Have you ever wanted to know why Reishi is called the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’? Or how about the vast history of its use in traditional Chinese medicine? If you’re more scientifically minded, we’ve got you covered there too!
Here you will find a comprehensive guide to everything Reishi.
What is Reishi?
Reishi is a medicinal mushroom well-known in East Asian countries for promoting health and longevity.
They are classified as polypore or bracket fungus. Fungi in this group earned the bracket fungus name due to their characteristic shelf-like fruiting bodies. Unfortunately, they do not make good shelves for holding objects despite their appearance.
Why Is It Called Reishi?
It is a Japanese word for these fungi derived from the Chinese term, lingzhi.
In Chinese, ‘ling’ means ‘divine spirit’ and ‘zhi’ means ‘woody mushroom’. When put together, they translate to ‘divine mushroom’. Meanwhile, the native Japanese term for Reishi is mannentake, which translates to ‘10,000-year-old mushroom’.
Its scientific name is Ganoderma Lingzhi. It, along with other closely-related mushrooms, used to collectively have the scientific name Ganoderma Lucidum. However, they were split into distinct species once the differences were identified.
The species Ganoderma Lingzhi was believed to be the one mentioned in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The new species name is often still confused with the original name.
The word 'Ganoderma' can be broken down into two Greek terms: ‘ganos’ means ‘brightness’ and ‘derma’ means ‘skin’. Put together, they mean ‘shining skin’. This refers to the shiny outside that is a trademark of Reishi mushrooms.
Another name for this fungi is the ‘Mushroom of Immortality’. It earned this name for its medicinal properties that were said to extend a person’s life.
What Does it Look Like?
To identify Reishi, look for dark-coloured mushrooms in the shape of flat kidneys. These faux kidneys are the caps of the fungi.
The cap’s outside will have the glossy exterior mentioned in their name. However, when you get closer you will find that they have a woody texture.
Unlike some other mushrooms, this species lacks gills on its underside. Instead, it forms a yellow band that is dotted with tiny pores. These pores are the exit doors for the spores to be ejected from. Houston, we have lift off!
Different environmental conditions can alter the appearance of these mushrooms’ fruiting bodies. The main three factors are light, temperature, and humidity.
For example, elevated carbon dioxide levels cause longer stems. Another alteration that may be linked to carbon dioxide levels is an antler-like appearance without a cap. Apparently, those ones didn’t get the memo that hats were required.
Where can I find it?
In the wild, Reishi mushrooms are quite rare.
Despite their scarcity, they have been found in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. They grow best in these continents’ forests in subtropical and temperate zones
You will most likely find them growing at the base or stump of living or dead deciduous trees. They have a particular liking for maple trees, but they’re not too picky.
Reishi mushrooms have a long history of use in East Asian cultures.
Prominence in China
It has a strong presence in Chinese history due to its medicinal properties.
The name ‘lingzhi’ was first used in a poem by Ban Gu sometime in the 1st century CE.
Taoism, a philosophy and religion from ancient China, promoted this mushroom for both its medicinal and spiritual abilities. Taoist temples were often called the 'Abode of Mushrooms' due to their love of fungi. Lingzhi, along with other mushrooms, was said to allow followers to see or become spirits.
Pieces of ancient Chinese art contain these fungi to symbolise great health and longevity. This representation even extended to one of their goddesses. The Goddess of Healing, Guanyin, is sometimes depicted holding a Reishi mushroom. Pretty fitting, right?
In day-to-day life during ancient times, these mushrooms were also used as talismans for luck. Move over rabbit’s feet, Reishi mushrooms are the new good luck charm!
A Fungi of Many Colours
Reishi is mentioned in the Chinese book Shennong Bencao Jing (Divine Farmer’s Classic of Pharmaceutics) written around 200 to 250 CE. Here it is classified into six colour categories that each benefit qi (life force) of different body parts.
- Qingzhi - Green Mushroom - Liver
- Chizhi - Red Mushroom - Heart
- Huangzhi - Yellow Mushroom - Spleen
- Baizhi - White Mushroom - Lungs
- Heizhi - Black Mushroom - Kidneys
- Zizhi - Purple Mushroom - Essence
These same colour groupings were later used in 1596 by Li Shizhen in his Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica). Shizhen also called them immortality herbs.
