The Mushroom of Many Wonders

Tuesday, June 16, 2020 2:48 PM | Wise Woman (Administrator)
The Mushroom of Many Wonders

By D. Yael Bernhard


Take a walk through a hemlock forest near a stream, and you might be lucky enough to find a dark red shelf mushroom growing from a trunk or a rotting log. It might have white edges of new growth, and appear to be varnished on top. Look underneath, and you’ll see a smooth, pale underside covered with tiny pores, making this bracket fungus a saprophytic polypore of the genus Ganoderma – meaning “shiny skin.” If you live in the Northeast, you’ve probably found Ganoderma tsugae, which grows on hemlocks. Known in this country as Reishi, this marvelous mushroom is called Ling Zhi in China, and has many other names, such as the “Ten Thousand Year Mushroom” for its superb healing and adaptogenic properties.


Reishi has been the subject of numerous scientific studies in Asia, and has been used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese medicine for thousands of years. In Chinese medicine it is believed to increase Wei Qi, a protective force similar to the immune system. Reishi is a key component of the Chinese formula Fu Zheng, given to emperors and used by Taoist masters as an elixir of life, and treasured more than gold. Ling zhi may be roughly translated as “shaman’s active ingredient.”


Reishi has been used extensively in Asia as both a preventive of and curative for cancer. Combined with vitamin C, which aids in absorption of Reishi extract, dramatic improvement has been shown in countless cases after several months of treatment. Reishi is known to “wake up” the immune system early to fight cancer – including colon, ovarian, breast, skin, liver, and other cancers. It is rich in Beta-D-Glucan, which has been shown to inhibit 100% of tumors in mice. In Japan, Reishi is an official drug recognized as a remedy for cancer.


Here in North America, Reishi has only recently gained recognition as an ally against cancer and as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are plants or fungi that gradually increase disease resistance and normalize bodily functions – the Western equivalent of a “qi tonic” that restores vital life energy. Other examples of adaptogens are shiitake mushrooms, astragalus root, and ginseng.


Reishi is a powerful ally of the immune system. Used properly, it induces the production of interferon, a substance secreted by the body to protect itself against viral infections. Interferon can stop a virus from entering uninfected cells. Reishi also inhibits bacteria, including staphylococci, streptococci, and bacillus pneumoniae. Given 48 hours in advance, a water extract of Reishi even protected mice from a lethal dose of E. Coli. The main constituents in this action are the polysaccharides, long-chain sugars that act as immune-modulators. Reishi’s polysaccharides even show promise by increasing protein synthesis and cellular health in bone marrow, where macrophages and the precursors of antibodies are formed. Research in Japan showed that the ancient form of Ling zhi also augments the responsiveness of antibodies, especially IgG, and expands the “memory” of T-cells.


Reishi’s oleic acid (also found in olive oil and olive leaves) is thought to be responsible for its antihistamine effect and its specific use for allergic asthma. Reishi is a potent scavenger of free radicals and modulator of T-cells, both implicated in the body’s inflammatory response. In over 2000 case studies in clinics and hospitals in China in the 1970s, treatment with Reishi syrup provided relief to 60-90% of chronic bronchitis sufferers – especially older patients. Reishi has been regarded as a geriatric medicine since ancient times.


Reishi’s benefits to the cardiovascular system are numerous. Non-toxic, without side effects, the fungus is said to positively affect the heart qi, and is used for “knotted chest” or “aging blood.” Its abundant alcohol-soluble triterpenes act to lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol)in the bloodstream; reduce arteriosclerosis (arterial plaque); relieve heart palpitations; and modulate blood pressure, raising or lowering it as necessary. It is anti-thrombotic, inhibiting blood clots. Studies in China have shown a wide array of cardio-tonic benefits, such as increased blood flow, improved circulation of the myocardium (innermost heart muscle), and reduced need for oxygen.


Reishi is also known as an effective remedy for insomnia. Used regularly, it gradually normalizes the body’s sleep patterns. Other gifts of this remarkable fungus include support for the liver and kidneys; protection against cobalt X-ray radiation; improved white blood cell count after chemotherapy; improved blood sugar profiles in diabetics; protection against hypothyroidism; and relief from neuromuscular disorders, stress-induced tension, and even altitude sickness.


The active ingredients in Reishi vary in potency from mushroom to mushroom and place to place. Larger specimens with a consistent dark color throughout are superior. Water-based decoctions yield beneficial polysaccharides. Alcohol-based extracts yield triterpenes – fatty acids that have an adaptogenic affect, helping the body adjust to environmental, biological, and emotional stress; as well as sterols – oily substances that are precursors to hormones and the basis of steroid medications.

And then there is the mysterious adenosine – a nucleotide, or basic structural unit of RNA or DNA – that may be responsible for Reishi’s most subtle and fundamental action. Adenosine inhibits the aggregation of blood platelets; mediates numerous signals among cells; plays a critical role in maintaining cellular energy; transmits hormonal messages to the major organs of the body; and assists the body in adapting to stress. Adenosine is considered a vasodilator, increasing the flow of blood, especially through capillaries. Adenosine’s mellowing effects are reduced by the intake of caffeine.

As with all medicinal mushrooms, proper identification and use is crucial. While Reishi has few lookalikes, foragers should always consult professional sources in identifying mushrooms, and seek trusted suppliers for medicinal preparations. If you are taking blood thinners, consult your doctor before taking Reishi in any form. If you have poor digestion, use with caution and combine with vitamin C. Reishi may increase menstrual cramps due to its enlivening effect on blood flow. Overall, Reishi is very safe and free of side effects, and can be used on a long-term basis.

Ling zhi is often found deep in the forest, on the edge of ravines over streams, where it is difficult to reach. It is said in Asia that to save a life, one must risk one’s life to find the oldest, most potent Reishi, believed to live for one hundred to one thousand years. As one of the most important longevity tonics in Chinese medicine, Reishi has been revered for centuries and can be found throughout Oriental mythology and art. Those swirly shapes embroidered on Chinese robes are not clouds, but Ganoderma lucidum – the Asian variety of Ling zhi shaped like spiraling rams’ horns. Ancient Taoists believed Reishi to be a gift from the gods – a gift of life itself. No wonder this incredible fungus is also known as “the Mushroom of Immortality.” I call it “The Mushroom of Many Wonders.”

Catskill Fungi’s triple extract of Reishi mushroom fruiting body combines an alcohol extract, cold water infusion, and hot water decoction, creating the highest quality extraction of Reishi’s healing components. Find it at local farmers’ markets or https://www.catskillfungi.com/health-extracts.html.

Yael Bernhard is an author, illustrator, herbal enthusiast, mushroom lover, and part of the Catskill Fungi crew. She also illustrated Susun Weed’s newly published book, Abundantly Well. To see more of her art, visit http://dyaelbernhard.com



Willard, Terry, PhD, Reishi Mushroom: Herb of Spiritual Potency and Medical

Wonder, Sylvan Press, 1990. This book contains numerous references to specific studies.

Powell, Martin, Medicinal Mushrooms: The Clinical Guide, Mycology Press, 2nd Edition, 2014.



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