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Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum)

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum)

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), known as lingzhi in Chinese, has a long history of use for promoting health and longevity in China, Japan, and other Asian countries.

It is a large, dark mushroom with a glossy exterior and a woody texture. The Latin word lucidus means “shiny” or “brilliant” and refers to the varnished appearance of the mushroom’s surface. In Japan, the name for the Ganodermataceae family is reishi, which is the name it now commonly goes by.

The mushroom grows in hot and humid locations. However, due to its irregular distribution in the wild and increasing demand for it, cultivation has become the major source of the mushroom. Moreover, different types of Ganoderma lucidum are favored in different geographical regions.

For example, in South China, black reishi mushroom is popular, while red reishi mushroom is preferred in Japan. Artificial cultivation has been achieved using substrates such as grain, sawdust, wood logs, and cork residues.

In Chinese, the name linghzi represents a combination of spiritual potency and essence of immortality. Reishi mushroom is regarded as the “herb of spiritual potency”, symbolizing success, well-being, divine power, and longevity.

Ganoderma lucidum is unique in that its medicinal rather than nutritional value is paramount. A variety of commercial reishi mushroom products are available, in the form of powders, dietary supplements, and tea. These are produced from different parts of the mushroom, including mycelia (the root system of the mushroom), spores, and fruit body.

The various beliefs regarding the health benefits of reishi mushroom are largely based on anecdotal evidence and traditional use. However, there are now studies lending support to some of the ancient claims of the health benefits of Ganoderma lucidum.

The mushroom contains several molecules, including triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans, that may be responsible for its health benefits.

In this guide, we will be delving into:

  • Reishi mushroom benefits
  • Reishi mushroom side effects
  • How to grow reishi mushrooms
  • Reishi mushroom powder and its uses
  • How to cook with reishi mushroom
  • How to prepare reishi mushroom in the form of tea or coffee

RELATED: Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus)

Ganoderma Lucidum Benefits

Reishi mushroom has a variety of potential health benefits, including boosting the immune system and fighting cancer. Some of these benefits have a strong scientific backing, while support for others is less conclusive. Also, the safety of this mushroom has come into question, so we need to detail the possible side effects of Ganoderma lucidum as well.

Immune-Boosting Benefits

One of the most appealing benefits of the reishi mushroom is that consuming it can boost your immune system, thereby protecting you from pathogens, bacteria, and viruses.

While some details still need to be ironed out, test-tube studies have shown that reishi can affect the genes in white blood cells, which are crucial components of your immune system. Moreover, these studies have found that some forms of reishi may alter inflammation pathways in white blood cells.

Research in cancer patients has demonstrated that some of the molecules found in the reishi mushroom can increase the activity of a type of blood cell called natural killer cells, which fight infections and cancer in the body.

A separate study found that reishi can increase the number of other white blood cells (lymphocytes) in people with colorectal cancer.

Although most of the immune-boosting benefits of reishi mushroom have been observed in people with some kind of illness, some evidence indicates that it can help healthy people, too.

In one study, reishi mushroom improved lymphocyte function — helping to fight infections and cancer — in athletes exposed to stressful conditions. On the other hand, it should be noted that other research involving healthy adults showed no improvement in immune function or inflammation after four weeks of taking reishi mushroom extract.

So, what we know so far is that reishi mushroom can positively impact white blood cells and immune function, but more research is required to determine the extent of the benefits for the healthy and ill.

Cancer-Fighting Properties

Many people consume reishi for its potential anti-cancer properties. In one study of over 4,000 breast cancer survivors, for example, around 59 percent consume reishi mushroom. And there may be a solid basis for this decision.

Several test-tube studies have shown that Ganoderma lucidum can lead to the death of cancer cells. It’s important to underscore, however, that since these are test-tube studies, their results may not necessarily equate to effectiveness in non-human animals or humans.

Nonetheless, some researchers have investigated if reishi could be beneficial for prostate cancer due to its effects on the hormone testosterone. While one study did find that the molecules in reishi mushrooms may reverse prostate cancer in humans, a larger follow-up study did not support these findings. So the jury’s still out on that potential benefit.

Other researchers have studied reishi mushroom for its role in preventing or fighting colorectal cancer, with one study showing that one year of treatment with reishi decreased the number and size of tumors in the large intestine.

