Reishi Mushrooms, also known as Lingzhi Mushrooms, have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. This ancient medicinal mushroom has been proven to have a variety of health benefits and is now becoming increasingly popular in the West.
In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about Reishi Mushrooms, including their potential health benefits, how to consume them, and more.
What are Reishi Mushrooms?
Reishi mushrooms, also known as Ganoderma mushrooms, have various names in different regions of the world. In Asia, they are commonly referred to as lingzhi, ten thousand year mushrooms, and the mushroom of immortality, while in North America, they are called varnish shelf mushrooms, artist's conk, or bear bread.
Around the world, there are approximately 80 different species of reishi mushrooms, all of which are shelf or bracket fungi that grow on trees. Different regions and climates may have varying types of reishi mushrooms that look slightly different from one another. However, their medicinal properties are generally consistent, and some scientists believe that only a few species have different appearances depending on their habitat or the type of tree they grow on.
All reishi mushroom species grow on dead or dying trees and continue to grow every year until the wood has fully decayed. They can be harvested repeatedly from the same tree.
How to Identify Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms are easily recognizable due to their unique appearance, making them one of the easiest mushrooms to identify. If you come across a shelf mushroom with a deep red body that fades to orange, yellow, and white towards the edges of the cap, it's highly likely that you've found a reishi mushroom.
These mushrooms grow horizontally from the trunks of trees and lack the noticeable stem that other types of mushrooms have when growing from the ground. Although older reishi specimens may fade to a brown color and become harder to identify, their scallop-shaped cap with tree-like rings on the top serves as a good indicator.
Reishi mushrooms have no poisonous lookalikes, making them safe to collect even for beginners. In the worst-case scenario, you may end up with a similar-looking mushroom that provides added fiber to your diet but doesn't offer any significant medicinal benefits.
Tips and Techniques for Cooking with Reishi Mushrooms
Although technically edible, most mature reishi mushrooms are too woody and tough to be eaten. Even when finely diced and cooked, they can taste like cork. The hard outer shell of mature reishi mushrooms makes them completely inedible.
To consume reishi for its medicinal benefits, you could add dried reishi powder to smoothies or sprinkle it into recipes. However, the traditional method of consuming reishi is by making it into tea.
Fresh reishi mushrooms need to be boiled for 30 minutes to extract all the medicinal compounds, while dried reishi needs to be boiled for at least an hour or two. Thinly slicing the mushroom is recommended for best extraction.
Reishi tea has a bitter taste, making it challenging to enjoy for the flavor. This is why dried reishi powder is commonly taken in capsule form or added to powdered mixes that can be sprinkled on food or in coffee. It eliminates the time-consuming process of making tea and also avoids the bitter taste of drinking it.
Health Benefits of Reishi Mushrooms
Perhaps you’ve heard about reishi mushrooms but aren't certain of their purpose. There are numerous medicinal claims surrounding the fungi, some of which have been well-studied and validated, while others lack scientific evidence.
Research has identified several noteworthy compounds in reishi mushrooms, such as beta-glucans that can potentially halt the spread and growth of cancer cells and improve immune function. Additionally, triterpenes found in reishi mushrooms can have anti-allergy and blood pressure-lowering effects, while sterols act as precursors to human hormones in the body.
Reishi mushrooms are also believed to slow blood clotting and aid in urinary tract problems. Although animal testing indicates that they may lower cholesterol, further research is needed.
Some untested claims include the potential use of reishi mushrooms in treating HIV and AIDS, fatigue, and other medical conditions.
Reishi mushrooms are classified as adaptogens, meaning that they can aid the body in resisting or coping with physical and mental stress. Additionally, reishi may help treat diabetes and insulin resistance.
While additional research is necessary to determine the benefits of reishi mushrooms, preliminary studies suggest that they may possess anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant, and pain-relieving properties.
Recommended Dosage of Reishi Mushrooms
The appropriate dosage of reishi mushroom may differ based on the type of product and the method of consumption.
