Reishi grow deep in the mountains at the base of large trees or beside springs. They may resemble buildings, palanquins and horses, dragon and tigers, human beings, or flying birds... Those of the intermediate class confer several thousands of years of life, and those of the lowest quality, a thousand additional years of life.
Ge Hong, Taoist alchemist, c. 200 AD
Magu, the goddess of beauty and eternal youth, serving reishi, schizandra, and a “peach of longevity” to her immortal friends.
Reishi is known in China as “the divine fungus” or “the mushroom of immortality.” For over 2,500 years, it has been revered as an elixir of vitality and enlightenment. With over 150 documented health benefits including being effective against cancer, AIDS, even deadly mushrooms (see more info and endorsements here), reishi may be one of the most important herbs for detoxification and immunity on the planet.
Once rare, reishi was reserved only for royalty. Fortunately for us in Western North Carolina, reishi grows here wild and abundantly. We offer a reishi workshop every spring, taught by the founder of Red Moon Herbs, Jessica Godino, LAc (see photos from our 2012 event).
In China, reishi is known as ling zhi. The word zhi means “mushroom” and ling can be translated as “spiritual potency.” According to the ancient Taoists, the universe supports us when we are doing what we are meant to do in this life. Reishi helps us to fulfill our destiny. When we do what we are here for, we become “immortal” in that we leave behind the legacy we were born to impart to the world. And yes, reishi also promotes physical longevity.
Reishi lightens the body and promotes longevity. Taken long term, it will make you feel like you are flying, so you are able to ascend to heaven. This ascension occurs on the level of the mind… there will be an arousal of sensuality, an orgasm of the brain.
Jeffrey Yuen, 88th generation Taoist priest, lecture, 2009
Yuen's claims have not been evaluated by the FDA. As far as I know, the same goes for everything else on this page, so it's illegal in the U.S. to say that reishi can treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Here, reishi is commonly known as a tree disease by the name of "butt rot."
There are three common species of reishi that can be grown or wild-harvested in the Eastern United States, Ganoderma tsugae, G. lucidim, and G. curtsii. These are all basically the same mushroom growing on different trees. G. tsugae, or the “hemlock reishi,” pictured in the slide show above, is the largest variety of reishi in my area and is by far the most common. Although G. tsugae is far less bitter than the other two species, for medicinal purposes they are all used interchangeably.
For more about reishi's spiritual potency, see Jessica's article on reishi.
Reishi can appear as early as mid-April and remain fresh through late June. Hemlock reishi that is darker than white or tan underneath is rotten. When young, hemlock reishi will be thick, blunt, soft, and almost entirely white. Mature reishi will be thin, hard, and have little or no white margin. At least one study seems to show that the young and mature reishi are equally medicinal.
Far less common in my area are G. curtsii and G. lucidim (pictured below). They are typically found on maple, usually only in yards. G. lucidim is the smallest of the three and will only rarely have white or yellow margins. It can appear throughout the summer.
Preservation & Storage
Fresh reishi, like all mushrooms, must be kept refrigerated.
Young reishi can be eaten fresh, at least in part; see below. Mature reishi is almost always dried for later use. It can be simply cut into ¼ to ½ inch slices. I've known people with large quantities to use a meat slicing machine, but a sharp kitchen knife works fine. It's easier to cut off the stem first and slice it separately. You can then cut your slices into cubes if desired. In abundant years, I don't have time for this. I just slice and dry it, and when I need some, I break it up into cubes by hand. It's even better, if you have a Vitamix or other strong food processor, to grind these cubes. Basically, the smaller the pieces, the more surface area you'll expose and the more you'll extract. I have never tried grinding it fresh but some do.
Spread the pieces on a dehydrator to dry. I use the highest setting on my Excalibur, 175 degrees. They say you can also dry them in an oven at that temperature with the door propped open. Either way, you may or may not like the smell, which some have compared, at best, to raw tomatoes. They should come out dry enough to snap easily into shorter pieces. At this point, if you plan to grind them, e.g., in a Vitamix, now is the time to break them into one-inch pieces by hand. After a while, even in a sealed jar, they tend to get less crisp.
Preparation and Usage
The white outer edge of young reishi can be cooked and eaten. Completely avoid the inner yellow band because it is quite bitter. When browned lightly (don’t crowd the pan), these “fresh reishi tips” can taste very meaty. Note that a handful of people have experienced mild to moderate digestive upset from eating fresh reishi, so use moderation and please report any adverse reactions here.
Reishi's active ingredients include ganodermic acids. These are terpenes, and terpenes are very poorly extracted in water. They require alcohol extraction (tincture) instead. However, the main active ingredients in reishi for immune boosting are polysaccarides, and these are water-soluble (in decoction). For specific health concerns (consult a practitioner), consider the “double extraction” (tincture first, then decoction) below, which you can also purchase from Ultimate Elixir.