Furthermore, a report detailing multiple studies indicates that Ganoderma lucidum can beneficially affect cancer patients by increasing the activity of the white blood cells, which help to fight cancer.

In spite of these possible benefits, researchers stress that reishi mushroom should be administered in combination with traditional cancer treatment, rather than be recommended as a replacement. In addition, many of the studies on Ganoderma lucidum and its effects on cancer were not high-quality, which means the evidence is not necessarily reliable.

Reishi Mushroom Could Combat Fatigue And Depression

Reishi’s effects on the immune system are usually what are emphasized the most. However, this mushroom has other potential advantages as well. These include the ability to reduce fatigue and depression.

For example, one study examined the effects of Ganoderma lucidum in 132 people with neurasthenia, a poorly defined condition associated with aches, pains, dizziness, headaches, and irritability. The researchers found that reishi supplements were able to reduce fatigue and improve well-being after eight weeks. This was also a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, making the evidence more reliable.

Another study found that reishi powder was able to reduce fatigue and improve quality of life in a group of 48 breast cancer survivors after four weeks. The participants in this study also benefited from less anxiety and depression.

While reishi mushrooms may help people struggling with poor mental health, it is not clear if they would lead to significant psychological benefits for people who feel mentally well.

Heart Health

One 12-week study of 26 people showed that reishi mushroom may increase “good” LDL cholesterol and decrease triglycerides, both of which can contribute to good heart health. However, other research involving healthy adults showed no improvement in heart disease risk factors.

Moreover, a large analysis discovered no beneficial effects for heart health after looking at five different studies containing around 400 people. The researchers found that consuming Ganoderma lucidum for up to 16 weeks did not improve cholesterol.

Due to conflicting evidence, more research is needed to determine the link between reishi mushrooms and heart health.

Blood Sugar Control

Several studies have indicated that molecules contained in Ganoderma lucidum can decrease blood sugar in non-human animals. And some preliminary research in humans (with Type II diabetes) reports similar findings.

Nonetheless, the majority of research does not support this benefit. After evaluating hundreds of participants, researchers found that reishi mushroom provided no benefits in terms of blood sugar control. They found mixed results. In some cases, reishi mushroom lowered blood sugar after meals, whereas in other cases, it was actually worse than a placebo.

Due to mixed evidence regarding the effect (if any) of reishi mushroom on blood sugar control, it is best not to rely on it if this is the benefit you’re seeking. There are, fortunately, many other ways to achieve blood sugar control through diet, such as by consuming less salt, red and processed meat, and refined carbohydrates, and eating more fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidant Status

Antioxidants are molecules that can help prevent damage to your cells. Found in a variety of foods, these molecules can reduce the risk of many diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. There is also interest in supplements that can enhance antioxidant status in the body.

Many claim that reishi mushroom can improve antioxidant status in the body as well. However, several studies found no change in the levels of two important antioxidant enzymes in the blood after consuming the fungus for a period of either four or 12 weeks.

Just like trying to improve your heart health and blood sugar control with reishi, we don’t recommend you depend on daily dosing of reishi to boost your antioxidant status. You would be better off eating foods high in antioxidants, such as dark chocolate, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, goji berries, artichokes, and kale.

Dosages For Reishi Mushroom Benefits

The dosage of reishi mushroom can vary substantially based on which type is used. The highest doses are seen when someone consumes the mushroom itself. In these cases, the dosage can range from 25-100 g, depending on the size of the mushroom.

Commonly, people will use a dried extract, as this enables you to consume less while still enjoying the benefits. In this case, the dose is approximately 10 times less than when the mushroom is consumed whole.

For instance, 50 g of reishi mushroom may be comparable to around 5 g of reishi mushroom extract. Doses of the extract itself vary, but they typically range from 1.5-9 g per day.

Since the suggested dose can vary significantly based on which form of the mushroom you use, you need to know which type you are taking. This is especially important given the possibility of experiencing side effects.

How Long Does It Take For Reishi Mushroom To Work?

You may now be wondering how long you have to wait before you can expect to experience any benefits from Ganoderma lucidum. If you are new to using reishi, it might take about three weeks of regular use to establish its benefits. However, you may notice some health improvements before then, such as 10-14 days after daily dosing.

