Reishi: the Adaptogen
Historical knowledge of the health benefits Ganoderma lucidum dates back 2,000 years in Asian traditions. Known as Reishi in Japan and Lingzhi in China, these rare mushrooms were food for royalty and the wealthy, gathered by servants and celebrated in paintings, carvings and other artistic renderings as a symbol of divinity, longevity and good fortune.
Shen Nong, the father of Traditional Chinese Medicine, rated Reishi mushrooms as the highest of the superior plants, ranking even above ginseng, due to the wide range of ailments they could treat. Their reputation for promoting longevity and enhancing vital energy earned them the title of “God’s herb.”
Originally found only in the wild in Japan and in coastal China, interest in their healing qualities resulted in their domestic cultivation during the late 20th century to make them more widely available. They were introduced to the Western world in the last 30 years.
Although most of the myriad claims of their healing qualities are anecdotal, in the last 30 years, scientific research has begun to explore their medical efficacy, due to their long-standing and widespread use for a variety of ailments and to the absence of unfavorable side effects.
Although there are over 2,000 known species of Reishi mushrooms, 6 have been studied (red, black, blue, white, yellow and purple); two have demonstrated the most significant healthy-enhancing effects and are widely used: red and black.
As with any natural food, the quality of the product depends on the growing conditions and nutrients provided to it. Due to the rarity of wild Reishi, most natural products contain cultivated Reishi. In Asia, Japan has the most well-regulated growing conditions, due in part to Japan Reishi Association’s focus on accountability and enforcement of standards (japan-reishi.org). Quality suppliers throughout Asia have adopted these strict standards into their cultivation practices.
Traditionally, the fruiting body of Reishi has been used as the medicinal standard throughout Asia. However, because culturing the fruiting body of Reishi can take several months, mycelia-based and culture-broth products have been introduced to meet the growing demands in the marketplace. While research on mycelia is emerging, the long-standing traditional use, spanning thousands of years, has focused on the use of the fruiting body of the mushroom.
Most mushrooms are 90% water. The remaining 10% can consist of protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber and some vitamins and minerals. Mushroom proteins contain all the essential amino acids and are especially rich in lysine and leucine. The most physiologically active constituents are polysaccharides, peptidoglycans and triterpenes. Studies of polysaccharides, the complex carbohydrates, have indicated that they are responsible for strengthening and modulating the immune system. Among the 100 different types of triterpenes identified in reishi are the ganodermic acids; reishi is the only known source of ganodermic acids. This class of compounds inhibits the release of histamines and other mediators of inflammation. Triterpenes are synthesized by many plants as part of their growth and development and are believed to contribute to disease resistance.
With scientific research supporting its role as a normalizing substance, Reishi is classified as an adaptogen. It has no side effects, it is useful in a wide variety of illnesses and conditions, and it helps the body return to a normal and balanced state.
Reishi is gaining acceptance as being helpful in combatting the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy, and its anti-stress effects are believed to contribute to easing tension, strengthening the immune system, sharpening concentration and improving memory.
Additional research is needed to determine the full extent of the health benefits of these remarkable Reishi mushrooms.
Look for products containing whole dried and powdered fruiting body or whole fruiting body extract and the highest level of polysaccharides, the most health-enhancing ingredient in red Reishi.