Medicinal Mushrooms Part 3: Reishi: The Original Snake Oil

What is my favorite herb?

Well Reishi mushroom of course. Why?  I would have to say it is one of the original ‘snake oils’ or cure-alls. Yeah really! That is what I first thought when I discovered all of the things it was supposed to be good for.

I have been using this mushroom in clinical practice since the late 1980s, and I still am fascinated with what it helps a person do.  I like to think of it almost as a multiple herb (similar to a multiple vitamin), meaning it does so many things, working at such a fundamental level, that it transcends the use of many other medicinal substances. Put plain and simple, it gives the best bang for the buck and that is saying something, as it is a relatively expensive supplement. Well, I would prefer to call it a Super Food. Ever since my book on Reishi mushroom came out in 1990, I have been asked by many to do talks on this herb and I always say yes, because it still holds great favor with both me and the public1.

Even though the genus of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) grows around the world, most of the original tales of its power come from the Orient. Known as Reishi in Japan, it is called Ling Zhi in China. In these counties it has been considered the most valuable herb, even outpacing the reputation of ginseng. Traditionally it is quite rare and not considered a herb used by the common people, and thus cannot even be found in some of the early Chinese Materia Medica. It was documented in Shen Nung Pen Ts’ao Ching (Divine Husbandman’s Classic of Materia Medica 56 B.C.), where it is described as having the most extensive and effective healing powers. Since that time it has been considered number one amongst the higher herbs. Over the centuries it has gone by many names: Happy herb, herb of spiritual potency, Ten-thousand-year mushroom, Miraculous chi, Auspicious herb and Good omen plant. Folklore has it that the herb was considered so valuable that if a person found one they would not even tell their closest friends or relatives.

Often considered a herb only suitable for the Emperor, you will see images of it throughout inner chambers of the Forbidden city in Beijing.  It can be found on the back of the Emperor’s throne, above the throne, and placed on the location of the Heart Chakra on the Last Emperor’s Robe. It is even carved into the stones holding up the boundaries of the Emperor’s Throne Chamber.


If I was to tell you the one thing that Reishi does best, I would have to say it gets us out of our head and into to our body. What? The Chinese have a classification that includes medicinal substances that “protect an academic from their own brain, because they think too much.” Well that describes many of my patients. Heck it often describes me.

Sometimes in our modern world we get so wrapped up in our own thought-world, we forget what lies outside of it. We even forget our own bodies! I would have to say that many of my patients ‘live in their head’ so much, they hardly visit their own body. This often leads to many problems, from autoimmune issues to yeast infection. I have described this concept much more in my book Mind Body Harmony.2 I like to call these health issues ‘software issues’, as compared to ‘hardware issues’ of the mechanical world, which allopathic doctors are so good at working on. Reishi is excellent for treating these more obscure nuances of our modern-day life.

Cast in the terms of traditional Chinese medicine Reishi is nourishing, supplementing, and toning; removes toxins and dispersing accumulation. It is indicated for: autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, neurasthenia, nervousness, dizziness, insomnia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic hepatitis, cancer, AIDS, nephritis, bronchial asthma, allergies, pneumonia, stomach disease, coronary heart disease, diabetes, angina, mushroom poisoning, fatigue, and for enhancing longevity. If that is too long of a list, we can sum up Reishi’s use by saying it is an adaptogen (a substance that aids the body in resistance against a wide range of physical, biological and environmental stresses).

Ganoderma lucidum was praised for its effect of increasing memory and preventing forgetfulness in old age reported in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Agriculture God’s Canon of Materia Medica ) Volume 1, as early as 456-536 AD.  It was considered the herb of longevity, useful for enhancing vital energy, increasing thinking faculty and preventing forgetfulness. It can refresh the body and mind, delay signs of aging and enable one to live long. It stabilizes one’s mental condition.

The medical research on this mushroom is extensive and somewhat technical, and therefore I cannot cover most of it in this simple Blog. Unless you are research orientated you might want to skip over this next part, or just scan for the highlights. The dosage of various formulas I use can be found after the research. I will attempt to cover some of the highlights I share with my students.

