The Reishi - also known by the name of Lingzhi and scientifically named Ganoderma Lucidum - is a mushroom that is native to forests of China, Korea, and Japan. It was previously thought to grow in North America as well, and there is a lot of misinformation out there that still states this is the case. It has been found, however, that the North American variety is actually a separate species, and is now labelled as Ganoderma Tsugae (Tsugae meaning Hemlock, since this variety grows in northern Eastern Hemlock forests rather than tropical areas). All information in this article pertains only to the classic Reishi that was traditionally used and found in China.
First recorded in the Han Dynasty prose-poem titled “Xijing Fu” (西京賦), this mushroom was originally eaten as an “immortality herb” that could extend life if taken continuously  - however, since this mushroom is extremely rare in the wild, only growing on the base or stumps of about two or three out of every 10,000 trees, it would not have been possible to consume daily in those times. Hence, this mushroom was typically reserved for medicinal use by Chinese royalty, and artwork depicting it can be found in the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Today, it is commonly sustainably grown on hardwood logs or sawdust.
Although you can eat this mushroom raw, due to its rubbery, cork-like texture, many prefer to consume it in powdered form, as it is more versatile to cook with and its flavor allows it to be used in a wide variety of ways; thus the following information relates to Reishi mushrooms in its powdered form.
Reishi mushrooms are an excellent source of antioxidants, minerals and macro nutrients, and are a good source of protein despite not being animal-based.
As figure one shows, Reishi contains a good 19.5mg of protein per 100 grams - 16.3% higher than the more commonly found oyster mushroom. And unlike other plant based foods, the protein efficiency ratio of mushrooms is pretty good.
On figure two, you can also see mushrooms can contain ideal levels of nutritionally important minerals, with Reishi being a particularly good source of potassium among edible mushrooms. Due to Reishi typically being found in powdered form and thanks to its flavor profile (some bitterness with umami notes), this mushroom can be an easy way to boost the nutrient profile of certain foods while balancing tastes - it would especially be ideal for any desserts, as the slight bitter umami flavors would help mellow out intense sweetness in a similar way as orange zest (Check out recipes with Reishi mushroom in our wellness library).
Perhaps most importantly, especially if on a vegan diet, is that Reishi is a great source of B-complex vitamins and amino acids. Mushrooms in general are great sources of amino acids, containing all the necessary ones needed and eliminating the hassle of trying to incorporate a wide variety of plant based sources daily into one’s diet in order to meet the same criteria. Although B vitamins are normally found in meat, mushrooms, due to being from the fungi rather than plant kingdom, are one of the few sources of quality B vitamins that can be found. Reishi in particular, like the oyster mushroom, is a complete source of the primary B complex vitamins, and contain thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid and niacin. Adding a mushroom like Reishi in any form would be valuable to any vegan diet, or in powdered form, would be an easy way for anyone looking to increase the amount of B vitamins in their diet naturally without having to take a separate supplementary pill.
The last vitamin of note in Reishi I’d like to cover is vitamin D. Reishi, once exposed to the sun and dried, produces considerable amounts of D vitamin, an important vitamin that helps maintain skin health and of which can cause fatigue if low. It is also a primary nutrient for the immune system, as it is heavily used in the production of white blood cells. Yet, despite its importance, over a third of those sampled (39.92%, 2011-2012) in the USA are deficient, in part due to diet . Powdered Reishi can be an easy way to give one’s diet a boost in Vitamin D levels.
Reishi can help the immune system with potentially more than by just adding vitamin D into a diet. In Reishi, selenium, a key nutrient in the formation of certain white blood cells, is biotransformed into Selenium containing proteins, which is preferential in the formation of T- and B- Lymphocytes. This makes Reishi an adaptogen that can help modulate the immune system.
Another potential adaptogenic benefit of Reishi is in balancing mood. Although less researched and conclusive than Reishi’s benefits on the immune system, there is some evidence that Reishi contains compounds that can improve mood. In one small pilot study of 48 cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy on the effects of Reishi spore, the group given the spore reported feeling less anxious and depressed, as well as had less fatigue, and had lower levels of TNF-α (Tumor necrosis factor alpha, a cell signaling protein (cytokine) involved in systemic inflammation) and lower levels of IL-6 (Interleukin 6 is an interleukin that acts as both a pro-inflammatory cytokine and an anti-inflammatory myokine - in this case, the pro-inflammatory cytokinic effects were measured), as can be seen in the charts below:
The sample size was small, however, and the patients had breast cancer as well which could have effects, so further research would be needed.
(Note: I would like to emphasize on this point that although there are studies of refined compounds in Reishi possibly treating specific types of cancer tumors, this study was not about using Reishi to treat cancer - just to see if Reishi spores could improve mood in a population that is prone to being in a poor mood - breast cancer patients).
A newer study does reinforce the possibility of Reishi having mood improving potential however, as the newer study, using Reishi’s mycelium (MAK) on rats, noted improvements in the rats after submitting them through a series of stressful tasks. Ultimately, more research is needed is still needed into this, but overall Reishi spores / mycelia may have positive effects on mood.
Reishi Mushroom is a great food to incorporate into a diet, with its powdered form making it versatile to use in cooking or for quick smoothies or even as a part of supplementary powders made at home or purchased. It can add some extra vitamin D, and it is especially useful in Vegan diets, providing the full spectrum of B complex vitamins despite not being an animal product. Reishi’s possible immune-regulating effects are an added plus as well, helping you stay healthy and productive!
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7: Du, M., Wang, C., Hu, X.-S., & Zhao, G. (2008). Positive Effect of Selenium on the Immune Regulation Activity of Ling Zhi or Reishi Medicinal Mushroom, Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.: Fr.) P. Karst. (Aphyllophoromycetideae), Proteins In Vitro. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 10(4), 337–344. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v10.i4.60 Retrieved December 12, 2019 from http://www.dl.begellhouse.com/journals/708ae68d64b17c52,74677e1376d0a2ef,36c8d0062dde92f4.html
8: Zhao, H., Zhang, Q., Zhao, L., Huang, X., Wang, J., & Kang, X. (2012). Spore Powder ofGanoderma lucidumImproves Cancer-Related Fatigue in Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Endocrine Therapy: A Pilot Clinical Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, 1–8. doi: 10.1155/2012/809614 Retrieved December 12, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22203880
9: Matsuzaki, H., Shimizu, Y., Iwata, N. et al. Antidepressant-like effects of a water-soluble extract from the culture medium of Ganoderma lucidum mycelia in rats. BMC Complement Altern Med 13, 370 (2013) doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-370. Retrieved December 12, 2019 from https://bmccomplementalternmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6882-13-370#citeas