Reishi Mushroom History: Cultural Uses & Benefits for Health

Posted by Eliza Hedley on

Reishi Mushroom History: Cultural Uses & Benefits for Health

An Overview

Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), also known as red Reishi or Ling Zhi, is one of the most highly revered and respected tonic herbs on the planet.

Red Reishi is one of the most widely studied herbs in the world and Reishi mushroom culture and Reishi mushroom history are rich in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and Japanese medicine.

Reishi mushroom benefits are broad and profound. Known as the “Supreme Protector”, Reishi mushrooms nourish all three treasures; Jing, Qi, and Shen.

These three Taoist treasures strengthen and balance an individual's physical, energetic and spiritual self.

In Western terms, Reishi mushrooms are incredible for supporting a stressed-out person and helping calm the mind when using Reishi for sleep, and Reishi for anxiety and depression.

Not only do Reishi mushroom powder elicit balancing and nourishing effects on the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal gland axis), studies show that Reishi mushroom benefits support liver function, boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health, Reishi for sleep, show potential anti-cancer benefits, and help lower cholesterol and inflammation (4).

This article explores Reishi mushroom history, Reishi mushroom culture and how you can implement Reishi mushroom benefits into your everyday routine to support your own mental, emotional and physical well-being.


What is Reishi Mushroom?

What is Reishi Mushroom?

Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is one of the most highly revered and popular medicinal mushrooms in the world.

The Chinese name for red Reishi—Ling Zhi (灵芝)— translates to “Herb of Spiritual Potency”, or “the Mushroom of Immortality”, and the “Divine Mushroom” (4).

In Taoism and Traditional Chinese medicine, Reishi mushroom is a three treasure tonic that nourishes and fortifies the strength of Jing, Qi and Shen - the energies which constitute the health of one’s life.

In more western terms, Reishi mushroom nurtures the basic elements of life - the reproductive system (Jing), the metabolic (Qi), and spiritual (Shen).

Reishi mushroom powder is also classified in the West as an adaptogen.

Adaptogenic herbs work to restore balance, harmony and transcendence to the individual who regularly consumes it.

There are numerous species of Reishi mushroom, or Ganoderma, each of which is grown in a different location, and elicits varying and unique health benefits.

For example, Red Reishi mushroom benefits—the species most widely studied (Ganoderma lucidium)—strengthens the heart, improves cognitive function and can prolong life. Red Reishi is most favoured in Japan and throughout China (5).

Southern China favors Black Reishi mushroom benefits (Ganoderma sinensis) which strengthens the kidney qi.

White Reishi (Ganoderma applanatum), also known as “artist conk”, supports respiratory function, the lungs and is said to increase fortitude and bravery (4, 5).

Reishi mushroom is part of the fungi kingdom and is classified as a polypore mushroom and basidiomycota.

Unlike other medicinal mushrooms, it releases its spores (reproductive seeds) and grows on both living and dead trees.

This reproductive pattern causes the Reishi mushroom to have a tough structure composed of chitin which is not suitable for consumption in its raw form.

Consuming raw red Reishi would be similar to eating a piece of wood or ground sawdust. The body does not have the ability to breakdown and digest its necessary components for optimal health.

Instead, Reishi mushroom benefits are best obtained through a dual extraction process using hot water and alcohol to make all the potent compounds bioavailable.

Try Teelixir Organic Reishi Mushroom powder extract.

History of Reishi Mushroom

Reishi mushroom history dates back over 2000 years ago in Chinese herbal medicine.

It was thought to be first discovered in the sacred Changbai mountains in north east China.

Reishi mushroom history was first mentioned by Emperor Yan, the first (and most legendary) in the line of ancient China’s rulers in Shénnóng Běncǎo Jīng's classic book on Chinese herbal medicine, the “Divine Farmer’s Classic of Pharmaceutics” (100-200 A.D).

Shénnóng noted that the Reishi mushroom benefits was the “most superior of all herbs.”

In ancient times, Reishi mushroom (or Ling Zhi in Chinese) was only accessible by the Dynasties of China and Asia, due to its immortality promoting benefits.

The mushroom of immortality has always been difficult to find in the wild. Its rarity in the wild was (and still is) so rare, making it reserved only for the Emperor and upper classes of Ancient China.

Red Reishi was recognised as a symbol of good health and fortune in Chinese herbal medicine.

Reishi mushroom history starts with Shih Huang Ti aka the Yellow Emperor and China’s self-proclaimed first emperor (BC 259-210). He spent a majority of his life in search of the “the mushroom of immortality” believing it would indeed as it’s named suggested, enable him to escape death (this of course, was not the case).

