Lingzhi, also known as reishi, is a polypore fungus (also referred to as a bracket fungus) belonging to the genus Ganoderma. Its red-varnished, kidney-shaped cap and peripherally inserted stem gives it a distinct fan-like appearance. When fresh, the lingzhi is soft, cork-like, and flat. It lacks gills on its underside and depending on its age the underside may be white or brown. It can also grow in an ‘antler’ shape in poorly ventilated settings.
Location & Cultivation
Ganoderma lucidum can be found on the hardwoods (especially oaks) of warmer regions of its native Asia, the South Pacific & the Southeastern USA. It is thought to be very difficult to find in the wild but given it’s reputation as a medicine it is widely cultivated in habitats where it is happy to grow. Cultivating it at home may require a dedicated space in which fungus of Ganoderma lucidum is mixed with wood pulp and kept in a warm and humid environment with shaded lighting. Some growers create huge walls of plastic grow bags containing Ganoderma spores, and time the tearing of the bags to expose the mushrooms to CO2 to produce the flat caps.
It is not to be found in Western Europe, but for those who live close to it, wild crafting requires great determination and also great care as it is so precious in the wild, so following the ‘take only what you need’ philosophy remains true. If harvesting cultivated mushrooms, one may be able to harvest 2 or 3 crops from one plant if it is well looked after. Some growers recommend finding the perfect balance of ventilation to encourage the ‘antler’ shape of growth in the mushroom, which can grow up to 3 feet in length before harvesting. Different companies sell grow kits and spores for home inoculation.
There are various ways of preparing Ganoderma, and one can find 1:3 tinctures, decocted tinctures and recently I had heard of a ‘russian extract’ which is 3:1. Double extracted methods are generally thought of as important as valuable immunomodulating polysaccharides will only be released from the durable chitin in the mushroom when it is simmered for quite a long time. The alcohol helps to extract the terpenes which are antioxidant and antiinflammatory.
History / Folklore
The history of humans using Ganoderma lucidum is over 2000 years old. It’s local name in China is Lingzhi, translating to ‘The Plant of Immortality’. In TCM it is closely affiliated with the heart and the brain, connecting the middle and upper cauldrons in preserving and improving memory & capacity for clear thinking, and also for treating constrictions of the heart qi. The goddess of healing Guanyin is sometimes depicted as holding a reishi mushroom, a real testament to its cultural reverence. The mushroom has long been touted as one that relaxes the heart and calms the nerves while encouraging a sustainable regeneration of qi.
Taste / Energetics
Salty, meaty, bitter, slightly drying, slightly warming
Polysaccharides, glucans, adenosine, triterpenes, protein, phytosterols, lipids, ganasterone, vitamines C, B2
Tonic, immune-stimulant, hypoglycaemic, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, expectorant, adrenal stimulant, radiation protective, cardiotonic
Traditional & Current Uses
• Cardio-tonic, so enhances normal heart function, improves coronary artery circulation and protects against heart attacks.
• Can relieve palpitations & arrhythmias, prevent clots, lower cholesterol, normalises blood pressure and prevents atherosclerosis.
• Ganoderic acid is known to thin blood and reduce inflammation, thereby lowering the tendency to clotting.
• Increases the level of O2 in the blood and has been used in treating altitude sickness.
• As an immunomodulant, Ganoderma lucidum and it’s polysaccharides enhance immunity with T-Cell activity, leukocytes and macrophage activity.
• It has been well studied as a treatment for cancer and is widely used as a complement to chemo and radio therapies. It inhibits metastasis by inhibiting platelet aggregation.
• Antibacterial to Staphylococci and Streptococci bacteria and antifungal so useful for treating candida.
• Balances and builds the ‘pro-inflammatory’ side of the adrenal cortex – that is, the ‘mineralocorticoid’ side that supports the inflammatory side of the immune response. It does not act on the ‘anti-inflammatory’ or glucocorticoid side, which suppresses the immune response. Thus it reduces autoimmune excess and is helpful in autoimmune diseases of many kinds including myasthenia gravis and Sjogren’s syndrome.
• Helpful for allergies as it’s sulphur compounds inhibit histamine release from mast cells, and also as it helps modulate overactive immune response, and is also a nervine (a state of calmness is less likely to provoke an autoimmune flare).
• It has a steroidal compound called gandosterone that is hepatoprotective and is beneficial in hepatitis and in cirrhosis.
• Can be used for HIV, Herpes, hepatitis B and C, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, acute myeloid leukemia and nasopharyngeal carcinomas.
• Ganoderma lucidum is adaptogenic, is neuro-protective and increases resilience to stress. It improves adrenal function, sleep quality and appetite so can be a wonderful ally for burnout or when one knows there is a particularly busy time on the horizon.
• It has been known to reduce anxiety and protects against neurological problems.
• As an antimicrobial, Ganoderma is also a nourishing tonic to the gut.
Avoid use with anyone who has a mushroom allergy. Note that some with very weak digestive function may have trouble digesting the B-Glucans in which case build the digestive fire and perhaps try again. In large doses it has been observed to cause diarrhea.
Preparation & Dosage
A decoction can also be used. Myconutri and other suppliers provide powders and capsules which may also be of benefit.
• Can be useful to prescribe as part of an evening blend. In a powder mix, it could be blended with other powders such as Withania and gently warmed in oat milk to make a nourishing and relaxing evening tea.
• My initial connection with Ganoderma was meeting it alive in a plant shop I worked in, seeing it’s vibrancy and also something mysterious about it, the mystery of how it actually does what it does. My clinical use of it stems from a tutor of mine including it in many of her prescriptions and her testament to how effective it has been for autoimmune conditions. There is deeply regenerative earth energy here. As an ally that strengthens, relaxes and encourages healthy immune response, Ganoderma can help tune us to a place from which we establish a more coherent, calm and appropriate response to the world around us – a process of healing and transformation that medicinal mushrooms appear to be very good at doing.
• Wood describes his friend Don Babineau saying of Ganoderma tsugae that it ‘Looks like fire and restores fire to the system’.