Medical Research:

Respiratory: Reishi demonstrated a 60% recovery rate in allergy-related chronic bronchitis. In the same research, improvement was noted in 97.9% of the cases. Chinese studies have shown benefit for 87.5% of bronchial asthmatics with a cure rate of 48%. For sinus problems, the cure rate is over 50% with approximately 80% effectiveness.3 Reishi was shown to significantly inhibit histamine release and to be effective against Ig-E related allergies.4,5

Lipids: Reishi protects from the effects of accumulated fatty acid and cholesterol when taken along with a fatty diet.6 The herb also showed significant results in lowering blood lipids and fatty deposits in the liver. Significant drops in cholesterol and triglyceride levels can be noted after two months of taking Reishi mushrooms.7

Cardiovascular: Reishi was shown to reduce blood pressure and blood lipids, with no side effects.8,9 It was found that Reishi’s triterpenes inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme (responsible for narrowing the arteries in high blood pressure).10 Reishi inhibits excessive platelet accumulation and reinforces the outer membrane of the red corpuscle.11,12 Reishi is known to stop thrombi formations (blood clots).13 In China it was shown to be effective in 80% of myocardial infarction and angina cases while being curative in 25%.14

Anti-microbial: This fungi has antibacterial effects on Bacillus pneumoniae, staphylococci and streptococci bacteria. It can be used as an antidote in mushroom poisoning.15 It is antibacterial,16,17 anti-viral,18,19 and anti-fungal.20,21 Protease inhibitors and other anti-HIV substances have been found in Ganoderma.22,23,24

Cancer: Studies completed in Japan have confirmed Reishi can be responsible for arresting metastatic cancer. The Japanese Cancer Society has found Reishi effective against sarcomas. The active ingredients responsible for this are the polysaccharides.25 In clinical studies at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, it was reported that applications of Ganoderma should be considered for (1) chemoprophylaxis of cancer in individuals at high risk for developing cancer (2) adjuvant use in the prevention of metastasis or recurrence of cancer (3) palliation of cancer related cachexia and pain and (4) adjunctive use with concurrent chemotherapy to reduce side-effects, maintain leukocyte counts and allow a more optimal dosing of chemo or radio therapeutics.26,27,28

Ganoderma has had good success in treating ovarian cancer,29 preventing many forms of cancer from metastasis.30 It has also been shown to protect the body from radiation.31

Ganoderma use in cancer includes supplementation a) to reduce side-effects during chemotherapy or radiotherapy, b) to prolonging survival and minimize metastasis, c) to improve quality of life, and d) to prevent occurrence or recurrence. In sum, although the cure of any cancer with Ganoderma alone is unlikely, it is probably beneficial in most cases of malignancy.32,33,34,35

Reishi has the ability to inhibit proliferation of several cancer cell lines in vitro, including lymphocytic leukemia, lung carcinoma, human hepatoma, human breast cancer, human prostate cancer, human cervix uteri tumor, and bladder cancer. These extracts also seem to have direct cytotoxic activity against hepatoma, cervix uteri tumor, mouse and murine sarcoma, and human breast cancer cells.36 Significantly, Ganoderma supplementation was noted to decrease pain in cancer patients.37

Immuno-modulating: There have been a wide range of studies done on both the polysaccharides and triterpenes and their effect on the immune system. 38,39 Functional in reducing many types of allergies,40 they have significant antioxidant effects.41 Reishi can reduce peripheral blood mononuclear cell proliferation in vitro.42 The polysaccharides such as beta-glucan have antitumor activity.43 They stimulate cytokine production from macrophages and T-lymphocytes. The polysaccharides increase interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in macrophage cultures. The polysaccharides also increase release of interferon-gamma from T-lymphocytes.44

Liver: Polysaccharides from Reishi mushroom also seem to stimulate glutathione S-transferase activity, suggesting that it could have a potential role in detoxification reactions.50 In chronic hepatitis, a notoriously difficult viral infection, Reishi showed a 10% cure rate in 2 months, with 40% reduction of symptoms. Reishi reduced symptoms in carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatitis as well as other liver issues.46,47,48 Extracts of the fruiting body were found to be moderately active against HIV-1 as well as its essential enzyme, protease (PR).49

Prostate: Ganoderma compounds inhibit 5-alpha reductase activity in the biosynthesis of dihydrotestosterone.51

Other uses:  Triterpenoids from Ganoderma also have potential immunomodulating, antitumor, and antioxidant activities.45 Gandelan A & B are the known factors responsible for Reishi’s blood sugar-regulating ability. In the digestive tract, Reishi has shown an 80% cure rate for ulcers.


1 – 15 gms daily, with 3 – 6 gms being the most common recommendation.

Reishi extract: 2 -3 capsules; twice daily

Reishi Cordyceps: 2 – 4 capsules; twice daily

Reishi Premium: 2 – 4 capsules; twice daily

Reishi Super Food Powder: can be made into an instant tea by adding hot water to ½ to 1 tsp. (depending on strength desired) of mushroom powder. The mushroom has been pre-steamed to create a 1:1 extract suitable for many food needs. It can be added to blender drinks, sauces, and soups, or sprinkled on food.


1. Willard T.; Reishi Mushroom: Herb of Spiritual Potency and Medical Wonder; Sylvan Press Issaquah Wa; 1990.

2. Willard Terry; Mind-Body Harmony; Sarasota Press (June 30, 2004)

3. Nogami M, Ito M, Kubo M et al; Study on Ganoderma lucidum VII.  Anti allergic effect; Yakugak Zasshi 106 (7) 1986 600-604.

