Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article
Reishi mushroom refers to a grouping of Ganoderma species. Ling Zhi, the one most commonly used in TCM practice and most studied, is G. lucidum. Other Ganodermas are found world-wide and generally share the same energetics and uses. These include G. tsugae, G. japonicum or G. sinense, G. applanatum, G. oregonense, and G. capense. Many of these are distinguished in medicinal preparations and commerce by their color or similar properties, like the Red Reishi (G. lucidum) and the Black Reishi (G. japonicum or G. sinense), each with subtle emphasis in one area or another of Reishi’s general action. The tree or hardwood on which Reishi has grown adds another dimension to the subtleties of its medicine. Ling Zhi is generally a good guide to how the various Ganoderma species will likely influence a formula or condition.
Reishi, Ling Zhi as a Restorative in TCM
Ling Zhi has been used for centuries to build and restore Yin and Qi deficiency conditions. Its bland, sweet and bitter tastes offer a fairly neutral restorative effect that’s helpful in all but the most severe conditions. In addition, Ling Zhi is considered warming, nourishing, detoxifying, and disbursing. Folks who suffer from chronic fatigue, allergy and intolerance problems, and low immunity resulting in frequent illnesses or auto-immune conditions are Ling Zhi’s people. Ling Zhi’s effects are described as similar to those of Kava, in that it calms the nervous system and body and helps the musculature to relax while sharpening the mind and allowing one to function effectively once again. One of the beauties of Ling Zhi is that, except in the case of extreme excesses or extreme deficiencies, it’s generally safe and helpful as a daily tonic herb; most of us could take a light dose of Ling Zhi or Reishi every day for the whole of our lives and derive great benefits from it.
My own experience is folks who are deep into exhaustion states, particularly those that include oversensitivity of a severe enough nature to include disturbed sleep, being easily startled, or suffering from many panic attacks or severe anxiety, may find Ling Zhi overwhelming. One of the powerful aspects of Ling Zhi is that it helps us marshal the energy needed to make the changes we need to make to dissolve the stuck areas and stressors in our lives. In a system that’s not yet ready to move those obstacles, Ling Zhi can create more agitation than calm. When this happens, it’s wise to take a step back and focus on gently rebuilding until the body accepts Ling Zhi without causing increased nervous agitation.
Ling Zhi in Ayurveda Builds Pitta
When the body is ready, though, Ling Zhi is a master at helping us to dissolve the stuck areas and build the resiliency we need to thrive. From an Ayurvedic perspective, Ling Zhi would be described as a Pitta increasing herb that balances Vata and is relatively Kapha neutral to potentially mildly Kapha reducing. Ling Zhi helps stoke the digestive system and metabolism, the seat of Pitta, while it calms the nervous system (Vata energy) and helps to dissolve any tumors or similar tissue build-ups (Kapha moving or dissolving). Classic use of Ling Zhi includes pre-cancerous conditions, liver and general detoxification, immune support, and support to weakened lungs and heart. Conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, hypertension, insomnia, hepatitis, and gastric ulcers are among for which Ling Zhi has reportedly been used for 4,000 years or more.
Ling Zhi or Reishi Formulation Tips
Ling Zhi has a mildly drying effect. In formulation, it’s often accompanied by a slightly moistening herb or mushroom to counter-balance this tendency. Use the counter-balancing herb sparingly in all formulations and increase the proportion for folks who are particularly dry. I like to pair Ling Zhi with Shitake or Wood Ear fungus for rebuilding a depleted system. Together, they work to build Yin and Qi in general. When I’m aiming to work on a specific system or function, I partner them with an herb that will direct the healing energy toward that system. Usnea, for instance, is a good director for the respiratory system while Dandelion or Burdock can direct them toward the liver and metabolism and Astragalus directs them toward the immune system.
Ling Zhi or Reishi in Traditional Western Herbalism
From a Traditional Western Herbalism perspective, Ling Zhi is considered meaty and salty, according to Matthew Wood, and is indicated for atrophy and excitation. He also points to modern research that connects Reishi in general and Ling Zhi specifically with the adrenal cortex. The research shows that rather than an immune suppressing action, Ling Zhi boosts the adrenal cortex by offering mineralcorticoids that assist the adrenal glands in producing inflammatory compounds. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, by supporting the adrenal’s ability to produce inflammation, Ling Zhi helps the adrenal glands calm down overall and thus reduces overall inflammatory response. This dual action of calming over-excitement while building an atrophied or under-resourced system connects the tastes meaty and salty to Ling Zhi’s profile.
Taste and Ling Zhi or Reishi
In the Traditional Western Herbal system as well as in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the meaty taste is connected with building or tonic herbal action and salty is connected with mineralizing and building or tonic actions. Bland, a taste that is also often attributed to Ling Zhi as well as many other medicinal mushrooms, is like meaty, indicative of building or tonic action. Ling Zhi falls easily into these categories. When you taste a really good Ling Zhi tincture or decoction, you’ll likely describe it as predominately bitter rather than bland. The flavor is almost charred, like that of a flame-cooked burger or portabella mushroom, with hints of the wood on which it grew. It’s anything but sweet or bland, yet those tastes describe Ling Zhi’s actions and energetics well. If you let it linger on your tongue, you may experience a bland sweetness at the very end as the bitter flavor clears, but most definitely they won’t be the dominant flavor.
Reishi Mushroom-Fungus Blend for Allergy Reduction
I’ve used this simple tincture blend to support recovery from Hay Fever Season. It’s effective for folks who suffer from allergies that affect the respiratory system specifically, although you can make a simple substitution to direct the formula to other allergy-prone areas, like the digestive system. Remove Usnea and replace it with an herb that has a strong affinity for the system you want to support. To help reduce food intolerances, for instance, you could direct the formula toward the liver and Kidneys using Burdock root or Gobo Root. If auto-immune problems are at the heart of the allergies you’re working on, consider adding one part Astragalus root decoction to the formula.
You can make this formula using either a double-extraction tincture or a simple decoction. If you choose the decoction, use approximately one ounce (29 g) for each part herb and use 1.5 quarts (1.4 L) water. Simmer the decoction for at least a couple of hours, keeping it under a bubbling boil, and reduce the total volume by about a third. This gives you enough for approximately three days for an average-sized adult (approximately 150 pounds or 68 kg). Keep the decoction in the refrigerator after you’ve strained it.
If you use tinctures, blend the formula in one bottle and use 2-4 droppers full (20-80 drops) up to three times a day for an average-sized adult (150 pounds or 68 kg)
Formula for Reishi Respiratory Blend
1 part Reishi or Ling Zhi
1 part Shitake mushroom
1 part Usnea lichen
.5 part Black Fungus or Marshmallow root (optional, helpful if very dry or when the mucous membrane is strongly aggravated)