The Search for the Illusive Reishi

Rona van der Riet is a director at Sfera Bio Nutrition. She is a mushroom and fungi enthusiast who can be found on the hunt for such delicacies on weekends in wooded areas. With a background in naturopathy, and a healthy obsession with the natural world, Rona has been kind enough to share her knowledge and personal experience with us. 

In Japan, Reishi was known as the phantom mushroom because it is difficult to find. Fewer than ten mushrooms could be found on 100 000 trees. Imagine my absolute delight when I found one of these elusive mushrooms on one of my daily walks. I felt like a true treasure hunter who stumbled upon the holy grail. Usually on my daily walks, my eyes are glued to the ground, always searching for my next treasure. Some of my recent treasures include crystal rocks and various species of mushrooms. As an amateur mycology (the study of fungi) enthusiast, I do not know many of the names, but spotting the beautiful shapes and sizes makes every walk more fascinating.

I can still remember the moment when my interest in mushrooms started. As a student of naturopathy in London, we had lectures from respected experts in their fields. This included the Dalai Lama’s practitioner, Patrick Holford and even Dr Max Gerson’s daughter, Charlotte Gerson. The pivotal moment that hooked me on the subject was a lecture by Paul Stamet; the founder of Fungi Perfecti and Host Defense Mushrooms. I was blown away by the information Paul shared about medicinal mushrooms and the powerhouses these fungi are. I still have Paul’s Mycomedicinal book, which travelled with me from the UK, and it remains the pride of my book collection.

The use of Reishi in history is an impressive one and spans more than two millennia. The earliest mention of Ling Chi (Reishi) was in the era of the first emperor of China, Shih-Huang of the Ch’in Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.d.220). Depictions of the Reishi mushroom were found throughout Chinese literature and art. 

Reishi is regarded as the elixir of life, and after 2000 years, it still ranks as one of the premier Chinese tonics. Himalayan guides have used this mushroom to combat high-altitude sickness. The Maya people, indigenous to Mesoamerica, traditionally employed Reishi in teas to fight various communicable diseases.

A complex group of polysaccharides, especially the beta-glucans, have been isolated from this mushroom that reportedly stimulates the immune system. One theory is that these polysaccharides stimulate the production of T cells, which attack infected cells. Some studies have been published showing its modulating effects on blood pressure and lipid levels (Kabir et al 1989). Curiously, Reishi produce compounds that show potential for use in cancer treatment and they are known to complement chemotherapy and radiation therapy by countering the side-effects (Prasad et al 2015). Studies have shown, even at large doses, Reishi is non-toxic to healthy cells and safe to consume (Kim et al 1986). 

In 1993, Dr Weil noted that it is difficult to reconcile that a mushroom could be both an immune stimulator and an anti-inflammatory. He says anti-inflammatory agents generally suppress immune function and do not enhance it. After discovering and having read these research articles, my excitement almost boiled over at the prospects of medicinal mushrooms. It seems as if the possibilities are endless, and research into its potential has only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.

Reishi is called the balancing mushroom due to the numerous compounds that it contains that have been used to treat a variety of ailments throughout time. The Reishi constituents seem to have a variety of pharmacological effects, and the list seems endless.

Research suggests that Reishi may assist in the following:

  • It may shrink certain non-cancerous tumours
  • It may stimulate the immune system
  • It may assist in normal cardiovascular function, may improve blood clotting (anticoagulant)
  • It may lower cholesterol
  • It may assist in lowering blood sugar (hypoglycemic)
  • It may assist in liver protection (hepatoprotective)
  • It shows antiviral and antibacterial properties (Prasad et al 2015)

Reishi is just one of many medicinal mushrooms. Some of my other favourite mushrooms include Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps and Shiitake. Lion’s Mane is a toothed fungus, which sounds almost ominous, but it gets its name from its distinct shape. This group of mushrooms have a distinctive snow-white icicle-like appearance. Hopefully, one of these will also cross my path in one of my future treasure hunts, and I think if I ever find one of these in nature, I will not be able to contain my excitement. 

Lion’s Mane mushrooms contain eninacines which are strong stimulators of nerve growth factor synthesis (Kawagishi et al. 1991, 1994). These compounds stimulate neurons to regrow, which could potentially be significant in the treatment of senility, Alzheimer’s disease, repairing muscle/motor response pathways, and cognitive function. These compounds warrant further research for us to discover their full potential.

Both Shiitake and Lion’s Mane are also classified as gourmet mushrooms, together, sautéed with butter, garlic, and a touch of soy or tamarind results in an extraordinary culinary experience with complex, rich fungal tones. In this dish, food and medicine combine for a feast of healing.


  • Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. Third Edition. Paul Stamets.
  • Prescription for Herbal Healing. Phyllis A. Balch, CNC. 
  • Mycomedicinals. An information Treatise on Mushrooms. Paul Stamets.
  • Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Ninth Edition. Published by Therapeutic Research Faculty.
  • Prasad S, Rathore H, Sharma S, Yadav AS (2015) Medicinal Mushrooms as a Source of Novel Functional Food. Int J Food Sci Nutr Diet. 04(5), 221-225. doi: 1500040