Reishi mushroom is still a prevalent herb used within Traditional Chinese medicine today.

Western science has caught on to the incredible Reishi mushroom benefits.

As one of the most widely studied herbs in the world, red Reishi mushroom benefits have been validated by science and a greater understanding of Reishi mushroom benefits is now being further explored in the West.

Red Reishi mushroom powder is most popular for decreasing stress, improving cardiovascular function, liver function, eliciting anti-cancer effects and modulating the immune system.

Cultural Uses of Reishi Mushroom
Changbai mountain, northeast China

Cultural Uses of Reishi Mushroom

The long Reishi mushroom history may be due in part to the cultural uses and benefits for health it has. However, its recent rediscovery in popularity may also come from scientific discoveries that support its multiple therapeutic benefits as well.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Eastern cultures have utilised Reishi mushroom for over 5000 years.

Alongside China, Japan, India and Korea have the most prevalent uses of Reishi, with Buddhist Monks, Taoist’s and sages also revelling in the medicinal mushroom's ability to restore and maintain balance and excellent health.

Within Japan and Korea, Reishi mushroom history was utilized in folk and traditional Chinese medicine to support immune function, overcome respiratory illness, restore vitality and strength, calm the mind and spirit, strengthen the liver and heart, and promote balance and long life.

Many also used Reishi for sleep and Reishi for anxiety.

Within the culture of Buddhist and Taoist monks, Reishi mushroom culture was used to enable a more relaxed and meditative state to be reached.

It was believed Reishi mushroom cultivated a deeper spiritual connection, helped to calm the mind and transform negative energy from the body.

Reishi mushroom powder is known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, and for the enhancement of mental and physical performance, just to name a few.

Perhaps we have red Reishi mushroom culture to thank for our longevity as a species. After all, through this long Reishi mushroom history of cultural uses, it appears that we've never forgotten the incredible health benefits of red Reishi mushroom.

Benefits of Reishi Mushroom

Benefits of Reishi Mushroom

There are many Reishi mushroom benefits that are broad and profound. Red Reishi contains many compounds including polysaccharides (beta-D-glucans), triterpenoids, antioxidants and more that can have a therapeutic effect.

Reishi mushroom powder is one of the most multifaceted herbs, hence why it’s referred to as the “Queen of Medicinal Mushrooms”, the mushroom of immortality” and the superior tonic herb.

Reishi for sleep and Reishi for anxiety and stress relief are the most common health benefits used in Chinese herbal medicine.

Some other red Reishi mushroom benefits include:
  • Lowers cholesterol and improves LDL: HDL ratio
  • Modulates and supports the immune system
  • Anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-microbial, and antihistamine
  • Reduces stress levels and the physiological response to stress
  • Reishi for sleep improvement
  • Reishi for anxiety and stress relief
  • Protects DNA and elicits antioxidant benefits
  • Hepatoprotective
  • Improves circulation
  • Supports fertility and reproduction
  • Cardiovascular protective and lowers blood pressure
  • Acts as a prebiotic and supports gut microbiome
  • Helps with chronic fatigue and adrenal exhaustion
  • Supports healthy blood sugar levels
  • Supports healthy hair and skin

Within Traditional Chinese medicine, Reishi mushroom benefits are used to nourish all three treasures.

Reishi enters the heart, lung, kidneys, liver and spleen meridians, nourishing all five Yin organ systems which support an entire individual's constitution.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the heart houses the blood and balances the emotions and the mind.

The lung governs moisture, hair and skin health.

The kidney houses Jing energy or what is known as primal essence and is to do with the development and growth, and nourishment of all the other organs.

The liver is a Yin Yang, blood, the site of metabolism and also controls mental activity (6).

As Reishi nourishes all these organs, we can see how Reishi mushroom benefits strengthen a person's entire well-being and bring balance and optimal functioning.

Reishi mushroom is also implemented in times of stress to bring balance and support the immune system. Reishi for anxiety and depression may also be effective.

In Western herbal medicine, red Reishi mushroom is a staple for supporting all disease states. Reishi mushroom powder has such broad benefits, but its key role as an adaptogen is to buffer the stress response.

Stress is the #1 underlying driver of any type of symptom or disease state.

Whether stress is created internally or externally, consciously or unconsciously, it causes disturbances and disrupts homeostasis within the body.

By consuming Reishi mushroom powder daily, the body can more readily achieve balance and homeostasis.

As science catches up to ancient medicine practices, there's a lot of interest in the use of red Reishi in cancer cases and cardiovascular diseases.

