Sometimes referred to as the “mushroom of immortality,” reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) has traditionally been used to promote vitality, support immune function, increase stress resilience, improve mental clarity and more. It contains approximately 400 bioactive compounds that work together to deliver therapeutic benefits and is one of the most studied of the “medicinal mushrooms.” (1)
One fascinating piece of research that has been published is this study, which found that mice given reishi extract experienced a 9-20% increase in lifespan. That’s equivalent to roughly 7-16 years in human terms. (We need human studies to confirm this effect in people, but I think it’s interesting that it’s long been called the “plant of longevity” and other similar names.)
Because reishi is very rare to find in the wild, for the past two millennia it was mostly reserved for the Chinese emperor and his court. Fortunately for us, it’s now cultivated in significant amounts, making it widely available in high quality extracts like this one, this one, and this one.
Not all extracts are good quality, though. I’ll talk about what to look for later, but first let’s dive into what makes reishi so special.
So, what is the reishi mushroom?
Reishi is identified by its shiny, plastic-looking fruiting body. It almost looks fake, like a mushroom that belongs on a stage set, which is how it earned another of its nicknames, ‘the varnished conk’ (conk is another name for the fruiting body of some tree-consuming fungi.” – Tero Isokauppila, author of Healing Mushrooms
Also called lingzhi, it grows mostly on dead or dying eastern hemlock trees, and ranges in color from reddish-orange to purple to black. The fruiting body (shiny part) and mycelium (threadlike filaments that are similar to roots) have long been used to make herbal medicines, teas, tinctures, and powders. Red reishi is usually preferred due to its higher polysaccharide content. (2)
While reishi can be eaten fresh, hot water helps extract valuable polysaccharides that are renowned for their therapeutic properties. That’s why in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the fruiting part of reishi mushrooms were typically dried, cut into slices, boiled and steeped to help release beneficial compounds.
However, hot water extracts leave behind valuable compounds such as triterpenes, which support our oxygen utilization, immune function, liver function and more. Alcohol is needed to pull out the triterpenes, which is why my favorite extracts use both water and alcohol.
We’ll talk more about reishi’s amazing bioactive compounds in a moment, but first a quick note: As always, none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. If you have a question about whether reishi (or any other supplement) is right for you, please talk with a qualified healthcare provider. Okay, let’s dive in!
Reishi Mushroom’s Bioactive Compounds
As I mentioned earlier, reishi contains roughly 400 bioactive compounds that work synergistically together. Rather than dive into all of them here, let’s take a look at the ones researchers have identified as essential to reishi’s beneficial effects.
Polysaccharides: A “Therapeutically Active Compound”
In Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide, Martin Powell writes:
Polysaccharides are not the sole category of therapeutically active compound present in mushrooms but they are the most widespread, and, in many but not all mushrooms, the most important with a profound impact in the immune system mediated by a number of fungal polysaccharide-specific receptors on the surface of several classes of immune cell.”
In other words, our cells have receptors that are specifically designed to work with the kinds of polysaccharides generated by mushrooms, leading Power to wonder if they might be “essential nutrients for our immune system.”
In addition to their immune supporting benefits, polysaccharides such as beta-glucans also:
- Have a prebiotic effect that supports gut health (3)
- Support autophagy (Taking out the cellular trash) (4)
- Support healthy blood pressure (2)
- Encourage healthy blood sugar levels (2)
- Help optimize cholesterol levels (2)
Triterpenes for Healthy Cells, Increased Oxygenation & More
Reishi contains somewhere between 140-200 triterpenes, including lucidenic and ganoderic acid, lipid alkaloids, coumarins and sterols. Taken together, these triterpenes:
- Have adaptogenic and adrenal supporting properties, which means they help our bodies increase resilience during times of stress
- Optimize and balance immune function (2)
- Support autophagy (Cellular cleanup mode) (5)
- Encourage a balanced histamine response, which may be helpful for people with seasonal allergies or histamine intolerance (6)
- Support heart health, circulation and healthy cholesterol levels (2)
- Optimize the body’s ability to use oxygen (2)
- Support liver function (2)
Antioxidants (AKA Free Radical Scavengers)
We know that excessive amounts of free radicals – which our bodies produce as byproducts of metabolism – cause oxidative stress that can lead to accelerated aging and several disease processes. Fortunately, as this Live Science article puts it,
Antioxidants are able to give an electron to a free radical without becoming destabilized themselves, thus stopping the free radical chain reaction. ‘Antioxidants are natural substances whose job is to clean up free radicals. Just like fiber cleans up waste products in the intestines, antioxidants clean up the free radical waste in the cells,’ said Wright.”
