Over the next several weeks, we’re going to be exploring different topics around healthy eating and healthy living. Articles will explore a variety of edible plants, their history, their health benefits, how to use them, and how to grow and harvest them. This first post explores the reishi mushrooms and is written by our friend Steven Chueng, Business Development Manager of Cheung’s Trading, the largest Chinese herbal wellness store in Ontario.

I met Steven through our shared work space at the Centre for Social Innovation. Steven loves educating people around incorporating Chinese herbs, going out of his way to clarify false perceptions and teaching people from a scientific based perspective.

In this, post Steven shares some of his knowledge around reishi mushrooms, and we’ll come back in at the end to tell you how to grow and in this case, forage for this mushroom as well.

Enter Steven

Reishi goes by the Chinese name of Lingzhi or the Latin name of Ganoderma Lucidum. For a long time the best reishi has come from Japan, but in the past 15 years as words spread about its wide range of benefits the Chinese, Korean and even Americans have jumped on the bandwagon and in the process has benefited consumers in two major ways: improving the overall quality of reishi due to international competition for your business and driving the price down to a more affordable level for the average consumer as the supply increases and economies of scale kicks in due to production efficiencies. So what makes reishi so special? The active ingredients that’s in it starting with water soluble polysaccharides that has both cancer fighting and blood pressure lowering properties. Another active ingredient is triterpenes which has been clinically proven to improve liver functions as well as oxygen utilization, which is a fancy way of saying that it can help you work out harder and longer. I also want to mention about a study conducted at the University of Michigan where they found reishi to have substantial benefits for treating HIV and AIDS, hepatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia when compare to using just a placebo.

What else is reishi good for? Well they have plenty of antioxidants which are essential for protecting your body from something called free radicals which are unstable molecules in your body that can lead to everything from cancer to heart diseases. Free radicals can be produced in your body due to reasons ranging from stress to poor diet to your body being too acid. There is no shortage of info available online about free radicals and I strongly suggest you take some time to research into this very important subject which has long lasting impact on your future health.

How do you enjoy reishi? There are a number of different ways including in a capsule or tablet form, instant powder tea or tea bags or using the actual reishi root which can also be purchase in a pre-sliced format so you don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to cut up a big piece of reishi mushroom.

Although reishi doesn’t have the same household recognition that other herbs such as ginseng, echinacea or ginkgo biloba has in North America it is easily one of the most prized herbs in the world of Chinese medicine. The earliest mention in Chinese medicine literature goes all the way back to 221 B.C., although some sources claim it was mentioned much earlier than that, which was around the time China’s first emperor Qin Shihuangdi who is widely recognized as the man who unified China’s many warring states into one powerful country as well as being the man buried with what’s known today as the Terra Cotta soldier to ensure him immortality. The word reishi in Chinese is pronounced ‘ling zhi‘ which roughly translate to mean Miraculous Seed.

For those of you who are interested in giving reishi a try keep in mind that at the beginning because it has powerful detox properties you might experience increased bowel movements, headache and dizziness. These are worse case scenarios and happens only to a small percentage of people and if you do experience it the symptoms usually subsides or completely disappears after a few days. Once your body’s internal system adjusts then the health benefits that you are looking for such as better sleep, stronger immune system and an overall sense of wellness starts to kick in.

For any questions about reishi, Chinese herbs, or recipes, please feel free to contact Steven directly.

Postscript: Chris
Foraging for reishi mushrooms is a fun and enjoyable pastime. Reishi is quite easy to identify. Look for them on dead or decaying organic matter such as tree stumps or logs. Common types of materials include oak, elm, beech, maples, and hemlock. Spore prints are brown. When young, reishi mushrooms have a fan-shaped, reddish, and wet lacquered appearance. This shiny reddish cap is one of its main distinguishing features. While reishi mushrooms prefer warmer climates, they can be found as far North as Southern Ontario and Northeastern United States.

Reishi has no known poisonous lookalikes. And while reishi is a relatively safe fungi to forage for, we strongly suggest you to go with an expert and be 100% sure of what you forage and eat, especially when it comes to mushrooms. One group we can sugest is the Toronto Mycological Society

Cover Image by Jason Hollinger, used under its Creative Commons license.