The Medicine of Kings: Could Reishi Mushrooms Benefit You?

If you heard something was hailed in ancient Eastern medicine as the “mushroom of immortality” and the “medicine of kings,” you’d expect it to benefit your well being in a pretty monumental way, right? Luckily for you, this is an accurate assumption to make about reishi, the fungus prized for the role it plays in complementary wellness. According to wellness experts, reishi can help to to boost your immune system, fight cancer, ward off heart disease, calm your nerves and relieve both allergies and inflammation – mushroom of immortality indeed!

In her book New Whole Foods Encyclopaedia, Rebecca Wood writes, ‘Reishi indeed sounds like a cure-all…An immunostimulant, it is helpful for people with AIDS, leaky-gut syndrome, Epstein-Barr, chronic bronchitis and other infectious diseases. It is used as an aid to sleep, as a diuretic, as a laxative and to lower cholesterol.’ It almost seems too good to be true – but is it?

According to Andrew Weil, MD, author of 8 Weeks To Optimum Health, ‘Reishi is a purely medicinal mushroom, not a culinary one, both because it is hard and woody and because it tastes very bitter. But it is non-toxic and has been the subject of a surprising amount of scientific research, both in Asia and the West…Like maitake and other related mushroom species, reishi improves immune function and inhibits the growth of some malignant tumours. Additionally, it shows significant anti-inflammatory effect, reduces allergic responsiveness, and protects the liver.’

So how does it work? Weil explains, ‘One key function, identified long ago by Eastern medical science, is defence — that is, the body has the need and ability to defend itself against threats to its equilibrium, whether they be physical, emotional, or energetic. Having noted and studied the body’s defensive capabilities, Chinese doctors then explored the natural world to find ways of maintaining and enhancing them, and they discovered a number of ways to do so, including the administration of herbal remedies. Among these remedies are ginseng, astragalus, and several mushrooms that grow on trees, such as Ganoderma lucidum (known to the Chinese as ling chih and the Japanese as reishi).’

As well as enabling your cells to defend themselves against cancer, reishi helps immune cells bind to tumour cells and actually reduces the number of cancerous cells in your body, which makes it easier for T-cells and macrophages to get rid of them. However, there’s a fourth way in which reishi guards your wellbeing against cancer; through a substances called canthaxanthin.

Phyllis A. Balch, author of Prescription for Dietary Wellness, comments, ‘Canthaxanthin acts as an antioxidant, boosts immunity, slows the growth of cancer cells, and may help to prevent skin and breast cancers. Food sources include mushrooms, particularly reishi, maitake, and shiitake.’

But it’s not only your body that can benefit from reishi; it’s also the mind. Dr. Ray Sahelia, author of Mind Boosters, asserts that the reishi mushroom can calm the mind, as well as improve memory, concentration and focus. It’s no wonder that, with all that reishi does, Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook author James Green calls it a ‘remarkably beneficial fungus for the human body.’

The question remains, however; how much reishi should you take? Vitamin expert Earl Mindell, author of the Vitamin Bible for the Twenty-first Century, advises an average dose of 100 milligrams of reishi extract daily to boost your immune system. The Herbal Drugstore author Dr. Linda B. White, on the other hand, recommends up to three 1,000-milligram tablets up to three times per day. Therefore, you should consult your physician before taking reishi supplements, especially if you’re pregnant or lactating.

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