With Red Reishi being a renowned powerhouse supplement, the demand fuels the competition of reishi product manufacturing. However, unlike most herbs, the active ingredients in reishi are very volatile and delicate, so every step from cultivation to quality control during the manufacturing process is extremely critical to retaining the concentrated essence. The following are 3 important factors to look out for when selecting reishi products:
The first and foremost factor is to choose the right species. There are over 80 different species of Ganoderma, and the species that we use in TCM is Ganoderma Lucidum, which is primarily found in the wild in east Asia. As previously mentioned in my farm to table posts, a proper farming environment is crucial to cultivating potent medicinal reishi. Many producers do not use the natural wood-log method, nor do they allow the mushroom to mature and develop before harvesting, hence creating subpar products.
Many reishi supplements promote the use of the mycelium (root-like structure) or the spores instead of the fruiting body, and although they may contain valuable substances, they are absent of many compounds found in the fruiting body. For instance, the ganoderic acids, a substance that benefits the liver, heart, and kidneys, are only existent in the fruiting body. Although spores can also contain triterpenoids, it is practically indigestible in the human digestive tract, and therefore it cannot be absorbed by the body.
Like any revered substance, its “holiness” is often exploited by less-than-stellar quality products, which often end up in containing little to no active compounds as the manufacturing process is not up to par in efficiently retaining the potency of the herb. Therefore, it is important to select a brand with proper certification and a clean reputation in the expertise of creating reishi products.
After understanding how reishi is cultivated sustainably, let’s talk about how this mushroom should be consumed to yield its full effects. Because Reishi is always dry-preserved after harvest, the traditional consumption method is to break up the herb into pieces, decoct it for several hours (often double boiling) and then drink the soup. This is however a very unappetizing way to consume as the active ingredients of reishi are very bitter in nature, and can be off-putting to many.
Fortunately, as technology advances, reishi extracts are now readily available in the form of essence powder. Similar to how herbal granules are produced, the extraction process begins by cutting up the fungus and processing it with the hot water extraction method. A simplified version of this method is boiling the herbs in hot water for several hours until all the active ingredients are extracted. The solution is then reduced to a highly concentrated powder.
The concentrated powder can either be used by TCM practitioners or is then encapsulated for those who do not prefer the bitter taste. It is important to note that high quality reishi products will only contain essense of a mature fruiting body of reishi that has undergone hot water extraction. Without breaking down this herb, your body is unable to absorb the active ingredients. There are many product in the market that offer reishi alternatives but they are not all equal in quality.
The most significant factor in which made Red Reishi a highly valuable herb was due to its scarcity in the wild, and its difficulty in propagating through traditional farming. Reishi requires a very particular environment to grow well, and under unpredictable natural circumstances, the mushroom is almost never in abundance even during harvest.
Fortunately, with the advances made by reishi pioneers, like Fumimaru Mayuzumi, it has allowed us to properly and consistently cultivate Reishi mushrooms at at its maximum potency of essential nutrients. This method pioneered by Mayuzumi, is known as natural wood-log cultivation.
This method is first accomplished by grafting the fungi onto aged oak wood-logs and covered with nutrient-rich topsoil, mimicking its natural growing medium. The logs are placed inside the greenhouse with a sanitized irrigation system, with constant monitoring of temperature, light, and humidity, as well as ensuring ventilation and partial shade from sunlight. It is adamant to note that no agricultural chemicals or pesticides are used to allow harmless insects and weed to live, recreating what would be normally seen in the wild. After the reishi spores break out from the cap of the fruiting body and coat the soil reddish-brown, the mature reishi fungi are ready to be harvested, carefully hand-cut and collected.
Thanks to Mayuzumi and his research team for their efforts in establishing this cultivation method, we now have direct access to high quality Red Reishi products.
As we continue the conversation on immune boosting, I’d like to also introduce an prestigious adaptogenic herb that has been used for centuries in TCM as a tonic, the Reishi mushroom. Due to its scarcity in the wild, it is traditionally referred to as the “divine herb”, and folktales of its immortality were widespread. According to classical texts, Reishi is divided into five different types, each colour resembling one of the five elements. I will cover Red Reishi in this post as it is most commonly used today:
Red reishi tastes bitter and is neutral in property, with the following functions:
Releases chest stagnation & benefits heart Qi – It’s red colour and bitter taste determines its benefits in the heart, and replenishing the emperor organ’s Qi will improve circulation in the cardiopulmonary system, hence unblocking any stagnation. Studies have also shown reishi’s benefits in treating respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses.
Tonifies middle & benefits essence – By tonifying Qi in the middle jiao and replenishing the body’s essence, this allows the herb to replenish all the vital organs responsible for our immunity. This function is also reflected in the fact that the beta glucans in reishi act as a prime immunostimulant to prevent infections, and that its adaptogenic qualities aid in battling fatigue.
Calms mind & increases wisdom – Last but not least, reishi is well known for its stress alleviating properties, which is illustrated in this function. Moreover, the herb is shown to be effective in preventing memory loss in Alzheimer’s as well as treating depression.
Have you ever experienced the queasy sensation in the stomach, the constant belching, or the runs when you are under stress? These are typical scenarios illustrating the relationship between our stress levels and gastrointestinal function. In TCM, we often refer to this as “Liver & Spleen/Stomach Disharmony”, meaning that the Qi in the liver is stagnant, while the Qi in the middle is deficient. This will often manifest as symptoms of fatigue, hypochondriac pain, nausea, belching, sighing, bloating, diarrhea, or epigastric/abdominal pain.
When we treat this disharmony, we usually focus on soothing the liver and replenishing the middle jiao, and most of the herbs we select are coincidentally strong adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs function to help the body better adapt to environments that are stressful for the body and regulate homeostasis, and are commonly used in naturopathic remedies and western herbology.
In relation to TCM, most adaptogenic herbs are either middle Qi tonics or liver Qi regulators, such as chai hu (bupleurum), gui zhi (cinnamon twig), huang qi (astragalus), bai zhu (atractylodes), ling zhi (reishi), ren shen (ginseng), gan cao (licorice root), and wu wei zi (schisandra berry). Therefore, it is conclusive to say that, in order to better manage stress and prevent physical damage, it is crucial to keep your spleen/stomach happy and strong, while ensuring your liver Qi is continuously flowing unobstructedly!
In the unprecedented times of the pandemic, immunity has been the talk of town across the globe. From professional advice to casual topics amongst friends and family, everyone is trying to find ways to strengthen their immune system in hopes of not becoming a victim of the virus. However, as I always say, understand what you are dealing with before blindly following advice, so let’s first look at how our immune system functions from a TCM standpoint.
In TCM, immunity is translated into the theory of the battle between righteous and pathogenic Qi. Righteous Qi is the energy that runs in our organs and meridians, which is what keeps our defenses up, while pathogenic Qi is any type of energy that throws our body out of balance. Hence, when our righteous Qi is strong, we have a strong enough army to fend off any type of pathogens that are trying to invade. On the contrary, when our righteous Qi is weak, practically any pathogen can launch a successful siege on our body.
In terms of organs, our immunity is dependent on the lungs, spleen & stomach, and kidneys. If our immune system is like an army, the lungs’ respiratory components make up the frontline general and fortress walls, the spleen and stomach’s digestive function becomes the supply base, and the kidneys’ storage of original Qi is the country’s treasury. In order for the army to be strong, these organs must be functioning in optimal condition, so it is pertinent to supplement them when boosting immunity.