Reishi Mushroom


What’s in a name:

Botanical name: Ganoderma lucidum (Bright shining skin)

Reflects the appearance of Ganoderma. It’s upper surface is bright red/orange and shiny. It also hints at its medicinal properties.


Most Common Chinese Name: Ling zhi

Often translated as Spirit Plant or Tree of Life Mushroom. However, a deeper translation involves looking at the 3 characters that make up Ling zhi’s name.

1st character: Shaman

2nd character: Praying for

3rd character: Rain  (water or blessings)

Chinese Folklore and Ling zhi

Kaun Yin is the goddess of compassion. She is young beautiful woman who brings grace, kindness and understanding to all no matter their difficulty. She is often seen carrying Ling zhi as a medicinal offering to those in need. In this picture she is seen sitting under Ling zhi.


Ling zhi’s origin story

In approximately 215 BC the emperor of China, Shi-Haung, heard about a wonderful fungus that had magical powers and anyone who ate it would gain immortality. He sent out a royal decree for people to search out for this miraculous fungus and return with enough for himself and his family. A sailor named Hsu Fu took up the search and found the mushroom on a remote island. One this island there were palaces made out of the mushroom that were so bright they lit up the heavens.

On a more mundane note: Pig thieves in china fed pigs they hoped to steal Reishi. Reishi is a narcotic to pigs. After nibbling on a piece of the mushroom, the pigs become calm and docile. Without the pigs squealing and alerting the farmer, it was easy for the thieves to make off with them.


Japanese Names – Reishi

Reishi in Japanese means Forest Sage

Reishi is also referred to as Mushroom of Immortality

There are two primary religions in Japan: Shinto and Buddhism. Shintoism is an earth based way of life that recognizes the “spirit” in every living thing: person, mountain, lake, cloud, plant.  Within some living things, there is a “Kami” or “the energy generating thing”. The Kami can be contained in a river, a tree, a great leader or an ancient ancestor. It is the aim of those who practice Shintoism to maintain harmony with the natural environment, animals and people to develop deep and meaningful relationship with the Kami of place or a specific natural phenomenon like the sun. Affable relations lead to understandings of the interconnection of all things, and this creates wisdom. From wisdom one’s personal “Kami” develops leading to immortality or being born amongst the ancestors.  Because the Japanese people name this fungi Mushroom of Immortality it reflects the fungi’s profound relationship with Kami.   


Another interesting name the Japanese have given this fungus is Monkey Seat.

This name may reflect a Buddhist story about the Monkey and The Elephant. There are several stories in Buddhism, a religion originally founding in India where there are many monkeys and sadly fewer elephants than in the days of the Buddha, involving a monkey and an elephant. But there is one in particular in which the monkey sits on the elephant’s back. This story outlines the path to enlightenment. It is not until the social awareness and playful energy of the monkey moves in harmony with deep, preserving intelligence of the elephant (or vice versa) that there is possibility of enlightenment. It is shown by the monkey riding on the elephant’s back. And what supports the relationship of the two dramatically different characters of the monkey and the elephant, but the Reishi mushroom.

Not Only Found in Asia

Ganoderma lucidum can be found in my neck of the woods as well, Western Quebec and Eastern Ontario. I have seen several glowing Ganoderma lucidum on a cluster of oak stumps in a small clearing surrounded by poplar trees. In this location they were not only growing as shelf fungi on the stumps, they were also poking up through the ground like antlers where the roots of the old trees ran close to the surface of the earth. Many people feel it is the fungi that grow in the form of antlers that offers the greatest medicine.


A Western Approach to the Ganoderma’s Medicine


Mushrooms in general nourish the immune system. The most basic principal in holistic medicine is: a variety or good quality food supports physical vitality, mental clarity

and an overall optimistic outlook on life. The challenge is every other living being on this planet also seeks good nutrition. Many of the smallest living creatures, bacteria and virus, find the human body to be an excellent banquet of wholesome food. Our immune systems work hard every day ensuring the we don’t get eaten up by these miniscule but mighty life forms. This is why the cells that make up the immune system thrive on the extra nutrition mushrooms provide.


Infectious disease, disease caused by hungry bacteria, viruses and parasites, has been the number one killer of humans for centuries. (Well not really, war is the first.) The first documented plague in 541 AD killed approximately 10,000 people per day in what is now present day Turkey. The black death sent 25 million European souls to their graves in the 1340s. Yersinia pestis, rod shaped bacteria spread through China from 1855 to 1959, is blamed for 10 million deaths.


A fungus that can nourish the immune system, enhancing its ability to killing off microbes and limiting their spread, it’s not surprising it is attributed with mystical powers.


A few of the ways Reishi helps out the immune system

Understanding the immune system is like looking a 10,000 piece puzzle with just the edges done. The immune system is complex. Very, very complex! And the language used to talk about the immune systems parts and activities is even more complex. (Perhaps it feels so daunting to put its activities into words because all its parts and how they move together is barely understood.) But let’s give it a try anyways.