Reishi contains several antioxidants – quercetin, rutin, myricetin and morin – which help counteract oxidative stress. (7)
10 Benefits of Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi has been the subject of extensive research, and we’ve just barely touched on its health benefits. After reading Healing Mushrooms by Four Sigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila, it became a staple in my kitchen along with others like chaga, lion’s mane, and cordyceps. Here’s why:
1. Activates “Cleanup Mode”
The polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi promote autophagy, which literally translates as “cellular eating.” (4) (5)
As I mention in this article on intermittent fasting, when autophagy occurs a bunch of little guys called lysosomes go around gobbling up damaged cells, damaged mitochondria, and cancerous cells. These lysosomes and mitochondria are good guys, giving us energy for vitality and cellular regeneration for a vibrant life. Without them, our body fills up with cellular trash and we just can’t function as optimally as possible. Furthermore, negative results like expedited aging and disease occurs because we just aren’t taking out the proverbial trash as efficiently as we should.
2. Youthful Skin
“The compounds in reishi work both externally and internally to keep you looking young by reducing dermal oxidation (which is when proteins on the skin are damaged, causing wrinkles and other signs of aging) and protecting your cellular DNA and mitochondria from oxidant damage as well, allowing you to remain energized, alert, and feeling refreshed.” (2)
3. Immune Support & Balance
“Reishi’s adaptogenic properties help to stabilize your immune system so that it operates at its full potential.” – Tero Isokauppila, Healing Mushrooms
In one study, mice that were injected with reishi extract one day before being injected with E. Coli had a survival rate of over 80%., while the control group had a survival rate of 33%. (8)
According to Live Science, one “reason rodents are used as models in medical testing is that their genetic, biological and behavior characteristics closely resemble those of humans, and many symptoms of human conditions can be replicated in mice and rats. ‘Rats and mice are mammals that share many processes with humans and are appropriate for use to answer many research questions,’ said Jenny Haliski, a representative for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare.”
Reishi is also thought to have a balancing effect on immune function. Ethnobotanist David Winston and herbal expert Steven Maimes write that “It is an immunomodulator capable of strengthening the immune system (it enhances monocyte, macrophage, and T lymphocyte activity) and down-regulating excessive immune system response in patients with immune dysregulation (autoimmune diseases) and allergies.” (9)
4. Hormone Balance
“Another major benefit of reishi, and what truly puts it in a class of its own, is how it works to achieve hormone balance. The specific triterpene compounds in reishi fruiting bodies support and balance the endocrine system.
When you have an optimally functioning hormonal system (and surprisingly few do – for a slew of reasons including the impact of environmental toxins and the overprescribing of prescription medications, among a host of other factors), your body can relax and recover during the night as it is meant to. Taking reishi will not only increase your quality and duration of deep, restful sleep but will also allow you to function at peak levels during waking hours.” (2)
5. Restful Sleep
Reishi is traditionally used to support healthy sleep cycles, and animal research supports this effect. In this study on rats, reishi mushrooms significantly reduced the time it took to fall asleep while increasing total sleep time.
6. Stress Relief, Mental Clarity & Energy
Reishi is an adaptogen, or fungi/plant that increases our resilience to stress, supports energy and stamina, and helps with mental clarity. In Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging and Chronic Disease, Donald Yance, CN, MH, RH(AHG) describes it as “the perfect remedy for the typical American suffering from constant stress.” (10)
7. May Have Neuroprotective Effects
8. Gut Health
Recent research indicates that mushroom polysaccharides have a prebiotic effect on the gut microbiome with increases in Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species and decreases in Clostridium, Staphylococcus, and Enterococcus species . . . and it has been suggested that this effect may also contribute to their diverse health benefits.” Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide
In other words, polysaccharides may serve as food for beneficial gut bacteria while also promoting a healthy immune system.
9. May Help Protect The Liver
In this study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, researchers reported that reishi spores had a hepatoprotective (liver protective) effect against cadmium, a toxic heavy metal known to cause liver damage. Other studies have found that polysaccharides found in reishi have a restorative effect on liver antioxidant systems after an infection. (14) (15)
10. Allergy Support
This may be because reishi has a calming effect on histamine release. (16)
What’s the best way to consume reishi?
There are three main things to consider:
1. What part is used ? (fruiting body or mycelium)
The fruiting body is considered to have the most potent therapeutic effect, however many products just use the mycelium because it grows faster.
2. What’s the reishi is grown on? (logs, grain, or sawdust)
Many mushroom products are mycelium (the less potent part) grown on grain (often gluten-containing rye or wheat) or sawdust. When considering different products, I look for ones that use the fruiting body and are grown on logs.
4. What type of extract is it?
The two basic types are water and alcohol. Water extracts valuable polysaccharides, while alcohol extracts triterpenes and other beneficial compounds.
Which one is desirable depends on what your goals are. Personally, I opt for dual-extraction products like Four Sigmatic that offer the best of both worlds. Basically, they extract the polysaccharides with water and the triterpenes/other compounds with alcohol, then carefully dry the resulting extract into a powder that can be stirred into hot water, smoothies, hot chocolate or coffee.
