Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum, red reishi), also known as the "King of Mushrooms," is one of the most highly respected botanicals in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It was held in such high regard that it’s been immortalized throughout Chinese culture, weaved into various forms of art and even the robes of emperors. Considered the “mushroom of the immortals,” and true to its Chinese name Ling Zhi, which represents spirit and longevity, it has been used for millennia to preserve health, support mental calmness, and promote longevity.
Reishi was listed as the most respected out of the 120 superior tonics cited in the most famous of all Chinese medical texts, the Shen Nung Ben Cao Jing. These botanicals were considered “superior” as they were considered to prolong life, prevent aging and boost Qi (vital energy or life force), and to be of medicinal value without toxicity -- the latter being one of the three specific qualities that a botanical must exhibit to be labeled a true adaptogen. In this text, Red Reishi was reported to tonify the heart, nourish the center, sharpen the wit and improve memory.
Ganoderma lucidum is a member of the Ganoderma genus of polypores (a group of fungi that form fruiting bodies with pores or tubes on the underside), which grows on the stumps of oaks and other hardwood trees, and includes over 250 species.
When a person is under stress, the adrenal glands produce and release more stress hormones, allowing the body to maintain balance. However, in cases of chronic stress, over-stimulation of the adrenals can lead to adrenal fatigue, compromising the functioning every organ and system in the body. Reishi is considered an adaptogen particularly beneficial for supporting adrenal function, thereby helping to increase energy and resistance to stress. It’s also considered an adaptogen with anti-inflammatory effects that can be used to provide relief from pain from arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (an auto-immune disease).
Reishi’s use in western Herbal Medicine is a very holistic example of its adaptogenic properties. It’s used, on the one hand, as a general tonic to strengthen the body in cases of mental and physical fatigue related to stress, and on the other hand, to promote calm in cases of insomnia due to restlessness and an overactive mind, which are often the result of stress.
Reishi has a long history of use in China to prevent and treat various diseases. Ancient Chinese medical scholars believed that Reishi could strengthen the body’s resistance and support Qi (vital energy), and it’s used in TCM to eliminate phlegm and treat coughs and bronchitis. Because of its widespread use to strengthen the body in both TCM and western herbal medicine, modern Chinese doctors and herbal medicine practitioners often use Reishi to enhance the body’s immune response in patients undergoing conventional chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment for various forms of cancer. Reishi is also integrated into HIV treatment protocols in order to enhance immune resistance and prevent infections.
A widely researched botanical, much of the reported findings from the last three decades of research on Reishi have been around its immune-enhancing properties, based predominantly on cell culture and animal models. This research has found polysaccharides and triterpenoids to be the main active constituents of Reishi with anti-tumor properties, activating certain cells that form part of the immune system. It has been found to be one of the broadest-acting immune modulating botanicals, with actions including anti-allergenic, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, liver-protective antioxidant and antiviral activities. There are also some reports of human trials in the field, but a cohesive scientific evaluation of Reishi’s use as a traditional therapy has not yet been clearly established.
Reishi has been found to be a source of antioxidants, compounds which play a vital, health-protecting role in human life. Antioxidants have been shown to help protect against various metabolic diseases, heart disease, brain disorders and age-related syndromes, as they help the body combat cellular damage caused by free radicals (reactive chemicals containing oxygen).
Reishi has been reported to increase the antioxidant effects of glutathione, an important antioxidant produced by the body. It has also been found to have liver-protective actions as a result of its ability to act as a scavenger of free radicals.
One of Reishi’s main actions according to TCM is to calm shen (the spirit or mind). So revered was it for its purported ability to promote a centred calmness, Reishi was also used by Chinese Taoist monks to improve meditative practices. Similarly, in western herbal therapies, Reishi is used to promote calm in cases of insomnia due to restlessness and an overactive mind.