When taking a reishi extract, it's necessary to follow the manufacturer's instructions as extracts can come in different strengths, such as 4:1 or 10:1 ratios. The dosage will depend on the strength of the extract.
For dried reishi powder, a typical recommended dose is 1,000 mg once or twice a day.
Potential Side-Effects of Reishi Mushrooms
Although generally safe, reishi mushrooms have been associated with side-effects and complications in some cases.
Liver toxicity is a rare but possible side effect of reishi mushrooms. Therefore, people with liver conditions like cirrhosis or hepatitis should avoid consuming it. However, a study on healthy individuals taking reishi mushroom extract for four weeks didn't show any negative effects on the liver or kidneys.
There haven't been any studies on the effects of reishi on pregnant or breastfeeding women. Therefore, to be safe, it's best to avoid consuming reishi mushrooms if you're pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding, just like many other types of medication.
Since reishi mushrooms can lower blood pressure, it's best to avoid them if you already suffer from low blood pressure.
Moreover, if you're currently taking medication for high blood pressure, it may interact with reishi mushrooms and lower your blood pressure to dangerous levels.
Reishi mushrooms also increase the risk of bleeding, so avoid them if you suffer from bleeding disorders like hemophilia. Be aware that even common medications like aspirin or ibuprofen can slow blood clotting, so avoid combining them with reishi.
For the same reason, it's best to avoid reishi mushrooms before undergoing surgery. If you're currently taking reishi, stop using it at least two weeks before your scheduled surgery date.
For the average person without any pre-existing medical conditions who isn't currently taking any medications, the side effects of taking reishi mushrooms are minor. The most common side effect reported is an increased risk of upset stomach.
The Potential of Reishi Mushrooms in Cancer Treatment
Although studies have been conducted on the use of reishi for cancer treatment and some show promising results, this research is relatively new and hasn't been widely replicated. As a result, it's difficult to draw definite conclusions from it.
According to preliminary research, reishi may help to improve the response of lung cancer tumors to conventional therapy. However, it's uncertain if this finding can be extrapolated to other types of cancer.
Furthermore, no studies recommend using reishi mushrooms as a standalone treatment. Instead, it's used in conjunction with conventional medical methods to further enhance their effects.
If you're currently receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it may be worthwhile discussing with your physician whether adding reishi to your treatment regimen is beneficial.
How to Harvest Reishi Mushrooms
Harvesting your own reishi mushrooms is an easy process.
It is suggested that you examine the underside of the mushroom before collecting it. White undersides indicate that the mushroom is young and contains the highest concentration of medicinal properties.
Older mushrooms can still be harvested but they tend to be tougher and more bitter. Additionally, they may potentially contain harmful mold.
To harvest a reishi mushroom, pull it off the tree with a slight twisting motion. If the mushroom is younger and more delicate, a knife may be necessary to cut it off the tree.
Proper Method for Cleaning Reishi Mushrooms
If you have gathered wild reishi mushrooms, cleaning them is a straightforward process. First, visually inspect them for insects or worms, which are unlikely to be present due to the mature reishi mushrooms' hard outer shell. Then, use a stiff brush like a toothbrush to scrub off most of the dirt.
For more soiled reishi mushrooms, wipe them down with a damp cloth to remove impurities. Avoid soaking them in water as this could cause them to absorb the liquid and increase the risk of mold or spoilage.
Best Way to Store Reishi Mushrooms
Just like other types of mushrooms, reishi mushrooms can spoil quickly if not preserved after harvesting.
Therefore, it is recommended to dry them out for preservation unless you plan to use them immediately. Slicing the reishi mushrooms into thin strips or small pieces can expedite the drying process.
This is because the whole mushroom can be too thick to dry thoroughly, and can also be challenging to cut into smaller pieces once they are dry.
Proper Method to Dry Reishi Mushrooms
To dry reishi mushrooms, you can either leave them out in the sun or use a food dehydrator for the quickest and most uniform drying. Alternatively, using an oven on the lowest temperature can also dry them out quickly.
