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Use of Reishi Mushrooms in Treating Hepatitis, Insomnia, and Other Diseases

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Documented use of Reishi in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine can be dated to 2000 BCE, especially regarding the treatment of hepatopathy (diseased liver), chronic hepatitis, nephritis, hypertension, arthritis, insomnia, bronchitis, asthma, and ga

Documented use of reishi in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine has been dated to 2000 BCE, especially regarding the treatment of hepatopathy (diseased liver), chronic hepatitis, nephritis, hypertension, arthritis, insomnia, bronchitis, asthma, and gastric ulcers. 

In China’s most referenced natural history book, the Ben Cao Mu (1578 CE), it states that “continued use of reishi [known as Ling Zhi] will lighten weight and increase longevity.”  During the Ming Dynasty (1368--1644 CE), reishi was known as Qi zhi, or “red fungus,” and was touted for its natural ability to improve the condition of the heart.  Even today, Chinese and Japanese people travel great distances to acquire it for treating cancer and other chronic diseases.

Reishi is reddish-orange to black in color (depending on soil, climate, and altitude conditions), with stalk size and thickness used to visually differentiate varieties. 

Some varieties prefer to grow at the base of fir and hemlock trees, while others prefer hardwoods--especially oaks.  Considered an insidious infection to oak tree growers, reishi infestation causes oaks to rot.  In Japan, 99% of reishi growing in the wild are found on old Japanese plum trees, yet appear quite rarely, estimated to produce in only 1:1000,000 plum trees.

In the past, reishi grew only in small quantities around the world, so it was very expensive to acquire, and was especially prized.  In the past 20 years, however, because of successful adaptive cultivation methods developed by Shigeaki Mori, a Japanese horticulturalist who spent 15 years developing such measures, it is much more accessible and affordable. This process requires nearly 2 years from start to finish, promoting one the most commonly used medicinal varieties, the “red” reishi. Methods for promoting the so-called “antlered” reishi have also been developed in recent years, but requires a completely closed environment high in carbon dioxide.

Reishi’s curative properties are now understood to derive from its complex chemical make-up which includes carbohydrates (sugars and polysaccharides), amino acids, inorganic ions, steroids, triterpenes (unsaturated hydrocarbons), lipids (fats), alkaloids, glucoside (glucose/sugar), volatile oil, riboflavin (a component of B vitamin) and ascorbic acid

It also contains high concentrates of magnesium, zinc, iron, manganese, calcium, copper, and germanium.  (The spores themselves contain remarkable combinations of palmitic acid, choline, stearic acid, and a number of other beneficial acids.)

The fruiting bodies of the reishi contain ergosterol (a crystalline sterol synthesized by yeast from sugars or derived from ergot and converted to vitamin D2 when exposed to ultraviolet radiation), lysozyme (an enzyme occurring naturally in egg white, human tears, saliva, and other body fluids, capable of destroying the cell walls of certain bacteria and thereby acting as a mild antiseptic), acid protease (that catalyze the hydrolytic breakdown of proteins), and high levels of polysaccharides.  And especially significant to scientists analyzing the reishi in terms of potential healing properties, reishi commonly contains over 100 different triterpenes (hydrocarbons that seem to be the catalyst for a number of curative functions--not the least of which is anti-allergic properties).


In human clinical studies, reishi has been proven to be an effective analgesic (pain reliever) anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-tumor, anti-viral, expectorant, and anti-HIV agent, as well as able to lower blood pressure, prevent symptoms of bronchitis, enhance bone marrow, lower serum cholesterol levels, reduce the negative effects of caffeine, act as a muscle relaxant, detoxify the liver, protect against radiation, increase white blood cells, and promote immune function.

Reishi has been shown highly effective against a wide range of conditions including chronic dizziness, insomnia, rhinitis, duodenal ulcers, liver disease, leucopenia, muscular dystrophy, hyperplasia, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes, and most recently, has shown favorable results in treating hepatitis.

Of special note are reishi’s curative effects regarding the lungs and heart.

In clinical studies in China over the past few decades, over 2000 patients with chronic bronchitis were given a tablet made from of reishi syrup. Within 2 weeks, over 60% of the patients showed marked improvement in breathing, with older patients who were in a deteriorating state, having reduced bronchial asthmatic symptoms.

In similar studies, reishi given to patients with heart disease experiencing palpitations, dyspnea, precordial pain, and edema, showed marked improvement due to reishi’s ability to lower blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol.  Additionally, reishi extract is currently producing encouraging results in Moscow in cancer research.




Medicinal Mushrooms, by Christopher Hobbs


Images via wikipedia.org

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James R. Coffey

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