Reishi : The mushroom of immortality
Scientific name: Ganoderma lucidum
Common name: Reishi, mushroom of immortality, Lingzhi
G. lucidum is commonly known as Reishi mushroom, but Reishi is a species complex, meaning it encompasses several fungal species of the genus Ganoderma. They all look very similar but do not possess the same health benefits as each other. G. lucidum also goes by many names. In China, it's referred to as Lingzhi, which is known as the mushroom of immortality, spiritual potency, and divine power. It is truly a gem of nature with a rich cultural history. In the west, it's mainly known for its anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, immune boosting, and liver regenerating properties. Its uses in tradition include promoting longevity, increasing intellectual capacity and memory enhancement.
History and Origin of Lingzhi Mushroom
It has a rich history in Traditional Chinese Medicine, starting as early as 25-220 AD and is recorded in several medicinal herbal books written by leaders and dynasties of China. As well as writings, it appears in paintings, poetry, religion, and architecture found throughout China. They regarded it as "God's herb", holding it very special in their hearts. It can be found in a variety of different places because it is also said to bring good fortune. As it was extremely rare to find in the past it used to be reserved for royalty or very wealthy families. It wasn't until the late 20th century that it was made available to the public by Japanese farming methods. With the traditional use of approximately 2000 years in the Asian cultures, the states have just barely begun to reap all the benefits the mushroom has to offer.
G. lucidum favors warmer regions and it’s found in parts of Asia, Australia, South America, Southern Europe, and even in the Southeastern parts of the United States. It feeds on a dead organic matter and grows in densely wooded mountains with low light/high humidity. It is said that out of 10,000 trees, only 2 or 3 will have Reishi growth.
Production and Harvesting Methods
Reishi is a polypore (many pores) mushroom with a kidney or fan-shaped fruiting body. When it's young it has a bright red colored cap with a lacquered appearance to it. The shiny cap can get up to a foot long and 2-3 inches wide, and they like to grow in clusters on top or beneath one another.
It wasn't until the late 70's that G. lucidum began to be cultivated for commercial use. It started with a group of Japenese researchers with a mission of growing high-quality Reishi in volume but also in a natural environment. They started by grafting it onto aged wood logs. (Natural wood-log cultivation). The logs then get placed into a heating chamber for inoculation. When inoculation is finished, they're moved to the greenhouse where nutrient-rich topsoil is put over top. An irrigation system is in place and temperature, humidity, and light intensity are monitored carefully. The Reishi begins to grow its fruiting body and will become extremely tough as it ages. In the last stage of growth, it will drop spores. These spores will come out of tiny pores on the underside of the mushroom rather than gills like portabello mushrooms have. G. lucidum should always be harvested at maturity, either just before or just after its spores have dropped are usually when it is harvested. Currently, methods of commercial production are using the wood log, tree stumps, or sawdust bags as a medium. After they are mature and ready to be harvested, the cap of the mushroom has to be cut off (sometimes sawed off because of how tough it is) and placed in drying cabinets to be preserved.
The dried mushroom is used whole for tinctures or pressed into powdered forms for capsuling.
There are over 2,000 known species of Reishi, however, only 6 have been studied. They're referred to as red, black, yellow, white, blue, and purple. Of those six, only two have been found to have medicinal properties, Red Reishi (G. lucidum) and black Reishi (G. tsugae). Most supplement companies that are claiming to use wild-growing Reishi are using black and while black is known to have health-enhancing properties, it's said to be inferior to red Reishi due to lower active-compound counts.
There are over 300 reports on the active constituents present in red Reishi and the fruiting body of the fungi contains approximately 400 different bioactive compounds. These compounds mainly consist of complex carbohydrates like polysaccharides, triterpenoids, fatty acids, proteins, and peptides.
As previously mentioned, G. lucidum has been proven to show health-enhancing benefits for the nerves, immune system, healing the liver, and anti-inflammatory/anti-allergic activity.
For the nerves, Reishi mushrooms have traditionally been prescribed by herbalists for a number of psychiatric and neurological afflictions. In addition, in an eight-month study of Alzheimer's disease, patients using Reishi mycelium products showed significant memory improvement.
For its anti-inflammatory properties, studies have proved that Reishi extract from the fruiting body has significantly inhibited all four types of allergies(food, skin, respiratory, drug), including positive effects against asthma and contact dermatitis and, has been effectively used in treating stiffness coming from a source of inflammation.
Reishi extract has also been reported effective in the treatment of liver disorders and promotion of liver regeneration. There were animal studies conducted of mice with carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatitis and it was shown that the extent of liver failure was inhibited greatly with the supplementation of a Reishi tincture.
Most impressively, Reishi has been proven to have an anti-tumor effect and this is due to beta-D-glucan, which is a polysaccharide. It's said to be "a huge sugar molecule made up of many little sugar molecules chained together bound to amino acids. These intricate sugars stimulate or modulate the immune system by activating immune cells such as macrophage and helper T-cells, as well as increase the immunoglobin levels to produce a heightened response to foreign cells, whether bacteria, viruses, or tumor cells."(Gao, Y., S. Zhou, W. Jiang, M. Huang and X. Dai, combination with some antibiotics. Arch. Pharm. 2003.
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Wachtel-Galor, Sissi, et al. “Ganoderma Lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi).” Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd Edition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/.
- Dinesh Babu and R.S. Subhasree. “The Sacred Mushroom “Reishi”-A Review” Department of Biotechnology, BIT Campus, Anna University, 1 Tiruchirapalli-620 024, Tamilnadu, India 2008. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d412/f2a32898ad15ecf840525d616b3c40cb9343.pdf
Unlu, Ahmet & Nayir, Erdinc & Kırca, Önder & Ozdogan, Mustafa. (2016). Ganoderma Lucidum (Reishi Mushroom) and cancer. Journal of B.U.ON. : official journal of the Balkan Union of Oncology. 21. 792-798.
(Gao, Y., S. Zhou, W. Jiang, M. Huang and X. Dai, combination with some antibiotics. Arch. Pharm. 2003.)