The recommended dosage for reishi is 3-10 grams per day in either decoction or tincture. There is also some concern about long term toxicity of reishi, especially of the tincture, if taken regularly for more than four months. Watch especially for rashes, dizziness, or headaches. Reishi can also lower your blood sugar and/or your blood pressure and thin your blood, so reishi is not for everyone. So more info, see here.
Above all, always work with a competent practitioner, not alone. Do you fix your own computer? Your body is far more complex.
For decoction, heat more than enough water to cover your chosen quantity of dried mushroom (note that waiting to add the mushroom until the water boils may be more effective, given the "shock value"). The exact amount of water you start with is not important; you only need to know how much mushroom you start with and how much liquid you end up with. For example, let’s say you start with 30 grams (i.e., about one ounce; there are 453 grams in one pound). If you end up with one pint of liquid (16 ounces), each ounce of that liquid will be about a two-gram dose. If you want to take a moderate dose of 5 grams per day, you would drink two and a half ounces of your decoction per day.
How hot do you want the water? Some say it's preferable to keep it under boling. My crock pot, for example (the "Crock Watcher"), keeps the temperature steady at 160ºF, which is said to be ideal for chaga. But chaga is not a mushroom; it's mycelium embedded in semi-digested wood. Mushrooms, although the same percentage of indigestible chitin, are a more solid chunk of it. For this reason, whether you boil your reishi or not, it's ideal to grind it into smaller pieces. A Vitamix works well IF no more than about a pint of pieces are gradually added while the machine is running.
Add mushrooms to the hot water and simmer for two hours or more. You can add other herbs to your decoction, now or later, for taste or additional benefits (consult a clinical herbalist). If you leave the lid off, your brew will cook down and concentrate. How much you concentrate it is up to you. When done, strain and cool the mushrooms enough to squeeze the liquid out of them. I then use them, like coffee grounds, again. Then I combine the first and second extract. Either way, it's convenient to freeze the concentrate into small portions with an ice tray. Each cube is about an ounce. Ideally, you fill each cube to your desired daily amount. For an example of all this, see below.
For a double extraction, fill a jar with fresh chopped mushroom or half full with dry mushroom. Cover with 100 proof alcohol, preferably vodka. Soak for 6-8 weeks, then strain. Set aside alcohol, cover mushroom with water and decoct as above, aiming to end up with the same amount of water as alcohol. Combine decoction with tincture in equal parts, resulting in a 25% alcohol extract.
As you work with reishi or just admire its beauty, your own appreciation is the medicine you are extracting. To our health!
Sample Decoction Process
First, I turned on my crock pot to warm up. On the range, I set enough water to almost fill the crockpot to heat up (this is faster than waiting for the crock pot to do it). Then I measured out eight ounces of reishi by weight, four ounces of chaga, four ounces of turkey tail, and four ounces of maitake, wrote down these quantities, and put it all in the crock pot. This is actually too much to do at once in a six-quart crock pot. I recommend doing at least a third less.
Turkey tail, which is commonly paired with reishi for an anti-cancer tonic, takes up the most space. Even when broken up into one-inch pieces, one pound is a gallon in volume. It's best, then, to decoct it separately and then combine your extracts later. Or you can chop it up in a Vitamix or other strong food processor.
When the water reached about 160ºF, I poured it into the crockpot. I put the lid on it to keep the temperature up but set a wooden spoon between it and the pot to allow the extract to cook down. The next morning, when the water had gone below the level of the mushrooms, I strained out the extract, put it aside, and added another batch of hot water. When the first run extract cooled to room temperature, I put it in the fridge.
The next morning, I turned off the pot and removed the lid. When the extract had cooled down sufficiently but was still warm, I strained out the mushrooms with a colander and used a fine mesh bag to squeeze the remaining juice out of the mushrooms, one handful at a time. At this point, you can discard the mushrooms. I saved them to use once more at a later date, only because I had used so much that I wasn't sure they were completely spent.
I rinsed the crockpot and placed both batches of extract back into it to cook down (with the lid cracked open as before). When the depth of liquid in the pot reached about two inches, I turned it off. Once it cooled, I measured it out: seven cups.
Now, I started with a total of 20 ounces of dried mushrooms by weight. That's 562 grams. I wanted to take about seven grams a day. That comes out to 80 days: almost three months' worth. Great; though next time, like I said, I'll make less.
Now, seven cups is 56 fluid ounces. If you divide 56 oz by 80 days, you get .7 oz/day. Each cube in an ice cube tray holds one ounce, so I filled each cube about 70% full. I used a small container to pour with so it wouldn't spill. Since each ice tray holds 14 cubes, 80 days divided by 14 meant it would take almost six trays (5.7 to be exact) to freeze my concentrate. Since I only had two trays, it took me about three days. I kept the extra concentrate in the fridge while I completed the freezing process. As I removed the frozen cubes, I filled quart jars, one to keep in my kitchen fridge's freezer, the rest in the chest freezer. You can use zip locks instead.
Sounds complicated? So is cancer! So is baking a pie!