Known in Japan as the 'phantom mushroom' because it can be so very difficult to find, the reishi generally grows on old Japanese plum trees. Reishi is so rare that only about 10 mushrooms would be found growing on about 100,000 plum trees. Finally, it was the Japanese Shigeaki Mori who perfected the art of growing the reishi indoors. This art involved culturing wild reishi spores on plum-tree sawdust over an elaborate and arduous two year time period. The fruiting body of the reishi can be used medicinally.
Also popularly known as the hing zhi "herb of spiritual potency", the reishi is in essence a mushroom that can grow on old rotten logs, fallen tree stumps and other similar areas throughout the coastal regions of China. However, reishi is cultivated in areas as diverse as North America, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China for its medicinal value.
Medicinally, reishi is popular for its ability to relieve fatigue, weakness, insomnia, coughs and asthma, because of the fact that it contains several major components including coumarin, sterols, polysaccharides, mannitol and triterpenoids called ganoderic acids.
The ganoderic acids present in reishi have the ability to lower blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and cancer, and to decrease cholesterol levels, and they also inhibit blood platelets from sticking together as it happens in coronary artery disease. Reishi can also reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness, and chronic hepatitis B, but studies have not been concluded on its effectiveness in these areas.
In traditional Chinese medicine reishi has been popularly used for more than 2,000 years today, and this wonderful mushroom is often referred to as the "elixir of life." Even today, the reishi is considered to be one of the more important and popularly used Chinese tonics in the world, and it would supposedly boost energy levels, and at the same time help the body to effectively resist disease and stress.
In the Western parts of the world, herbalists even today assume that reishi is an adaptogen and therefore, they often recommend it as an immune stimulant that would activate several different phases of immune defense in the human body. Its uses are manifold: it can be used to treat allergies, asthma, altitude sickness. Reishi can be especially helpful for calming coughs in people suffering from asthma and who have colds at the same time. It is known to have a great impact on persons suffering from mushroom poisoning, and it is effective against leukemia. Reishi can also be used to overcome age-related intellectual decline.
These can be the possible health benefits of reishi:
Reishi can help to prevent cirrhosis of the liver and also fatty liver, both of which are caused by the ill effects of excessive alcohol intake or alcoholism. Reishi can prove to be extremely beneficial to those individuals who are still in the early stage of the disease, and who have not yet progressed to an acute stage of cirrhosis of the liver.
Reishi can help in treating yeast infections and in bronchitis. The mushroom can help stimulate the maturation of immune cells within our body, known as macrophages, which engulf and eventually digest infectious bacteria. This would effectively prevent secondary infections from blowing up into cases of chronic bronchitis. Mature macrophages are extremely effective in fighting yeast, and this is why reishi can be used to fight yeast infections.
Reishi can help in fighting cancer. This is because the mushroom helps the body stimulate the production of interleukin-2, which also contains ganaoderic acids, which together would fight several types of cancer, and especially liver cancer. During a traditional cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar) treatment, both red and white cell production are suppressed within our body, and reishi effectively counteracts this impact by simply stimulating the creation of protein in the bone marrow.
Reishi can help fight fibroids or uterine myomas. Reishi keeps the uterine lining from making basic fibroblast growth factor or bFGF, and histamine. While bFGF is a chemical that promotes fibroid growth, histamine is a chemical that causes inflammation.
Reishi can fight high blood pressure. Evidence shows that reishi can effectively lower both blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. According to scientists at the Oklahoma's Oral Roberts University, reishi can contain certain compounds that would reduce the flow of nerve impulses through the sympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that is generally affected by emotional stress. Some Russian scientists trying to find out exactly how reishi can be utilized to lower blood cholesterol levels have found that this plant effectively stops the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries of laboratory animals, and when similar studies were conducted on human beings, it was found that it was indeed possible to lower blood cholesterol levels with the use of reishi, as compared to trying to lower it with the help of a placebo. In other words, those patients with a high level of cholesterol had not responded to medication earlier, and now they did.
Reishi can fight stress. In the East, physicians have long proved the fact that those emotional outbursts that are generally caused by the impact of long-term stress on an individual can actually be reduced significantly by reishi. Although it is not yet known exactly how reishi works on reducing stress, it can be stated that it happens due to the effect that the herb has on the central nervous system. In fact, doctors in the Hijitaki Clinic in Tokyo found that reishi was able to reduce physical pain dramatically in two separate groups of patients, one suffering from neuralgia, and the other, from shingles or herpes zoster. Perhaps it is this same quality that stops emotional outburst after long term stress.
Reishi is most widely available medicinal mushroom in the world, as it is available as foodstuff, but also as an important ingredient in teas, tablets, syrups or tinctures. However, one has to be careful to never use raw pulverized mushrooms; it is always a better idea to boil the reishi so that any bacteria that may have been living on the mushroom during cultivation may be eliminated.
There may be certain side effects when reishi is consumed. If reishi is used for three to six months continuously, then it may result in a certain dryness of the mouth, nasal passages, and throat, and also chronic itch, and stomach upset; or even nosebleed. These complications may occur very rarely, therefore their exact causes are not known. However, they may be manifestations of an allergy to the reishi mushroom.
Therefore, reishi must be avoided by those persons who have a known allergy to any types of mushrooms or molds. One must also remember not to use it continuously three months at a time, and to always take a break of a month in between, and then continue. If you take blood-thinning medications such as heparin or warfarin (Coumadin), you should use reishi under a doctor's supervision.