The Remarkable Reishi

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North Americans have only recently accepted mushrooms as part of the family of medicinal herbs. Now Canadian herbalist, Dr. Terry Willard says, in his opinion, the reishi mushroom is tops in the top group of herbal medicines. He calls it "a medical wonder--potent but gentle."

"We use it in the Wild Rose Health Centre (Vancouver and Alberta) in all treatment of cancer, AIDS, chronic fatigue, and allergic asthma," he says.

Reishi is known as the "wooden mushroom." It's a tree mushroom, a member of the genus ganoderma, and a close relative of the fungi you might see growing on an old log while walking in the Canadian woods; that's ganoderma applanantum. But reishi (ganoderma lucidum) is rare, even in the Orient, where it has been used medicinally for about 5,000 years, historically reserved only for the Emperor and his household. The hard, red fungus grows on dead wood and was hunted throughout the Orient, when it became scarce because of deforestation. It was cultivated by eager herbalists looking for royal favor.

It has since been the subject of years of scientific research in both China and Japan and has been proven to contain polysaccharides which assist the immune system to prevent tumors. Natural polysaccharides selectively attack malignant cells while stimulating the body's own defenses and may also help the immune system to recognize and attack harmful yeasts, bacteria, and viruses. Reishi is called an anti-oxidant. It contains ganoderic acis, a free-radical scavenger which discourages the release of histamines and helps the immune system combat allergy and autoimmune disease by increasing oxygen utilization. High blood pressure has been shown to improve with the use of reishi; it reduces blood fat levels; it acts on the nervous system to alleviate insomnia; and increases energy.

Terry Willard first encountered the "herb of spiritual potency" on a visit to China to learn the secrets of Oriental medicine. He subsequently found there has been considerable medical research done in North America and Europe as well as the Orient on the medicinal properties of ganodera licidum. Among other things he discovered that components of the mushroom known as triterpenes are responsible for several of its medicinal properties as well as for its bitter taste, and that the triterpenes--over 100 of them--give reishi its adaptogenic quality, normalizing the immune and circulatory systems, and "providing the person with protection from a wide range of biological, environmental, and social stresses."

Willard also discovered someone in British Columbia was growing and marketing the reishi mycelium--the vegetative mass from which the mushroom rises. Jeff Chilton is a mycologist and has been in the mushroom business for 17 years, but 17 years ago the only mushroom being grown was the common agaricus. He attended some of the yearly conferences of the Scientific Congress on the Cultivation of Edible Fungi held in different countries and became interested in other fungi, especially the medicinal properties of the reishi mushroom. He is now general manager of North American Reishi Ltd., a company that manufactures mushroom "adaptogens" and grows a pure reishi culture in his Roberts Creek, B.C. laboratory. He says he is actively selecting different strains of the mushroom for yield and potency.

Chilton grows the reishi mushroom for research purposes, but it's the mycelium product, not the mushroom itself, which is used in herbal preparations. The mycelium contains all the active ingredients of the mushroom and has a higher polysaccharide content. In China the mycellial culture is almost as common as the mushroom, grown in large vats under sterile conditions in pharmaceutical laboratories.

"The reishi mushroom is dry as wood," Chilton explains, "You can't eat it, and the chiton which forms the cell walls is indigestible."

Once the mycelium is mature it's ground to a fine powder that breaks down the cell walls and is made into an extract. It takes l0 pounds of mushroom mycelium to make one pound of extract. North American Reishi supplies this product to companies already established in the herbal market.

"We're one of the few suppliers in North America," Chilton says, "and the only non-Oriental supplier in Canada. But we have direct links with China and Taiwan. This helps keep us abreast of latest developments in medicinal mushrooms."

The reishi mushroom has a long history of use and a large body of scientific evidence to support claims for its medicinal qualities, but Chilton says, "We're a culture that lags far behind the rest of the world in appreciation of mushrooms, especially as medicine.

"Reishi has the potential to be as big as ginseng."

Recommended Reading from alive books

Reishi Mushroom by Terry Willard (sc) 167pp $21.95

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By Rhody Lake

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