4. Nogami m, Tsuji Y, et al; Studies on Ganoderma lucidum VI. Anti Allergic effect; Yakugaku Zasshi 106 (7) 1986, 594-599.

5. Koda H, Tokumoto W, et al; The Biologically active constituents of Ganoderma lucidum Histamine release-inhibitory triterpenes Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo 33(4) 1367-74 1984.

6. Hajjaj H, Macé C, Roberts M, Niederberger P, Fay LB (July 2005). “Effect of 26-oxygenosterols from Ganoderma lucidum and their activity as cholesterol synthesis inhibitors

7. Hajjaj H, Macé C, Roberts M, Niederberger P, Fay LB (July 2005). “Effect of 26-oxygenosterols from Ganoderma lucidum and their activity as cholesterol synthesis inhibitors”. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 71 (7): 3653–8.

8. Kanmatsuse K, Kajiwara N, Hayashi K, et al., Studies on Ganoderma lucidum. Efficacy against  hypertension and side effects, Yakugo Zasshi, 1985, 105(10): 942-947.

9. Lee SY, Rhee HM. Cardiovascular effects of mycelium extract of Ganoderma lucidum: inhibition of sympathetic outflow as a mechanism of its hypotensive action. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1990;38:1359-64

10. Morigiwa A, Kitabatake K, Fujimoto Y et al; Angiotensin converting enzyme-inhibition triterpenes from Ganoderma lucidum; Chem Pharm Bull(tokyo 34(7) 1986; 3025-3028.

11. Shimizu a, Yano T, Saito Y et al; Isolation of an inhibitor of Platelet aggregation from a fungus Ganoderma lucidum; Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 33(7) 3012-3015 1985.

12. Liu J, Kurashiki K, Shimizu K, Kondo R (December 2006). “Structure-activity relationship for inhibition of 5alpha-reductase by triterpenoids isolated from Ganoderma lucidum”. Bioorg. Med. Chem. 14 (24): 8654–60

13. Kubo M Matsuda H, Nogami M; et al; Ganoderma lucidum IV. Effects on Disseminated Intra Vascular Coagulation; Yakugaku Zasshi 103 (8) 871-877 1983.

14. Fu H, Wang Z; The Clinical effects of Ganoderma lucidum spore preparation in 10 cases of Atrophic Myotonia; J Tradit Chin Med 2 (1) 63-65 1982.

15. Hsu H Y, Chen Y P, et al; Oriental Materia Medica; a concise guide; Oriental Healing Arts Institute 604-641; 1986.

16. Moradali MF, Mostafavi H, Hejaroude GA, Tehrani AS, Abbasi M, Ghods S (2006). “Investigation of potential antibacterial properties of methanol extracts from fungus Ganoderma applanatum”. Chemotherapy 52 (5): 241–4.

17. Wasser SP, Weis AL. Therapeutic effects of substances occurring in higher Basidiomycetes mushrooms: a modern perspective. Crit Rev Immunol 1999;19:65-96.

18. Li Y, Yang Y, Fang L, Zhang Z, Jin J, Zhang K (2006). “Anti-hepatitis activities in the broth of Ganoderma lucidum supplemented with a Chinese herbal medicine”. The American Journal of Chinese Medicine 34 (2): 341–9.

19. Wang HX, Ng TB (September 2006). “A laccase from the medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum”. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology 72 (3): 508–13.

20. Wang H, Ng TB (January 2006). “Ganodermin, an antifungal protein from fruiting bodies of the medicinal mushroom Ganoderma lucidum”. Peptides 27 (1): 27–30.

21. Wasser SP, Weis AL. Therapeutic effects of substances occurring in higher Basidiomycetes mushrooms: a modern perspective. Crit Rev Immunol 1999;19:65-96.

22. Singh AB, Gupta SK, Pereira BM, et al. Sensitization to Ganoderma lucidum in patients with respiratory allergy in India. Clin Exp Allergy 1995;25:440-7

23. Min BS, Nakamura N, Miyashiro H, et al. Triterpenes from the spores of Ganoderma lucidum and their inhibitory activity against HIV-1 protease. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) 1998;46:1607-12

24. el-Mekkawy S, Meselhy MR, Nakamura N, et al. Anti-HIV-1 and anti-HIV-1-protease substances from Ganoderma lucidum. Phytochem 1998;49:1651-7

25. Kampo Iyaku Simbun, Becoming Healthy with Reishi III, Toyo-Igaku, Tokyo, 1988, p.12-20.

26. Chang, R (1994) Effective Dose of Ganoderma in Humans; Proceedings of Contributed Symposium 59A, B 5th International Mycological Congress, Vancouver: pp. 117-121

27. Chang, R (1993) Limitations and Potential applications of Ganoderma and related fungal polyglycans in clinical ontology; First International Conference on Mushroom Biology and Mushroom products: 96

28. Mizuno, T: Antitumor Active Substances of Mushroom Fungi, Based Science and Latest Technology on Mushroom, pp. 121-135(1991), Nohson Bunka Sha, Tokyo.