One double-blind placebo trial showed that individuals with confirmed coronary heart disease lowered their cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and reported fewer symptoms (chest pain and shortness of breath) when they were assigned a Reishi mushroom powder extract for 12 weeks (7).

A 2018 review examined over 2,000 trials and concluded that the polysaccharides in Reishi mushroom and its fungal immunoregulatory proteins elicit immune regulatory effects that see it as an effective cancer immunotherapy treatment.

Natural Killer (NK) Cells are powerful immune cells that are responsible for the detection of cancer cells in the body. NK cells are called upon by other immune cells (cytotoxic T cells) to destroy cancer cells.

Reishi mushroom powder was shown to up-regulate NK cell activity, and inhibit cell proliferation and tumour growth. It also helps to restore weakened immune systems from conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation (10).

Health Benefits for Men

Health Benefits for Men

Reishi mushroom benefits can help improve men’s health in many ways.

More specifically, Reishi mushroom benefits can help enhance immune system modulation, reproduction, mental health and cardiovascular health in men.

Firstly, Reishi mushroom powder extract contains unique polysaccharide compounds that modulate the immune system.

Polysaccharides, more specifically beta-D-glucans, help lower an overactive immune system (in cases of allergies, hay fever and autoimmunity etc.) and will boost a depleted immune system which is seen in colds, flu and chronic fatigue.

This is also known as dual-directional activity.

The ancient Reishi mushroom culture was born out of the desire to fortify the faculties of the mind-body and promote balance and longevity.

Contrary to the hustle mentality and the overworked and overstressed culture in the West, men (and women) typically live in succinctly driven adrenal depletion and exhaustion.

This “normalized” state weakens the immune system and reproduction—low libido is one of the earliest signs of stress and adrenal dysfunction.

Not only do Reishi mushroom benefits support the adrenals and nervous system, buffer the stress response, improve energy, and boost mental focus, physical performance and circulation, but it also supports the reproduction and sexual health.

One interesting study selected seven experienced cyclists and gave them a combination of both Reishi Mushroom powder and Cordyceps mushroom amongst three races.

The results showed an improvement in testosterone levels, a decrease in muscle soreness, faster recovery time, and improved antioxidant levels (8).

The antioxidant effects of Reishi mushroom powder can also be interpreted to help improve sperm quality.

Oxidative stress damages DNA (which is what sperm contains) and animal studies show Reishi mushroom powder extract improves sperm motility (9).

Additionally, heart disease is the #1 leading cause of death in men.

Heart disease is caused by plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) which is driven by a combination of stress leading to high cholesterol, high triglycerides and inflammation.

Reishi mushroom benefits work to lower stress and support the heart and cardiovascular health in men.

Reishi mushroom benefits have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, and decrease triglycerides and its anti-inflammatory properties make it a great herbal supplement for men to support heart health.

Further, Reishi mushroom benefits support liver health—the site of cholesterol metabolism and transformation. This additionally helps with healthy cholesterol levels and heart function (4).

Health Benefits for Women

Health Benefits for Women

Reishi mushroom benefits are profound for women’s health as well. PCOS (Polycystic ovarian syndrome) is one of the most common conditions in women’s health.

Reishi mushroom powder has emerged as a key herbal tool in managing and treating PCOS / PCO due to its anti-androgenic effects in women. PCOS is driven by an elevation in androgens (testosterone, DHT) which negatively impacts ovulation and fertility, and aggravates hormonal acne and hair thinning.

Reishi mushroom was shown to significantly reduce the levels of 5-alpha reductase, the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT—a type of androgen—10x more androgenic than testosterone and drives PCOS and fertility complications (11).

Reishi mushroom also improves lipid levels and metabolic markers which are part of the PCOS picture in some women and provides antioxidants to protect egg quality.

Being a five-meridian herb in Traditional Chinese medicine, Reishi mushroom has been shown to be beneficial in treating acne and improving skin.

We know elevated androgens, inflammation and liver burden drive hormonal and cystic acne.

Not only does Reishi mushroom powder improve skin through that anti-androgenic pathway, it also enables better circulation and nutrient delivery to the skin and hair.

Reishi mushroom powder contains prebiotic fibres which act as food for the bacteria in the microbiome.

Prebiotics are key in supporting good gut health and increasing the proliferation of probiotic bacteria in the intestinal tract.

Reishi mushroom powder contains antimicrobial compounds that enable it to “modulate” the gut microbiome—preventing the overgrowth of dysbiotic and “unfriendly” bacteria whilst also supporting the growth and colonisation of beneficial bacteria strains.

Reishi mushroom benefits help with stomach bloating, balance candida overgrowth, and improve nutrient absorption, bowel movements and detoxification.

