If you think mushrooms are only good for topping off your pizza or scrambling into your favorite veggie dish, think again. Thanks to reishi mushrooms' incredible healing properties and versatility, I think it's pretty safe to say they're a dynamic superfood.
What are reishi mushrooms?
While the reishi mushroom, or "Lingzhi" in Chinese, is still relatively unknown in Western cultures, this fascinating fungus has been revered in Asian societies for thousands of years and is one of the oldest symbols of well-being and longevity. These "mushrooms of immortality" are found growing on plum trees in the wild and were originally reserved for use only by royals.
It wasn't until the second half of the 20th century that researchers began to rigorously study the medicinal properties of the reishi mushroom, which is known to the scientific community as ganoderma lucidum.
They may help you live longer.
Want to increase your longevity? Reishi mushrooms can certainly help with that. In 2009, a lab-based study published in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry concluded that the polysaccharides, or long chains of carbohydrates, found in the reishi mushroom had life-span-extending properties.
These unique molecules were linked to promoting longevity by boosting the immune system and preventing abnormal blood vessel formations that could lead to life-threatening cancerous growths. In other words, if you drink reishi mushroom tea every day, it could have huge long-term payoffs.
They may have anti-cancer properties.
While so much of what causes and prevents cancer remains a mystery, there have been studies conducted around reishi mushrooms that find that regular consumption could help fight against cancer cells.
The reishi mushroom has not only been shown to prevent the development of cancer, but research has indicated that the reishi mushroom may also eliminate existing cancer cells in the body. Pharmacological Reports published a study that highlighted the role of ganoderic acid, a triterpinoid found in the reishi mushroom, in the inhibition of the development and metastasis of tumors.
A review of reishi mushrooms’ use in cancer treatment expanded on these findings, suggesting that bioactive compounds within the fungus may actually seek out and eradicate existing cancerous cells within the body. The research surrounding the impact reishi mushrooms has on cancer is pretty promising, and needs to be explored further1.
They may help regenerate the liver.
If you want to keep your liver doing its job effectively (in other words, eliminating toxins), trying giving reishi mushrooms a try. In, a study in Food and Chemical Toxicology used the power of the reishi mushroom to reverse chemical-driven liver damage in mice. The same triterpenes that displayed anti-cancer properties in other studies appear to aid the release of free radicals and promote liver cell regeneration.
They may have neuroprotective properties.
Want to improve your memory and protect your brain against some of the diseases that come with aging? There are a number of ways to do this, and reishi mushrooms might be one of them.
In 2012, Neuropharmacology published a study that found reishi mushrooms may have neuroprotective effects in rodents, which could be important in future research surrounding Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, it was shown that reishi extract supports the production of nerve growth factor, a protein that is vital for healthy neurological function.
They may give your immune system a boost.
No matter what the season, our immune systems can always use a boost. A number of studies have shown that reishi mushrooms can affect the genes in white blood cells, thus altering and lowering inflammation levels. When your inflammation levels are lowered, your body is better able to fight off infection.
Most of the studies that have been conducted on reishi mushrooms and the immune system2 have been done on people who are sick and fighting infection, but with all the benefits that come with the regular consumption of reishi mushrooms, there's no reason to believe they won't give your immune system a boost—even if you're healthy.
They may improve mood and fend off depression.
Struggling with depression, anxiety, or irritability? While reishi mushrooms won't cure it once and for all, there is some evidence to suggest that eating, drinking, or taking reishi mushroom supplements could do quite a bit to ease some of the symptoms.
One small study3 conducted on 132 Chinese patients with a condition called neurasthenia, found that the group who ingested reishi mushrooms extracts for eight weeks had improved reports of aches, pains, and dizziness. Not only that, but their feelings of irritability improved, suggesting that reishi mushrooms may also act as a mood booster... As an added bonus, this study also suggests that reishi mushrooms can help with pain as well.
Potential side effects
While research is limited, some studies have noted insomnia and nausea as possible side effects4 of ingesting reishi mushrooms. Vomiting, diarrhea and muscle pain1 have been noted in several small studies.
How to add reishi mushrooms to your diet
So, how exactly do you eat reishi mushrooms? First, there are many varieties of reishi, the most common of which has a soft, cork-like texture and an ear-shaped cap that ranges in color from red-orange to black. The reishi mushroom has a rather bitter, woody taste, which is why it is traditionally prepared in a tea or as an extract.
Due to its growing status as a veritable panacea, the reishi mushroom is now cultivated commercially throughout the world and is available in a variety of formats from teas and tinctures to capsules and can even be found in superfood protein powder blends. In other words, reishi mushrooms might not taste completely amazing on their own, but when mixed and consumed in the right way, they can be straight-up delicious.
We love reishi mushrooms for so many reasons. Studied for their medicinal properties and revered in Eastern cultures, reishi mushrooms pack some potent health benefits that continue to be researched. Reishi mushrooms have been associated with a number of health benefits from longevity to immunity. If you're ready to dive right in, try this mushroom coffee at home.
Sophie Jaffe is a certified raw-food nutritionist and raw-food chef. She's a member of the Yoga Alliance as an advanced teacher and is certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine as a personal trainer.
After managing a raw foods store in Hollywood that specialized in creating group cleanses, she became dissatisfied with the "one-size-fits-all" model of detox regimens and branched off to create her own company, Philosophie.
Since then, she has found great success and gotten amazing results in providing personalized detox cleanses to a wide variety of clients, including George Clooney, Stacy Keibler, Gerard Butler, and Billy Corgan.
She has created several Superfood Products for use in super-charging every meal and two convenient, effective Quick Cleanses that can be delivered anywhere and utilized easily.