Once dried, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place with a desiccant or oxygen absorber to extend their shelf life.
Reishi mushrooms can also be made into a tincture without the need for drying. To make a double extraction tincture, chop fresh reishi mushrooms into small pieces and place them in a jar filled with alcohol for a month. Strain the mushrooms and set the mushroom-infused alcohol aside.
Boil the mushrooms from your extract in water for two hours until the water has mostly reduced down. Strain the mushrooms out and combine your water and alcohol extracts to create the tincture.
A few drops per day of this concentrated liquid can provide the medicinal benefits of reishi mushrooms.
Different Varieties of Reishi Mushrooms
The Ganoderma family comprises various mushrooms that are often referred to as reishi mushrooms. Some scientists argue that a single reishi mushroom species has evolved and adapted to different climates and habitats, while others believe they are distinct species.
Technically, the official species of reishi is Ganoderma lingzhi, the traditional lingzhi mushroom used in Chinese medicine.
Ganoderma lucidum is a similar species used interchangeably with G. Lingzhi, but is more widespread and can be found in Asia, Europe, and the Southern United States, preferring to grow on oaks and other hardwood trees.
Ganoderma tsugae is a reishi species commonly found in the Northeastern United States, with the Japanese name tsugae referring to the hemlock tree. It can be found on maple or birch trees but is most commonly found on hemlock and other coniferous trees.
Ganoderma curtisii is one of the most widespread reishi mushrooms in North America, identifiable by its vibrant cap that shifts from red in the middle to orange, yellow, and white on the outer edges, and has a matte finish.
Ganoderma oregonese is a species that grows on coniferous trees in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, often being the largest reishi mushrooms, growing up to three feet (one meter) across.
Ganoderma sessile mushrooms are found on oak, maple, and other hardwood trees and have soft, bendable caps unlike most other types of reishi. Ganoderma applantum, on the other hand, is a hard, woody variety with a dull, brown color that often requires a saw to cut.
Other reishi species include Ganoderma capense, Ganoderma resinaceum, and Ganoderma carnosum, among others.
Mushrooms That Resemble Reishi Mushrooms
Although reishi mushrooms have similar appearances and medicinal properties, it is not essential to identify the specific type of reishi mushroom you have unless you are studying them academically. Any reishi mushroom can be used for their medicinal benefits once identified correctly.
However, it is crucial to avoid picking non-medicinal mushrooms that resemble reishi mushrooms. While no poisonous look-alikes exist, collecting and drying non-medicinal mushrooms would be a waste of time and effort.
One common mushroom that can be mistaken for reishi is the red belted conk (Fomitopsis pinicola), which grows in rings with a red center that fades to white around the edges. Scratching the underside is a way to differentiate reishi from the red belted conk. The pore side of a reishi mushroom will bruise when scratched, but the red belted conk will not. Additionally, a red belted conk will have a white or yellowish spore print, whereas a reishi mushroom will leave a dark brown spore print.
It is worth noting that the red belted conk also has medicinal properties and has been traditionally used by Native Americans. Therefore, if you accidentally harvest and consume one, it can still offer some benefits.
Reishi mushrooms may also be challenging to differentiate from other bracket or polypore mushrooms that grow on tree trunks.
Useful Tips for Identifying Reishi Mushrooms
Reishi mushrooms obtain their nutrients from dead or organic matter, which classifies them as saprotrophic. These mushrooms typically grow on decaying or dying trees, particularly old logs or stumps. If you come across a shelf mushroom growing on a healthy young tree, it's unlikely to be a reishi mushroom.
Reishi mushrooms prefer hardwood trees like oak, elm, beech, and maple, although certain species, as discussed earlier, may prefer conifers such as hemlock. They are most abundant during the summer to fall seasons, although older mushrooms may still be found on trees year-round.
