Mushrooms are delicious of course (like in this homemade cream of mushroom soup recipe), but they can also be incredibly healing. Reishi mushrooms are particularly special as they are one of the oldest mushrooms used medicinally and were once reserved for only royalty!
What Are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms are a group of mushrooms that are native to Japan, China, and Korea. The Chinese name for this mushroom is lingzhi, but it is best known in America as reishi (its Japanese name).
Historically, it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years. In the original textbook of traditional Chinese medicine, it was the highest ranked of all plants and fungi for its benefits to the body.
It’s been said that reishi (and lingzhi) translates as a number of names including “Queen of Mushrooms,” “Possessed of Soul Power,” “Herb of Spiritual Potency,” “Mushroom of Immortality,” and “Magic Fungus.” (Hmm… I’ll pass on that last one.)
Why all the fuss? I wanted to find out.
Healing Benefits of Reishi Mushroom
I knew mushrooms could be good for you, but this “Queen of Mushrooms” has an especially amazing ability to heal and balance the body.
Regulates the Immune System
Studies show reishi mushroom may regulate the immune system as well as improve its natural ability to fight invaders. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology shows that reishi mushroom is an immune system modulator.
That means reishi is not just an immune stimulator (nor an immunosuppressant). It can actually adapt and do either depending on the body’s need at the time (pretty amazing!).
Just as reishi mushrooms can boost the immune system when there’s an infection, it can also dial it back when an autoimmunity is present. A 2002 study published in Life Science found that one way reishi mushrooms boost the immune system is by helping grow and strengthen T- and B-cells (defender cells) in the body.
Reishi mushrooms also:
- Speed wound healing – A 2006 study found that Reishi also has advanced wound healing abilities.
- Makes antibiotics more effective – A study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that reishi boosts the antimicrobial action of antibiotics.
- May fight herpes – A 2000 study found that the polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi bind to viruses and stop them from entering and attaching to healthy cells.
Protects Against Cancer
A healthy immune system will also help fight and prevent diseases (such as cancer), but this mushroom has specific mechanisms for targeting cancer.
Typical chemotherapy works by “poisoning” the body, in hopes that it will harm the cancer cells (without harming healthy cells beyond repair). Obviously, it’s not a perfect treatment (more on that here) and can cause a lot of harm to healthy cells. Reishi may be a promising supplement that can help protect the body.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Cellular Immunology shows that one compound of reishi mushrooms, ganoderic acid, can induce apoptosis (natural cell death) while reducing toxicity to healthy cells.
A 2010 Chinese study found that ganoderic acid also inhibits tumor growth and the ability of cancer cells to migrate in the body.
Lastly, a study published in Oncology Letters found that reishi makes melanoma cells more vulnerable to natural killer (NK) cells. (These are cells that are responsible for attacking tumor and viral infected cells).
Though more research is needed to bring reishi into mainstream cancer treatment, this medicinal mushroom seems to have promise.
Reishi isn’t called the “Mushroom of Immortality” for nothing. One of its claims to fame is as a longevity herb. It makes sense that if reishi can improve immunity and reduce heart disease that it could potentially lengthen a lifespan. But what’s really interesting is how much it can boost longevity.
In a 2011 study reishi was shown to extend the lifespan of mice by 9 to 20 percent (that would be seven to 16 years for humans!).
Some of the ways reishi can boost longevity are:
- Reduces oxidative stress – A 2005 studies shows reishi protect cellular DNA from oxidant damage that causes aging.
- Antioxidant power – A 2011 review shows that reishi has a high level of antioxidants that help fight aging. These antioxidants can reduce dermal and cellular oxidation. In simple terms, that means reducing signs of skin aging and internal signs of cellular aging!
- Triperpenes– This specific compound in Reishi is a type of terpenoid is known to improve circulation and help with everything from skin to mental focus.
Reishi mushroom is considered an adaptogenic herb, which means it helps the body adapt to the stressors around it. When the outside environment is particularly toxic, the liver struggles. That’s why adaptogenic herbs usually focus on liver health.
A study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that reishi protects against liver toxicity and promotes liver cell regeneration.
