 2011).
- Protects the liver from oxidative stress and reverses mild fatty liver disease in placebo-controlled clinical trial (Chiu, 2017); antiviral against hepatitis B virus and protective against viral liver injury in mice (Li, 2006)
- Reishi has a hypoglycemic effect in diabetic mice, reduces HA1c, and normalizes WBC levels in type 1 models (Vitak, et al., 2017)
- Reishi spore powder reduced blood sugar and blood lipid profiles in type 2 diabetic rats (Wang, et al., 2015)
- Reishi plus San Miao San in a DB-PC trial of rheumatoid arthritis showed significant pain improvement in treatment group, but no improvement in markers of inflammation (Li, 2007).
- Reishi polysaccharides significantly improved symptoms of neurasthenia over placebo (Tang, 2005).
- Reishi can be too drying for people with already dried out mucous membranes, so it's best to formulate it with something moistening, like licorice or marshmallow root.
- Beware in people with mushroom spore allergies. In this case it's either best to avoid using it altogether or use mycelium extracts instead (Host Defense reishi capsules source from mycelium only).
Preparations and Dosing
Because reishi is a mushroom, it has a thick skin-like outer layer called chitin that needs to be broken down with long exposure to heat in order to be absorbable. That's why eating raw mushrooms of any kind is completely useless. Traditionally, reishi is boiled or simmered for many hours (at least 4 hours, but 24 hours is best) to break down the chitin and extract the constituents. This long-simmered tea is called a decoction. It's great to add to immune-boosting broths with bones and herbs like astragalus. The typical dose for reishi in decoction is 7-10 grams per day in water.
Another excellent way to take reishi is in a double-phase extracted tincture. This means that the reishi is both boiled to extract the polysaccharides and triterpenoids, and also tinctured in alcohol to extract the phenolic compounds, then the two extractions are combined. The typical dose of a double-extracted tincture is 1-2mL twice er day.
You can also take the pre-steamed or autoclaved powders mixed in liquids or foods without having to process them. The typical dose for powders is 1-2 tsp per day, or about 3-8 grams.
- My formulations for seasonal allergies often include reishi, nettles, and goldenrod (tea or tincture)
- Enhancing respiratory immunity: reishi, astragalus, licorice (decoction or tincture)
- Autoimmunity or severe inflammation: with baikal skullcap and licorice
- Anticancer: with astragalus, turkey tail, and other medicinal mushrooms
- Cancer adjunct/ recovery from chemo: astragalus, reishi, tulsi, etc.
I find reishi to be an excellent addition to any protocol attempting to alleviate symptoms of allergies, autoimmunity, low immunity, and overall lung weakness. It can help strengthen overall vitality and immunity so that we CFers or people with chronic lung disease get less infections or recover more quickly when they do occur. Reishi is a safe herb to take daily for a very long time, as it is done in traditional medicine. If you've taken reishi, let me know how it has worked for you!
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- Chen, Miaw-Ling, and Bi-Fong Lin. "Effects of triterpenoid-rich extracts of Ganoderma tsugae on airway hyperreactivity and Th2 responses in vivo." International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 143.1 (2007): 21-30.
- Cheng, Shujie, and Daniel Sliva. "Ganoderma lucidum for cancer treatment: we are close but still not there." Integrative cancer therapies 14.3 (2015): 249-257.
- Chiu, Hui-Fang, et al. "Triterpenoids and polysaccharide peptides-enriched Ganoderma lucidum: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled crossover study of its antioxidation and hepatoprotective efficacy in healthy volunteers." Pharmaceutical biology 55.1 (2017): 1041-1046.
- Jan, Rong-Hwa et al. “Immuno-Modulatory Activity of Ganoderma Lucidum-Derived Polysacharide on Human Monocytoid Dendritic Cells Pulsed with Der P 1 Allergen.” BMC Immunology 12 (2011): 31. PMC. Web. 24 June 2017.
- Li, Edmund K., et al. "Safety and efficacy of Ganoderma lucidum (lingzhi) and San Miao San supplementation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: A double‐blind, randomized, placebo‐controlled pilot trial." Arthritis Care & Research 57.7 (2007): 1143-1150.
- Li, Yan-Qun, and Shun-Fa Wang. "Anti-hepatitis B activities of ganoderic acid from Ganoderma lucidum." Biotechnology letters 28.11 (2006): 837-841.
- Liu, Changda, et al. "Ganoderic acid C 1 isolated from the anti-asthma formula, ASHMI™ suppresses TNF-α production by mouse macrophages and peripheral blood mononuclear cells from asthma patients." International immunopharmacology 27.2 (2015): 224-231.
- Tang, Wenbo, et al. "A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia." Journal of medicinal food 8.1 (2005): 53-58.
- Vitak, Taras et al. “Effect of Medicinal Mushrooms on Blood Cells under Conditions of Diabetes Mellitus.” World Journal of Diabetes 8.5 (2017): 187–201. PMC. Web. 24 June 2017.
- Wang, Fang et al. “Effect of Ganoderma Lucidum Spores Intervention on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism Gene Expression Profiles in Type 2 Diabetic Rats.” Lipids in Health and Disease 14 (2015): 49. PMC. Web. 24 June 2017.