The cap of a reishi mushroom has a fan or kidney-like shape with a reddish color, and the outer edge may have varying shades of orange, yellow, and white. When young, reishi mushrooms have a shiny, wet appearance similar to varnish or lacquer, but they tend to become duller as they age. Most reishi varieties are less than an inch or 2-5 centimeters in thickness and do not exceed a foot or 1/3 of a meter in width.
Reishi mushrooms produce a dark brown spore print and may or may not be attached to trees by a stem.
Reishi Mushrooms: Their Habitat and How to Locate Them
Reishi mushrooms are a diverse group that can be found across the globe, including in Asia, North and South America, Australia, and parts of Europe. Some reishi varieties thrive in tropical climates, while others prefer colder environments, making it possible to locate this mushroom almost anywhere.
When searching for reishi mushrooms, it's best to focus on the lower section of dead or dying trees, as they tend to grow closer to the ground. If you come across a large shelf mushroom above head height, it's unlikely to be a reishi. The optimal time to search for fresh reishi mushrooms is between May and July in hardwood forests, though they can also grow on coniferous trees. Therefore, it's recommended to inspect every dead or dying tree you come across.
However, keep in mind that since reishi grow at the base of trees, you need to be careful of toxic plants such as poison ivy that may be growing around them.
Tips for Selecting High-Quality Reishi Mushrooms
To ensure that you purchase high-quality reishi products, it is important to buy from trustworthy sellers and read the label carefully. Some low-grade reishi products may contain only reishi mycelium or grains, which are essentially the waste byproducts of cultivating the mushrooms.
To reap the full benefits of reishi, look for supplements that contain the actual fruiting bodies, including the stems and caps of the mushroom.
It is worth noting that an independent study revealed that only 26.3% of tested reishi products accurately listed their contents on the label. Unfortunately, the study did not identify which brands were guilty of misrepresentation.
Therefore, it is crucial to purchase reishi products from reputable sellers to ensure you get a high-quality product. Japanese red reishi is widely considered one of the best forms of reishi available.
What Do Reishi Mushrooms Taste Like?
Reishi is not consumed for its taste but solely for its medicinal benefits, as the compounds that have these benefits are triterpenes, which plants and fungi produce to deter animals from eating them.
While some people describe reishi as having a bitter taste, others compare it to eating tree bark. In short, it is not a pleasurable culinary experience. However, adding honey or another sweetener can help improve the taste. Alternatively, adding it to a smoothie can help mask the taste.
Growing Reishi Mushrooms at Home
For those interested in growing mushrooms at home, reishi mushrooms can be a viable option. While they may not be as easy to cultivate as oyster mushrooms, they are still relatively simple to grow and a great species to start with. Reishi mushrooms have a strong colonization ability and are highly resistant to contamination.
For novice growers, we recommend purchasing a reishi mushroom grow kit that contains a fully colonized bag of reishi mycelium. Simply cut the top off the bag to expose it to air and regularly mist it to keep it moist. After about six weeks, you should start seeing reddish-brown "antlers" that will eventually grow into mature reishi mushrooms.
More experienced mushroom growers can purchase sawdust or plug spawn to inoculate their own logs. It's important to order mushroom kits from a local company that is as close to you as possible to minimize shipping time and handling.
Your supplier should provide you with detailed instructions for taking care of the kit and achieving optimal results. The process is similar to cultivating other mushroom varieties, with reishi requiring high humidity levels (75-85% relative humidity), low light levels, and fresh airflow to fruit.
Despite their lack of flavor, reishi mushrooms are highly sought-after for their medicinal benefits. While more research is needed to confirm their effectiveness, early studies suggest that reishi mushrooms may be helpful for individuals with conditions such as cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
These mushrooms can be found growing on the sides of dead or dying trees worldwide, typically with a reddish color and possible variations of orange, yellow, and white. If you prefer to consume reishi mushrooms in a different form, they are also available as powder, extract, or tincture. Be sure to purchase from a trustworthy source to ensure quality.
If you're interested in incorporating mushrooms into your diet for their health benefits, reishi mushrooms are a top choice and considered to be one of the healthiest varieties available.