Don’t increase your dose just because you don’t see effects immediately. Any medication or supplement requires a certain amount of time to settle into your system.

Reishi Mushroom Side Effects

Despite the popularity of reishi mushrooms, there are concerns about potential side effects.

Research has revealed that those who took reishi mushroom for four months were nearly two times as likely to experience a side effect as those taking a placebo. Nevertheless, these effects were minor and included a slightly increased risk of nausea and insomnia. No adverse effects on liver health have been reported.

Other research found that four weeks of taking reishi mushroom extract did not produce any detrimental effects on the liver or kidneys in healthy adults.

In contrast to reports on the safety of reishi mushroom, there have been case studies indicating that consuming reishi can lead to significant liver problems, which in some instances can be fatal.

Individuals in these case studies had previously used reishi mushroom without any issues but experienced adverse effects after switching to a powdered form. It is therefore difficult to know for certain if the mushroom itself was responsible for the liver damage or if there were problems with the Ganoderma lucidum extract.

You should also be aware that many studies of reishi mushroom have not reported safety data, so there is limited information in this area overall. Nonetheless, it is recommended for several groups of people to avoid reishi, including those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with a blood disorder, anyone undergoing surgery, and those who have low blood pressure.

How To Grow Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi Mushrooms growing on trees
Reishi mushrooms are growing within light and temperature control room.

Growing your own reishi mushrooms can be a great way to ensure that you always have a supply of them, all while saving on costs.

One easy and simple way to cultivate Ganoderma lucidum is to purchase a growing kit, available from many online vendors. These come with an inoculated and colonized substrate block, meaning that you can start the fruiting process as soon as you get the grow kit. This will certainly suit beginners.

However, we want to explain how you can grow these mushrooms at home without one of these kits; this will interest those who want more of a challenge or who want to understand more about the process of growing reishi mushrooms.

Step 1: Gather Supplies

The first step when growing reishi mushrooms is to order and gather the necessary supplies, which include the following:

  • Reishi Spawn. You can use grain or sawdust spawn when growing reishi mushrooms indoors. We recommend grain spawn since it’s easier to break apart and mix with the substrate. Reishi spawn holds sawdust together tightly, making sawdust spawn harder to break apart.
  • Hardwood Pellets. These can be a good alternative to sawdust or wood chips, and they’re readily available as people use them for pellet stoves and grills. Additionally, they’re relatively inexpensive and easy to store. Just make sure you get hardwood pellets, though, as reishi doesn’t grow on softwoods.
  • Oat or Wheat Bran. Bran is a nitrogen-rich supplement that you can add to substrates to provide extra nutrients for the mycelium. You can find bags of bran at your local grocery store, although these bags will be small, so if you plan on growing lots of mushrooms, a less expensive option is to buy larger quantities from animal feed stores.
  • Large Grow Bags. These have filter patches that allow the mycelium to breathe while it colonizes the substrate. They can also withstand the temperatures required for sterilizing your substrate. The bags can act as mini fruiting chambers, too; they have space for the reishi antlers (slender, finger-like stalks) to form on the top of the substrate while inside the closed grow bag.

Step 2: Prepare The Substrate

Once you have all your materials, you can begin by preparing the substrate. A large grow bag will typically create a 5 lb (2.3 kg) fruiting block.

Ingredients

To make a 5 lb (2.3 kg) of substrate, you’ll need:

  • Five cups of hardwood pellets
  • One and a quarter cups of bran
  • Six cups of water

Process

  1. Combine the pellets and water in a bucket or bowl and soak for 30 minutes. During this time, the hardwood pellets will break apart and become sawdust. You can speed up the process with warm water, but this isn’t necessary.
  2. Next, add the bran to the sawdust and mix thoroughly until the bran is evenly distributed.
  3. You should now do a “squeeze test” to ensure that the substrate has the right moisture content. When you squeeze your substrate slightly, it should stay together in your hand, with only a couple of drops of water coming out.
  4. Now, place the mixture into your grow bag while expelling as much air as possible. Then fold the bag according to these instructions.
  5. Place the bag in a pressure cooker and cook it for two and a half hours at 15PSI.
  6. Remove the bag from the pressure cooker and let the substrate cool. Once it’s completely cooled (which can take up to eight hours), move on to step three.