Additionally, a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms found that the antioxidants in reishi help reduce immune functions that lower liver function.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. There are many factors that contribute to heart disease including lifestyle choices and diet. But for those already making good lifestyle choices and still haveing heart issues, reishi may be help.
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, compounds called triterpenes in reishi may help reduce blood pressure. They can also slow blood clotting. Two of reishi’s most prevalent triterpenes are ganoderic acid and sterols. Studies show that sterols can help lower cholesterol and improve blood circulation. Ganoderic acids may also improve oxygen flow.
Blood Sugar Help
It’s not uncommon for people with heart disease to also have diabetes. In people with diabetes, reishi may help reduce both cholesterol and insulin resistance, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Antioxidants are known to potentially protect the brain from damage because they neutralize oxidative stress. Reishi has lots of antioxidants, so it makes sense that reishi would be neuroprotective.
Researchers believe that reishi may protect the brain from oxidative damage, which protects against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, according to a 2012 study published in Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology.
But research shows that it may be more than antioxidants that help protect the brain. Another study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that reishi promoted the modulation of cytokines within the brain. By doing so, reishi may act as a neuroprotective herb.
Help for Seasonal Allergies
The ganoderic acids in this power mushroom can help inhibit histamine response. For this reason, it is a common supplement for those with seasonal allergies. In fact, in the book Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health, the author Tero explains a practical case when he realized the power of reishi for allergies:
A colleague of his suffered awful seasonal allergies for weeks each spring. He started taking 1,000 mg of resihi daily and his allergy symptoms disappeared almost entirely. Of course, this is just one example, but science may be able to explain why it worked for him.
When exposed to allergens, the body releases histamines which cling to cells. This causes cells to swell and leak fluid… thus the sneezing and runny nose! Since this beneficial mushroom can help inhibit this histamine reaction, it is often helpful for allergies.
Are Reishi Mushrooms Safe?
Reishi mushrooms are considered a safe herb to consume when used appropriately. The method of extraction is important though. Some adverse reactions were associated with certain extracts from contaminated sources.
Dual extraction offers the maximum benefit. In this process, the fat soluble and water soluble properties are extracted separately to get a high potency finished product. Alcohol extraction extracts the fat soluble compounds by essentially creating a tincture and using a long and slow extraction. Then, mushrooms are boiled and simmered to extract the maximum amount of water soluble compounds. The combined extract then gets concentrated and spray dried to create a powder.
Other methods may just make a tincture (fat soluble compounds only) or powder the mushroom, reducing the benefit.
Safety of reishi for small children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, or those with liver disease hasn’t been established. It’s always best to talk with your doctor to discuss whether reishi is right for your family.
As a medicinal herb, reishi is top notch. But as a culinary addition — I’d suggest leaving it out.
Reishi is best as a tincture, tea, or in mushroom coffee tea (where you can’t taste it at all!). I also drink it at night for help sleeping.
When choosing a tincture, look for one that is “pure yield” which means it uses very little fillers. Ideally your tincture will be close to 5% filler.
My affiliate partner, Four Sigmatic is the only brand I’ve found that uses the healthiest possible growing and manufacturing practices as well as dual extraction. I personally use their coffee, tonics, and teas and they are delicious!
These are our favorites:
- “Chill” Hot Cacao Mix (with reishi) – No more delicious way to get the benefits of reishi. Rather than boosting energy, this one is made to support sleep and relaxation. The taste is chocolatey with a touch of cinnamon.
- Reishi Elixir – Contains a higher therapeutic dose of reishi (1,500 mg). I promise it doesn’t taste like mushrooms either! The taste is slightly bitter, so I add some almond milk and honey for a nice calming drink at the end of a stressful day.
Even my husband who isn’t always thrilled to try my health experiments will drink these and loves them!
Other Medicinal Mushrooms
There are plenty of other mushrooms with proven therapeutic benefits. Look for more posts on them soon, and here’s another one I get in my coffee!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Mariza Snyder, a functional practitioner. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever used reishi mushrooms or other mushrooms for their health benefits? What was your experience?