What Is Reishi?

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: luknaja/Getty Images)

My favorite part about being an herbalist is geeking out over the relationship between humans and living things — like plants and fungus – that give us life.

This is probably a good time to establish that there is a difference between plants and fungus. There are so many differences, in fact, that they make up two distinct kingdoms: Plantae and Fungi.

Mushrooms, molds, and yeast comprise kingdom Funghi. Humans have relied on mushrooms for millennia as remedies to a wide range of illness and activity. The oldest European human mummy Otzi, who lived nearly 5,000 years ago, is thought to have strung two types of mushrooms around his neck: one as a remedy to intestinal parasites and the other as a means to carry fire from one location to another. The first type of mushroom is what’s called a polypore: mushrooms without gills that release spores through small pores or tubes. They grow annually on stumps and trunks of trees.

Reishi mushroom — which I’m seeing a lot of these days in cool (but in my opinion, packaging-excessive) elixirs — is one polypore that is getting a lot of hype. But what are they? Where do they live? And what do they do in our bodies?

What Are Reishi Mushrooms?

For over 2,000 years reishi mushrooms have been a kind of panacea across Asia. Reishi is the Japanese name for Ganoderma lucidum, which is the red reishi people refer to when they’re typically talking about “reishi.” Other varieties include Ganoderma tsugae and Ganoderma lingzhi.

As part of the group of mushrooms known as polypores, these mushrooms feast off death. Ganoderma tsuagae grow on dead hardwood trees like maple, oak, and hemlock. In the Northeastern United States you may find them growing in temperate forests anchored to the decaying wood: when they’re young they look like overgrown lacquered red kidney beans. As part of their deal with the dying trees, they recycle nutrients and minerals back into the forest and life and vitality to our bodies.

How Can Reishi Help Me?

The general herbalist vibe is we don’t treat diseases — we treat people. That being said, reishi is appropriate for a variety of stress-related, -aggravated, and -induced symptoms and diseases.

For centuries reishi has been a valuable part of many a healer’s toolkit, because in lieu of treating a specific illness, when taken in small doses over an extended period of time, reishi safely restores vitality to the human organism, making it appropriate to almost any condition.

Reishi is an excellent example of an adaptogen that does a little of everything. The many benefits of reishi include: improved immunity, increased physical and mental performance, better sleep, anti-histamine properties, lowered cortisol levels, and improved adrenals.

Most of those benefits involve responses to stress. When we’re sick or stressed out, we likely aren’t sleeping well. Over time this can mean we’re run down to the point of running on empty. As a consequence our immune system can become either overactive or underactive. This can look like allergies or a change in our skin or a cough that just won’t go away.

Working with an adaptogen like reishi can help us get back to a spot where we can think about managing our stress because it enables us to move through some of our body’s responses. On the other side we can adopt ways to manage the circumstances that got us here in the first place by reassessing routines around sleep, work, and exercise for example.

Is Reishi Right for Me?

If you’re interested in herbalism, you might as well get used to the answer to this question now: Maybe, maybe not.

Herbalism is a practice that relies heavily on your history, personality traits, preferences, personal history, experience in the world, and yes, medical history. It’d be cool to offer you remedies through this article, but I can’t, and frankly, it seems dubious to try. If we are committed to lasting healing then it seems like a good idea to forego any diagnosis that comes from a checklist on the internet – whether the website address has MD in it or not — and interact with a human being whom we consult regarding our minds and bodies.

Discuss how you’re feeling and what you want to achieve with a real live herbalist. There are many, practicing through a wide range of systems and modalities. You could talk to an herbalist and your doctor, plus whoever else you want to invite to assist you as you navigate decisions regarding your health: your acupuncturist or spiritual advisor, even the elders in your life. The more the merrier.

Where Can I Buy It?

If you’re interested in incorporating reishi in your daily habits, then I suggest a tincture. Check out Herb Pharm, which is a responsible and reliable producer of tinctures. Their tinctures are available in most natural food or naturopathic pharmacies. Many reishi medicines are advertised as such, but 75 percent of them may not actually contain reishi.

Of course if you’re interested in experimenting with tea at home or adding a few slices to your stockpot, you can find dried G. lucidum on Mountain Rose Herbs.

As always, as part of your program of learning more about plants and fungus, consult United Plant Savers for up to date information on at-risk and endangered species.

If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription medications consult a qualified expert before beginning a new program involving plants and fungus. Do not consume Reishi if you have an allergy to fungus. The information in this article should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise and we cannot be held responsible if you attempt to do so, especiallly without the guidance of a healthcare professional.

About CC Buckley

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

CC Buckley is the herbalist behind Ripe, a site dedicated to practicing herbalism in real life. She is a graduate of Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism. She’s also currently working on a medicinal plants book for Roost. Check out how she starts her herb-filled morning here.

Herbalism 101

Adaptogens are just one method some people use to help themselves feel better. Are they right for you? In this mini series we’re covering the basics of what adaptogens are, what they do, and how you can learn more about them. We’ll also be talking about a few popular adaptogens: tulsi, ashwagandha, and reishi

If you are pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription medications, consult a qualified expert before beginning a new program involving plants. Ashwagandha should be avoided if you have hyperthyroidism or Grave’s Disease. The information in this article should not be used to diagnose, cure, or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.