The Need for Cultivation
As mentioned previously, finding Reishi mushrooms in the wild was quite rare in ancient times. Only nobility could afford to own or use them due to this scarcity.
Finally, in the 1980s, a Japanese man named Shigeaki Mori developed an effective method to cultivate them. This cultivation method is what allowed Reishi mushrooms to become more widely available.
Nowadays, these fungi can be cultivated in labs and farms on substrates such as hardwood logs, sawdust, and wood chips.
Reishi, like other medicinal mushrooms, has long been used in traditional medicine. However, the scientific community’s spotlight has only recently focused on it. With the current research, Reishi has been researched in relation to the following.
Sleep disruptions are an incredibly common problem with unhealthy consequences. Due to this, both artificial and natural remedies are being looked into, including medicinal mushrooms. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine used Reishi for insomnia and restlessness due to its tranquilising effect.
A 2021 study tested how the alcohol extract of Reishi could help with sleep in mice. The results concluded that the extract made it easier to fall and stay asleep.
Cognitive functions are the mental abilities that help us live our best lives. However, age and sometimes neurodegenerative diseases cause this cognition to decline. Natural remedies like Reishi could help combat this decrease.
For example, a 2017 study looked at Reishi polysaccharides and neuron generation in lab mice. The researchers found that the fungi enhanced neuron generation while reducing cognitive deficits.
Another study in 2019 used the ethanol extract of Reishi to test its effect on memory and learning. The results showed that the extract might improve learning memory and could enhance cognition patterns.
Through various studies, Reishi could have the potential to be an alternative medicine for cancer treatment.
A 2016 study rounded up some of the past research on Reishi and cancer to look at its viability. This review concluded that these mushrooms could improve a patient’s response to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. As well, it might improve post-treatment quality of life for patients. However, Reishi doses by themselves did not affect tumours.
A surprising area of research for Reishi mushrooms is in skin care.
In 2019, a review gathered studies that looked at the fungi’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties concerning skin health. The data showed that Reishi could promote the healing of skin wounds, and treat skin aging by ultraviolet (UV) light.
Another study in 2022 found that Reishi could help fight against skin cancer caused by UV light.
Reishi Mushroom Benefits
Although Reishi is being researched for more serious ailments, it is also useful for its everyday benefits. Health benefits of Reishi mushrooms include:
- Helping you relax by relieving stress/anxiety
- Giving your immune system support to fight off illnesses
- Fighting fatigue by improving your sleep quality
For a more detailed list, check out our Reishi Mushroom Benefits article!
Reishi mushroom supplements generally come in three different formats.
The first is a mushroom tincture. Alcohol-based tinctures are great if you want the effects of the fungi fast. Just add the recommended dose to your drink or under your tongue and you’re good to go!
The second is a mushroom powder. This format is more versatile as you can sprinkle the dose into either drinks or food.
The last format is a capsule. These are perfect if you don’t want the hassle of adding supplements to your drink or food. You can pop one in your mouth, wash it down with some water, and forget about it.
With all the benefits of Reishi, it has very few side effects to be concerned about.
The main potential side effect is an allergic reaction manifesting as dryness in your mouth, throat, or nasal passages. These reactions usually occur after long-term use of around 3 to 6 months.
If you’re looking for Reishi supplements, we have a line of them in three different forms.
Sleep in Canada and Rest in the US are mushroom tinctures that harness the power of Reishi, Chamomile, and Melatonin to give you the rest and relaxation you need. If you’re looking for a natural remedy for stress and anxiety relief, these are the products for you.
Think is our mushroom powder that mixes various medicinal mushrooms and botanicals to help you unleash your full cognitive potential. This cognitive complex powder will help sharpen your mind, while also protecting your body through immune support.
Defend (only in the US) is our unique mushroom capsules that give you the maximum benefit of 10 different adaptogenic medicinal mushrooms. These mushrooms combined are the perfect way to protect your body against illness on a day-to-day basis.
As you can see, Reishi mushrooms are so much more than just a trending natural remedy in the present day. If you’d like to try out some of it yourself, check out our Reishi product line and see what you think!