Histamine Response

There are two basic T-cells that the immune system used to kill off microbes and rogue cells. The first is called helper-cells or T1 cells. These cells kill off microbes that live outside of our cells. The second is call T2 cells or cytotoxic cells. These cells are very active in the inflammatory response because they not only kill of cells harbouring microbes or cancerous changes, they also are part of the clean-up and repair team where there are damage tissues. A healthy immune system switches every 12 hours from T1 cells patrolling our body to T2 cells. For 12 hours germs are hunted down and for 12 hours the mess resulting from all that killing is cleaned up.


When the immune system is struggling against chronic infection, or exposure to harmful chemicals, the clean-up and repair mechanisms of inflammation never quite finish their job and the immune system ops for an extended time of T2 active in the body. Seems like a reasonable approach. However, it is not without challenges. Along with increased levels of T2 comes a heightened histamine response. Histamine is the culprit that causes most of the unpleasant effects of inflammation, swelling, pain, itching, etc. Think mosquito bite or hay fever. It also weakens the cell junction in blood vessels making it easier for microbes to move around the body (an important piece of information when struggling with chronic infection).


When the immune system hangs out in T2 pro-inflammatory stage for too long, allergies and conditions like asthma develop.


Reishi mushroom have shown to bring balance back to the immune system T1 and T2 cells limiting the histamine response and lowering incidences of asthma and allergic responses. [1]


The ability to return balance to the T1/T2 cycle is attributed to lanostanoid, a steroidal component of Reishi called ganodosterone. Ganodosterone is futher composed of three more steroidal components: ganodermenonol, ganodermadiol and ganodermatriol.


However, one must be very careful when attributing a specific action to a particular medicinal constituent. Just as the immune system is complex and we still do not truly understand how it moves as a whole, the same is even truer for medicinal mushrooms. So far over 100 distinct polysaccharides and 119 triterpenoids have been isolated from Reishi.[2] To say one of those triterpenoids has one specific action, would be naive.  


Increase T Cells

Reishi not only regulates the release of T cells it also offers the body complex polysaccharides that enhances the creation of T-cells. This is a very important action for those who practice holistic medicine.


Allopaths use different types of drugs to suppress the immune system: steroids, chemotherapy and to a certain anti-biotics.[3]


Because the immune system role is to heal the body, using drugs to weaken the body’s innate healer is counter-intuitive to holistic practitioners. The thought of a fungi that restore the intelligence and strength to immune system is like mana from heaven. For this reason, Reishi is a gift to those struggling with cancer and other dysfunctions of the immune system.[4]


The best medicine is medicine that prevents illness. In traditional medicine, this is part of the core protocol for any patient. Taking Reishi regularly is preventative medicine not only to keep microbes in check and immune system strong, but also due to is anti-oxidant effects. Anti-oxidants limit the number of free radicals moving through the body, burning holes in cells membranes and disrupting DNA sequencing resulting in cancer.


Reishi is a powerful anti-oxidant

In one study Reishi’s anti-oxidant effects has shown to reboot gene p53. In more than half known cancers, gene p53 is mutated. A healthy p53 gene sorts out the trash from the stuff we should keep. When a gene is mutated (precancerous or cancerous), p53 destroys it in a process call apoptosis meaning cell death. Cancerous cells do not know how to die. That is why they are unchecked growth. Gene p53 shows them how to die. Studies have shown that Reishi mushrooms repairs damaged p53 genes. [5]

Just a quick notes of a few other ways Reishi helps improves health.

  • Lower cholesterol, particularly in when high cholesterol runs in families.

  • Lowers blood pressure

  • Improves oxygen uptake in the lungs

  • Enhances energy

  • The Chinese say, “Brings a lightness of being.”

  • Eases insomnia


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Point of View

Calms the spirit, augments the Heart qi and tonifies Heart blood: for insomnia, fright and palpations, and forgetfulness associated with insufficient Heart qi and blood failing to nourish the spirit. Can be used as a stand alone herb for this purpose. – Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, D. Bensky, S. Clavey, E. Stoger


Energetics and Taste

While those who practice TCM consider Reishi sweet (sweet builds resources), it is bitter on the tongue.

Energetically, it is considered neutral.


Important to know if you plan on taking Reishi

Take it in the morning. It will give you extra energy for your day. If you take it in the evening, it might keep you awake.


There is no specific dose for Reishi mushrooms. Traditionally they were offered as food in soups or stuffed in ducks. I tend to dose mushrooms quite high. However, I always begin low and work my clients up to higher doses while monitoring them closely. If they experience diarrhoea, nausea or insomnia, I lower the dose.


When someone has been pushing the limits of their body, they will find that in the early days of taking Reishi they experience detoxification symptoms: achiness, nausea, fatigue. Generally, these last for a couple days and then disappear. If they don’t drop the dose.

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