Additionally, studies show women have more sleep issues than men and have more difficulty falling asleep. Reishi for sleep is an ideal supplement for promoting relaxation and improving sleep health.

In Conclusion

Summing Up

From the ancient Taoist beliefs to its use in Traditional Chinese medicine, the red Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum), also known as Ling Zhi, has a rich history and Reishi mushroom culture is a valuable part of traditional Eastern medicine. It is one of the most highly revered and respected medicinal mushrooms on the planet.

Red Reishi is one of the most widely studied herbs in the world. Its utilisation amongst multiple cultures, particularly Chinese herbal medicine, makes it a well-known and utilised functional medicine.

The ability of Reishi mushroom to nourish the nervous system, calm the mind and bring us closer to balance is hard to put into words and is something that truly can only be experienced through personal use.

I know from my own experience when I’m not taking Reishi mushroom powder daily, I feel more anxious, wired, on edge and just not grounded.

At the same time, Reishi also seems to bring me deeper emotions and a connection and clarity to things I need to address. This idea really weaves in this aspect to Reishi mushroom and how, on an energetic level, it supports and nourishes us.

Reishi mushrooms have been shown to be highly beneficial for improving cholesterol levels, cardiovascular health, immune system function, antioxidant health and supporting PCOS, and many use red Reishi for sleep and Reishi for anxiety and stress relief.

After reviewing all of this research, it is clear that the health and wellness benefits of the Reishi mushroom have been known for centuries. 

Reishi mushroom culture and the scientific literature continues to illustrate that this medicinal mushroom and adaptogenic herb has significant health benefits: for both preventing and treating a host of diseases.

More research needs to be conducted in order to confirm these disease-fighting properties and also to identify which specific compounds and chemical reactions are responsible for curbing illnesses.

We love to combine Reishi mushroom powder with raw cacao and rose to make a delicious and nourishing elixir that’s easy to assimilate into your everyday diet.

Try Teelixir Organic Mushroom Cacao Latte with Red Reishi and Rose.

References

  1. Reishi mushroom Benefits, side effects, and dosage - https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326520#risks-and-considerations
  2. Reishi Mushroom - History and Benefits of "The Mushroom of Immortality" – Birch Boys, Inc. - https://birchboys.com/blogs/about-our-chaga/reishi-mushroom-the-ancient-history-and-benefits-of-the-mushroom-of-immortality
  3. Reishi Mushroom History: Reishi mushroom Culture, Uses & Reverence - https://www.realmushrooms.com/reishi-mushroom-history/
  4. Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief - David Winston & Steven Maimes - https://www.amazon.com/Adaptogens-Strength-Stamina-Stress-Relief/dp/1594771588
  5. Ganoderma lucidum (Ling zhi or Red Reishi mushroom) - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92757/
  6. The Brief Theory of Viscus and Its Manifestations in Traditional Chinese Medicine - https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/455853
  7. A Phase I/II Study of Ling Zhi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) (W.Curt.:Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) Extract in Patients with Coronary Heart Disease - https://www.dl.begellhouse.com/journals/708ae68d64b17c52,0351bdaa3d2241c0,3d8418037d39d507.html
  8. Reishi and Cordyceps Boost Testosterone and Athletic Performance - https://plantmedicines.org/reishi-and-cordyceps-boost-testosterone-and-increase-athletic-performance/
  9. Can Ganoderma lucidum Be An Alternative Nutritional Supplement For Enhancing Sperm Motility Rate? - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/351395768_Can_Ganoderma_lucidum_Be_An_Alternative_Nutritional_Supplement_For_Enhancing_Sperm_Motility_Rate
  10. Ganoderma: A Cancer Immunotherapy Review - https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2018.01217/full
  11. An Update on Plant Derived Anti-Androgens - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3693613/
  12. Reishi Mushroom - The Herb of Spiritual Potency by Terry Willard Phd - https://www.amazon.com/Reishi-Mushroom-Spiritual-Potency-Medical/dp/0962563803

Written by Eliza Hedley

Eliza Hedley is an Australian-born health, mindset and abundance enthusiast obsessed with helping millennial's experience living at a higher level.

Eliza's relaxed new-age approach and understanding of nutrition and wellness see her empowering and coaching individuals to understand that their health is the ultimate asset. Upon experiencing first-hand the power and place of tonic herbalism and medicinal mushrooms in everyday life, Eliza’s become an adaptogen fangirl and feels their utilisation in today’s world is essential for abundance and wellbeing.

Website: https://theholisticsister.com
Instagram: @theholisticsister_

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