Step 3: Inoculation

Inoculation is the process of mixing the reishi grain spawn into the hardwood substrate you’ve prepared.

Before getting started, wipe down all work surfaces and clean your hands well with soap to avoid contaminating the substrate.

Next, add the reishi grain spawn to the wet substrate — at a 5 percent ratio — and mix them together. You can do this inside the bag, but it will be easier to mix them outside the bag first in a large box or container.

Once the substrate and spawn are well mixed, load the inoculated substrate into your grow bag. Close the top of the bag with a rubber band, tape, or tie of some kind.

Step 4: Incubation

Put the closed grow bag in a warm, dark area at room temperature. Leave it to incubate.

The reishi spawn will grow and spread throughout the bag until it completely colonizes the substrate. This process will take 10-14 days. However, with optimal temperature and 80 percent humidity (the mushrooms like humid environments, remember), the reishi could colonize the block in a week. Lower temperatures will slow down the colonization process.

Step 5: Fruiting

Once the colonization process is complete, you need to provide the right temperature and humidity (known as ‘fruiting conditions’) for your reishi to fruit and produce mushrooms.

Reishi grows best at room temperature around 75-85 Fahrenheit but tolerates a wide range of temperatures. Like other mushrooms, reishi needs high humidity to grow best. They do well with humidity levels of 85-90 percent.

When reishi mushrooms first appear, they produce finger-like projections called antlers. These also look like candy corn due to their color.

Step 6: Harvesting

Reishi mushrooms grow a lot slower than many other types of mushrooms. For example, while oyster mushrooms can double in size daily and be ready for harvest in a week’s time, reishi takes a lot longer.

You can harvest your mushrooms when the antlers are only a few inches tall, or you can allow them to grow for months, in which case unique shapes will develop.

When you expose reishi mushroom antlers to oxygen-rich fresh air, they flatten out and form fan-like conks at the end of the antlers. These conks are shiny red and produce spores.

When the antlers are 2-3 inches tall, cut open the top of the bag and place it in fruiting conditions (a location with room temperature, high humidity, indirect light, and good airflow). It will take anywhere from 30-45 days for your reishi to mature and form full conks.

Growing reishi conks will provide you with a higher yield. You can harvest them at any stage, but to get the best yield, aim to harvest them just before they drop their spores.

When growing, reishi mushrooms have a bright wide edge. When this edge begins to get smaller, this is a sign they’ve almost finished growing. This is the best time to harvest them. At this stage of maturity, they should have a fan-shape, sporting a reddish color with a wet lacquered appearance.

Use a sharp blade or serrated knife to cut the mature reishi mushrooms off the fruiting block. Make sure not to damage any mushrooms that are still growing.

How To Store Reishi Mushrooms

As with all other varieties of mushrooms, even hard and woody reishi mushrooms will spoil if you don’t properly preserve them after harvesting. Unless you plan to use them right away, you’ll want to dry them out.

Cutting your reishi mushrooms into thin strips or small pieces will help them to dry out faster. Whole mushrooms can be too thick to properly dry the whole way through. Plus, once they do dry, it will be harder to cut them into smaller pieces.

You can leave reishi mushrooms out in the sun to dry. Alternatively, if you have a food dehydrator, that will provide the quickest and most uniform drying. You can also use an oven at the lowest temperature to dry them out if you don’t want to wait for your mushrooms to dry naturally.

The Benefits Of Growing Reishi Mushrooms At Home

There are several advantages to growing your own reishi:

  • You don’t need expensive equipment
  • You don’t need perfect grow room conditions
  • Reishi can grow indoors
  • They colonize substrates quickly
  • They’re pretty resistant to infections and contaminants
  • They can tolerate both high and low levels of CO2
  • They’re fascinating to watch as they mature and develop

How To Cook With Reishi Mushroom

While reishi mushrooms are technically edible, all but the youngest ones are going to be far too woody and tough to eat on their own. Even if you dice them up very finely and cook them, they will still have the taste of cork or tree bark. Mature reishi mushrooms have a hard outer shell that makes them completely inedible.

You could try adding dried reishi powder to smoothies or sprinkling it into some of your favorite recipes. This way, you still gain the medicinal benefits of the mushroom.

