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Reishi Mushroom: The Health Benefits of This Magical Fungus

Learn why reishi is one of the most popular functional mushrooms and exactly how you can use it.

When you think about mushrooms, you probably imagine pan-fried portobellos, a creamy soup, or other ways to cook with the hearty, earthy ingredient. But there are many other types of 'shrooms out in the world that have amazing health benefits—and they just require being steeped in some hot water to activate.

Although they've become trendy in the past few years, functional mushrooms—aka ones that support overall health and well-being—have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. One of the most popular functional mushrooms is undoubtedly the reishi mushroom, an ancient adaptogen that plays a big role in Chinese healing traditions. Adaptogens are essentially plants and herbs that help our bodies "adapt" to stress by regulating our biological response to stress. If you're looking to start using reishi mushrooms in your everyday routine, read on.

What is reishi?

Reishi, or Lingzhi in Chinese, is also known as the "mushroom of immortality." It has a red-tinged, kidney-shaped cap when fresh, and is foraged from the bases and stumps of deciduous trees such as maple. These mushrooms are rare in the wild, and are often artificially cultivated on hardwood logs, sawdust, or wood chips, according to the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms.

You don't have to worry about trying to track down fresh caps either. Reishi mushrooms are most commonly used dried and brewed into a tea.

What are its health benefits?

Reishi is a powerful adaptogen that can help support our immune systems and our bodies during times of stress, explains registered holistic nutritionist Kate Allan. "The fungi also have additional benefits, including strong antioxidant properties that protect our cells, the ability to increase energy and stamina, as well as balance hormones and blood sugar levels. They support overall healing."

Another way that adaptogens work is as immune modulators, helping to balance the immune system, Allan adds. "So if your immune system is under-reacting and you are getting sick, it will help to boost it. But if your immune system is over-reacting, like with allergies, it will help bring it back to balance."

Reishi mushrooms may be able to help stop the growth and spreading of cancer cells due to their complex sugars known as beta-glucans, according to data from clinical studies at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center in New York City. They also list other potential benefits of reishi from limited clinical studies in humans. For example, reishi mushrooms contain sterols "that can act as precursors to hormones in the body. As well as substances called triterpenes that may have blood pressure-lowering and anti-allergy effects. They've also shown promise in slowing down blood clotting."

Other lab studies—not all involving human subjects—have seen reishi help treat fatigue, lower high cholesterol and blood pressure, treat HIV and AIDS, stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and increase strength and stamina.

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How do you use reishi?

"You can take reishi on its own or mixed with other adaptogens. Other adaptogens will offer additional benefits that are different from just reishi alone, so it's also great to take a combination," says Allan.

For best absorption, take reishi in liquid, tea, or powder form. This will make it enter the digestive system quickly (rather than having to break down a capsule).

Reishi doesn't taste like the mushrooms you eat—it is still earthy, but has a more bitter and raw flavor. Though you can just mix some reishi powder into hot water, it might be hard to stomach that way. Instead, try adding it to tea that has other flavorings, or even a hot chocolate before bed. "Because it helps you relax, it will help you fall asleep naturally," says Allan, citing Purica's Zensations Evening Calm Cacao Mix with Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha, or Botanica's Reishi Hot Chocolate as her favorites before bedtime to help reset her sleep cycle.

If the taste bothers you, try capsules or pills, just know that they will take longer to absorb in your system. You could even try mixing it into flavorful soups and broths. However you use it, remember to read the labels on products you use, and make sure you choose the right dose and see how your body reacts before taking more.

What reishi products are best to try?

Allan has a handful of product suggestions to try, depending on your preferences for taking reishi:

Alyse Whitney
Alyse Whitney is a freelance food writer. Read more about Alyse
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