29. Zhao S, Ye G, Fu G, Cheng JX, Yang BB, Peng C.,”Ganoderma lucidum exerts anti-tumor effects on ovarian cancer cells and enhances their sensitivity to cisplatin.” Int J Oncol. 2011 Mar 8

30. Lee, SS., Chen, FD., Chang, SC., et al. (1984). In vivo anti-tumor effects of crude extracts from the mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum. J. of Chinese Oncology Society 5(3): 22-28

31. Pillai, T; Nair, C; Janardhanan, K (2008). “Polysaccharides isolated from Ganoderma lucidum occurring in Southern parts of India, protects radiation induced damages both in vitro and in vivo”. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology 26: 80.

32.; Role of Ganoderma Supplementation in Cancer Management; Meridian Medical Group at the Institute of East-West Medicine and Department of Medicine, Cornell Medical College Raymond Y. Chang

33. Hsu HY; Lian SL; Lin CC Source: Am J Chin Med 1990;18(1-2):61-9

34. Yuen JW, Gohel MD (2005). “Anticancer effects of Ganoderma lucidum: a review of scientific evidence”. Nutrition and Cancer 53 (1): 11–7

35. Sliva D (December 2003). “Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi) in cancer treatment”. Integrative Cancer Therapies 2 (4): 358–64.

36. Yuen JW, Gohel MD. Anticancer effects of Ganoderma lucidum: a review of scientific evidence. Nutr Cancer 2005;53:11-7.

37. Kupin, V.; A new biological response modifier – Ganoderma lucidum – and its application in oncology. In Proceedings from the 6th international symposium on Ganoderma lucidum. Seoul, II Yang, p.36-37 ;1994.

38. Lin ZB, Zhang HN (November 2004). “Anti-tumor and immunoregulatory activities of Ganoderma lucidum and its possible mechanisms”. Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 25 (11): 1387–95.

39. Kuo MC, Weng CY, Ha CL, Wu MJ (January 2006). “Ganoderma lucidum mycelia enhance innate immunity by activating NF-kappaB”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 103 (2): 217–22.

40. van der Hem LG, van der Vliet JA, Bocken CF, et al. Ling Zhi-8: studies of a new immunomodulating agent. Transplantation 1995;60:438-43

41. Sun J, He H, Xie BJ. Novel antioxidant peptides from fermented mushroom Ganoderma lucidum. J Agric Food Chem 2004;52:6646-52

42. Kim RS, Kim HW, Kim BK. Suppressive effects of Ganoderma lucidum on proliferation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Mol Cells 1997;7:52-7.

43. Yuen JW, Gohel MD. Anticancer effects of Ganoderma lucidum: a review of scientific evidence. Nutr Cancer 2005;53:11-7

44. Wang SY, Hsu ML, Hsu HC, et al. The anti-tumor effect of Ganoderma lucidum is mediated by cytokines released from activated macrophages and T lymphocytes. Int J Cancer 1997;70:699-705

45. Yuen JW, Gohel MD. Anticancer effects of Ganoderma lucidum: a review of scientific evidence. Nutr Cancer 2005;53:11-7

46. Wang X, Zhao X, Li D, Lou YQ, Lin ZB, Zhang GL (September 2007). “Effects of Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide on CYP2E1, CYP1A2 and CYP3A activities in BCG-immune hepatic injury in rats”. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 30 (9): 1702–6.

47. hi Y, Sun J, He H, Guo H, Zhang S (May 2008). “Hepatoprotective effects of Ganoderma lucidum peptides against D-galactosamine-induced liver injury in mice”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 117 (3): 415–9.

48. Li YQ, Wang SF (2006). “Anti-hepatitis B activities of ganoderic acid from Ganoderma lucidum”. Biotechnol. Lett. 28 (11): 837–841

49. Hattori M; Inhibitory Effect of Component from Ganoderma lucidum on the Growth of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Protease Activity;

50. Kim HS, Kacew S, Lee BM. In vitro chemopreventive effects of plant polysaccharides (Aloe barbadensis miller, Lentinus edodes, Ganoderma lucidum and Coriolus versicolor). Carcinogenesis 1999;20:1637-40

51. Liu J, Kurashiki K, Shimizu K, Kondo R (December 2006). “Structure-activity relationship for inhibition of 5 alpha-reductase by triterpenoids isolated from Ganoderma lucidum”. Bioorg. Med. Chem. 14 (24): 8654–60.