However, people do not commonly cook with reishi mushroom (even when young and edible), due to the unappealing taste. A smoothie or a dish may mask the taste, but there’s always a risk of ruining the meal.

A much more popular option is to consume reishi in the form of tea or coffee.

How To Prepare Reishi Mushroom Tea Or Coffee

how to brew Reishi Mushroom tea
Red Reishi Mushroom (Lingzhi) tea on wood.

Most people traditionally consume reishi as a tea, so let’s take a look at what this preparation method involves.

Making Reishi Mushroom Tea

You will need:

  • 3-5 g of dried reishi mushroom or 25-30 g of fresh reishi in slices or chunks
  • 4-5 cups of filtered water
  • Optional: Maple syrup or lemon to taste

Instructions

  • Add your water to the pot and bring it to a boil
  • Add the mushroom pieces in and reduce the heat to simmer on a low heat. If using fresh reishi, let your concoction simmer for at least 30 minutes. If you opt for dried reishi, on the other hand, let it simmer for at least an hour or two.
  • Once the appropriate amount of time has passed, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool.
  • Strain the mushroom pieces from the water and into a cup.
  • Once you’ve made your reishi tea, you’ll find that it has a bitter taste. You can add maple syrup or lemon to improve the taste, but don’t expect to enjoy it like other kinds of tea.

Making Reishi Mushroom Coffee

Another popular option for consuming reishi as a drink is in the form of coffee.

Here are the ingredients for a healthy reishi mushroom coffee recipe:

  • 3 tablespoons (to 8 oz of hot water) of ground coffee
  • 1 teaspoon of organic reishi mushroom powder
  • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup to taste
  • ¼ cup of almond, coconut, soy, or oat milk (unless you like your coffee black)
  • Optional: Ice cubes

Directions

  • Brew your coffee as you normally would
  • Pour into a coffee mug
  • Mix in reishi mushroom powder until dissolved
  • Stir in maple syrup
  • Add ice cubes if you like

Reishi Mushroom Powder

Reishi Mushroom powder
Ganoderma Lucidum Mushroom with copy space on wooden background,Ling Zhi Mushroom.

Reishi mushrooms have an unpleasant, bitter taste. So one go-to method of consuming them is to take the dried powder in capsule form. Also, this way, you don’t have to commit to the time-intensive process of making reishi mushroom tea. You can find red reishi mushroom powder and black reishi mushroom powder from a number of online vendors.

However, you should be aware that there are two different forms of reishi mushroom powder:

  • Powder derived from ground up, dried, whole reishi mushrooms
  • Reishi mushroom extract powder — this is a more concentrated form of reishi, in which the active constituents of the mushroom are extracted. By using an extract powder, you will consume a much lower dosage to get the same medicinal benefits. Extracts can vary widely in terms of strengths (and therefore dosages), so make sure you follow recommendations for dosing when buying an extract.

Many reishi extracts (which can come in the form of capsules or tinctures) may also have other mushroom extracts added to them, such as chaga, lion’s mane, maitake, cordyceps, and shiitake, as these offer health benefits, too.

Overall, reishi mushroom extracts tend to be better than powders when it comes to taking mushroom supplements for certain desired health benefits. Powders may contain too little of the compounds for your metabolism to easily absorb.

Extracts, on the other hand, can contain high quantities of beta-glucans, the soluble fibers in the cell walls of fungi that may lower the risk of heart disease and prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol from food.

As the above discussion points out, we can see that reishi may help to improve various aspects of your health. Still, it is uncertain whether other claims of reishi are well-supported.

If consuming a normal dose of reishi (either whole or as an extract) and you experience concerning side effects, then this may indicate an allergic reaction. This will most likely be due to a general mushroom allergy, but in some rare cases, this reaction may occur only after consuming reishi (and perhaps other specific mushrooms).

Sam Woolfe

View all posts by Sam Woolfe

Sam Woolfe is a freelance writer based in London. His main areas of interest include mental health, mystical experiences, the history of psychedelics, and the philosophy of psychedelics. He first became fascinated by psychedelics after reading Aldous Huxley's description of the mescaline experience in The Doors of Perception. Since then, he has researched and written about psychedelics for various publications, covering the legality of psychedelics, drug policy reform, and psychedelic science.

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