They also meet all of my criteria:
Our reishi mushroom powder is always the fruit bodies of red reishi, grown on logs. It is organic, non-GMO, and free from fillers and carriers. The fruiting bodies are not used in many competitor products because it takes several more months to culture them, rather than just using the mycelium[*]. Since most of the research on reishi is on the fruiting bodies we think it’s worth the wait.”
They also lab test every single batch in a third party lab for heavy metals, allergens, bacteria, yeasts, molds, mycotoxins, pesticides, and irradiation.
Here are some of the options I’ve tried and liked. Use code MP15 for 15% off.
- Reishi Elixir (1500mg reishi extract, caffeine-free)
- Mushroom Hot Cacao With Reishi (500 mg reishi extract)
- Chai Latte With Turkey Tail & Reishi (300 mg turkey tail extract, 200 mg reishi extract)
- 10 Mushroom Blend (160 mg each of meshima extract, reishi extract, chaga extract, cordyceps extract, enokitake extract, maitake extract, lion’s mane extract, tremella extract, and agaricus extract)
If you’d rather make your own tea or tincture, here’s how:
Reishi Tea Recipe
This method is found in Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, which was written by ethnobotanist David Winston and herbal expert Steven Maimes:
“Add 1-2 oz dried cut/sifted mushroom to 32 oz. water, slowly decoct [simmer] for 2-4 hours until reduced by one-half (16 oz). Take up to three to four cups per day.” Here’s where to find organic dried reishi slices.
Reishi Tincture Recipe
To make a 1:5 tincture, which is recommended in Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, you’ll need:
- 1 ounce dried reishi by weight
- 5 ounces of 60 proof or higher vodka
To make reishi tincture:
- Place dried reishi in a clean jar. Cover completely with vodka, then secure the lid and shake well. If desired, write the start date on the jar using a sticky note, label, or piece of tape – it makes keeping track of how long it’s been steeping easier.
- Place the jar in a dark area that is relatively warm. (I keep mine in a kitchen cabinet.) Let the mixture steep for 6-8 weeks.
- When it’s ready, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth, making sure to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Pour the liquid in a clean container and store in a cool, dark area.
To use reishi tincture: Winston and Maimes recommend 80-100 drops, four to six times per day. Another option is to purchase a pre-made reishi tincture and follow the instructions on the label after talking with your healthcare provider.
Are reishi mushrooms safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
According to the Botanical Safety Handbook: 2nd Edition, reishi is a Safety Class 1A herb – the safest rating possible. This category is described as:
“Herbs that can be safely consumed when used appropriately.
- History of safe traditional use
- No case reports of significant adverse events with high probability of causality
- No significant adverse events in clinical trials
- No identified concerns for use during pregnancy or lactation
- No innately toxic constituents
- Toxicity associated with excessive use is not a basis for exclusion from this class
- Minor or self-limiting side effects are not bases for exclusion from this class”
However, I did find one caution worth adding, which is that “Reishi supplements may cause anticoagulants or antiplatelets to become more effective, which increases the risk of bleeding. Therefore, people whom doctors have scheduled for surgery and individuals with bleeding disorders should not take reishi mushrooms.” (17)
Always check with your doctor before adding herbs to your diet, and listen to your intuition to help you make the best choice for yourself. For a more in-depth discussion of opinions regarding the use of adaptogens during pregnancy/breastfeeding, see this post.
1. Sanodiva, BS et. al. (2009) Ganoderma lucidum: a potent pharmalogical macrofungus
2. Isokauppila, Tero (2017) Healing Mushrooms
3. Jayachandran, Muthukumaran et. al. (2017) A Critical Review on Health Promoting Benefits of Edible Mushrooms through Gut Microbiota
5. Thyagarajan, A et. al. (2010) Triterpenes from Ganoderma lucidum induce autophagy in colon cancer through the inhibition of p38 mitogen-activated kinase
6. You, Bang-Jau et. al. (2013) A Novel Approach to Enhancing Ganoderic Acid Production by Ganoderma lucidum Using Apoptosis Induction
7. Saltarelli, R et. al. (2015) Biochemical characterization and antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of different Ganoderma collections
8. Liu, Yuh-Hwa et. al. (2015) Effect of hot water extracts from Ganoderma lucidum residues and solid-state fermentation residues on prebiotic and immune-stimulatory activities in vitro and the powdered residues used as broiler feed additives in vivo
9. Winston, David and Maimes, Steven (2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief
12. Sun, Xin-zhi et. al. (2017) Neuroprotective effects of ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides against oxidative stress-induced neuronal apoptosis
13. Zhou, Y et. al. (2012) Neuroprotective effect of preadministration with Ganoderma lucidum spore on rat hippocampus
14. Kim, DH et. al. (1999) Beta-glucuronidase-inhibitory activity and hepatoprotective effect of Ganoderma lucidum
15. Basinska, A and Florianczyk, B (2003) Beta-glucuronidase in physiology and disease
17. Medical News Today. Everything You Need To Know About Reishi Mushrooms
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