Oh, my heart. I love mushroom medicine and magic mycelium. Reishi was the first plant medicine I ever made, the doorway for me into working with other plants and methods. I first encountered it in 2013, in my first semester studying Chinese herbology, in which Reishi (ganoderma lucidum) is Líng Zhī, and falls under the ‘Calm Spirit’ category in the pharmacopoeia. It has not only an emotionally comforting function, but an impressive amount of immune boosting power and is used by contemporary herbalists working with cancer and chemotherapy patients. Reishi’s immune power comes from its activation of the thymus gland, which lives inside the chest, beneath the breastbone, resting on the pericardium – the membrane which encloses and protects the heart. (In the image on the right, the number 2 is pointing to the thymus.) The thymus is a baffling organ to me, because it is a primary organ of the lymphoid system, a primary producer of T cells which are our body’s primary defence against disease – but it loses about 75% of its mass throughout our lives through atrophy, and has lost much of its original weight by the time we are in young adulthood. I don’t understand why this wonderful organ starts to disintegrate so early on in our lives. Maybe someone who knows can tell me. [SUCCESS!]
When Reishi’s medicine stimulates the thymus, increasing its weight and functioning by bringing blood to the chest, it also brings blood to the Heart and Lungs (you can feel this warmth in your chest when you take a dose). In Chinese medicine, many of the symptoms of a Mind ill-at-ease, including insomnia, anxiety, and palpitations, relate to the Heart not having enough blood – Reishi brings peacefulness because it brings Blood. It also increases lymphocytes, monocytes, phagocytes and macrophages, and stimulates interleukin 1 and 2. It is an antitumor agent, and is active against various viruses. [Source: see Stephen Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics.] These properties may be the reason why it was given the name Reishi, which is Japanese for ‘ten-thousand-year-mushroom’, because it has also been used for its ability to boost longevity. Many mushrooms are excellent for immune support. Following the doctrine of signatures, this may be because they grow out of death. Mushroom spores sprout out of old, dead wood and plant matter, demonstrating in their habitat their ability to transform death into new growth. The largest batch I made this year took me two afternoons on either side of the Scorpio Full Moon (also the day Prince died). It felt good to make the medicine in reverent mourning under a moon whose specialty is death and new beginnings.
As a constant medicine-cabinet companion, if taken right at the start of feeling a little run down, double-extracted Reishi can stop a virus or infection in its tracks. But research also shows it is a hard-hitter for major diseases (including cancer, liver disease, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, antibiotic-resistant viruses, lung conditions, kidney disease, and chronic fatigue).
As with all immune supporting herbs, only take them when you need them, and never for more than three months’ continuous use at a time.