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Reishi, an adaptogen to support the Heart

ganoderma_lucidum BPotD

Reishi is the Japanese name for Ganoderma lucidum, a mushroom known as Ling zhi in Chinese medicine. Similar species are found from the Amazon rain forest to the Arctic and have similar tonic uses. The mushroom is known to be powerful and features in myths about raising warriors from the dead. While it lacks that specific property, the mushroom is used for everything from increasing blood quality to treating cancer. Mycelial extracts done well on wooded substrates have similar to superior healing characteristics to those of the whole mushroom according to mycologist Paul Stamets. Nonetheless the mushroom itself excites users, with its antler or mushroom forms and red shiny surface.

The ganodermas (black G. lucidum, red G. lucidum, G. oregonense, G. tsuga, G. adspersum and G. applanatum) are tonic, immune strengthening, protect against cancer, have anti-tumor properties, calm the spirit, protect and clear heat from the central nervous system, open the heart, lower serum cholesterol and are good for adrenal fatigue and for depression and anxiety. They enter all five zang organs. They have anti-allergic effects, inhibiting histamine production and stabilizing immunoglobulin levels. They lower blood pressure, are antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial. Combining with astragalus, atractylodes and Ren shen increase phagocytosis, promote immune globulin formation, promote lymphocyte transformation, and induce the generation of interferon. Chinese mountain climbers use Ling zhi to alleviate altitude sickness by oxygenating the blood.Hokkaido_Reishi's_Deer_Horn_Shape_Reishi

I learned from a Thai doctor with a cancer practice, Santi Rosswong, to make a water decoction of Ganoderma lucidum (Ling zhi) with 10% cordyceps [Dong chong xia cao] for stamina. But since the polysaccharides in ganoderma are quite long, it has been shown to be more effective if the decoction is taken with not less than 500 mg of vitamin C, and 5 mg of folic acid each time. (The vitamin C is based upon Japanese research by Morishige and the folic acid is based upon Santi’s clinical experience.) Take several tablespoons (or more) every three hours. The most important dose is just before retiring, which should be larger. Take the folic acid and vitamin C with each dose.

There are two types of tinctures. One uses a concentrated decoction and adds alcohol to stabilize it. When I make it, I learned from Chris Hobbs to shoot for 25% alcohol to protect the polysaccharides, to ensure that I got between 22% and 28%, the lower number for spoilage and the upper number being a maximum for the polysaccharide protection. This appears to be the best formulation for immune system effects. The other way is to use a high alcohol formation to get the triperetenes, but I understand that this destroys the polysaccharides and differs significantly from the constituents extracted in traditional uses or from powdered extracts. It may have stronger CNS effects however. I know several herbalists who make a high alcohol tincture and add it to the subsequently decocted marc to get the best of both (and they understand that the high alcohol just makes the polysaccharides clump together on the side of the tincturing vessel but does not destroy them). There is not a consensus.

Ling zhi has various steroidal compounds, long chain polysaccharides, bitter triperetenes such as ganodermic acid and some volatile oils. Unlike Echinacea which activates macrophages, ganoderma is not believed to stimulate the immune system directly. It is probably an immune regulator rather than an immune stimulant. Ling zhi mushrooms get to the bone marrow and induce the marrow to put on more nucleated marrow cell mass, according to Jia. The marrow then increases B-cell production, which in turn increases antibodies. The DNA and RNA made in the bone marrow increases production of lymphocytes. This very deep immune nourishing means that it may be appropriate for AIDS patients although the patient should not suffer from undue dampness. For cancer therapy, combined with other fu zheng herbs, Ling zhi can be quite useful, even for patients undergoing chemo and radiation. Hobbs recommends low dose decocted ganoderma with cinnamon bark and orange peel as a tonic drink (for those not suffering from undue dampness) and I find that preparation, with roasted dandelion or chicory, combines well with coffee, helping neutralize coffee’s negative effects.

(Karen S Vaughan, adapted from Chinese Herbal Academy post 8-26-2000)

Reishi on log
Reishi on log

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How to tincture medicinal mushroooms

Lingzhi or Reishi
Ganoderma, also known as Lingzhi or Reishi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Medicinal mushrooms are in great demand because of their adaptogenic effects and their actions against cancer. They improve the immune system, balance the hormones of the HPA axis, are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, tonify the heart, protect the liver and soothe the nerves.

Taking them in an effective way is not so easy.  Eating  medicinal mushrooms like shitake or maitake doesn’t release the medicinal value (except perhaps the Vitamin D.)

If you want to take them as a tea (decoction) you need to simmer them for at least an hour to separate the medicine from the chitin. (Yes mushrooms have chitin, like sea shells.) This is the traditional way used in Chinese medicine.  Chris Hobbs suggests keeping a pot warm on the back burner at all times, periodically adding water, astragalus, cinnamon and orange peel so you only need to make it every few weeks. Cooking herbs daily can be a bit much and decoctions only last a few days in the refrigerator but it works and I have used this kind of decoction to make ganoderma coffee.

Tinctures  or liquid extracts are portable, let you taste them which makes them more effective than capsules, but are not simple to make.  You can’t just soak the  mushrooms, either fresh or dried in alcohol. The chitin still locks up the medicine.  The most important fractions of the medicine are polysaccharides like beta􀀁-Glucens or Mannogalactoglucan which don’t survive even medium levels of alcohol.

Polysaccharides clump together when exposed to alcohol and become inert. Below 30% the alcohol is not strong enough to percipitate out the polysaccharides.  The triterpenes like Ganoderic Acid in reishi are also medicinally important and require a high alcohol percentage to be extracted. So to get the most medicine, you need to follow a two step process and combine them with 25-20% alcohol to make a liquid extract.

For 250 grams, slightly over 1/2 pound of mushrooms you will want to make 1 1/4 liters of liquid extract.  It will be 30% grain alcohol or 375 ml and  875 ml of decoction.

The first stage is to decoct the the given weight of dried mushrooms in Cordyceps militaris shotswater. You need to simmer below a boil for at least an hour after they rehydrate, longer is better. The bigger the mushroom chunks the longer- Chinese herbal pharmacies sell reishi in thin slices which I usually spin in the Vitamix., but before I had access to those I would chunk as small as possible then run in the Vitamix mid cooking when the mushroom was a little softer. Chaga can be obtained through Mainley Chaga in a coffee grind (but for the medicine decoct it- don’t just run through your coffee maker!)  If you wildcraft, slice thinly before the mushroom dries and dry it gill side up in the sun for maximum Vitamin D.

Start with your ground dry mushrooms. Cover with water and let it absorb.  Add more water so the mushroom chunks can freely swim.  Cover and simmer for an hour or overnight.  Strain and squeeze out, measure the decoction in a Pyrex container to see if you have enough, 875 ml in this example, and cook down the decoction to the quantity you need or top up with water. Freeze until the tincture is ready. (Squeeze it out really well.)

Take the strained out marc (which has had most polysaccharides removed) and add Everclear/ grain alcohol to get the triterpenes. For 250 gr mushrooms use 275 mililiters of Everclear. (Because the mushroom pieces will have absorbed water, you need less alcohol than if you were to tincture in alcohol directly and lose the absorbed alcohol.) Store in a dark place for 1-3 months, shaking perodically and strain out really well, squeezing the spongy marc.  Mix the finished tincture with the defrosted decoction very slowly, stirring well to get a 30% alcohol level.

(Some just stabilize the decoction with plain 95% grain alcohol but it won’t be as strong. You can also use two batches of mushrooms, one for alcohol and one for decoction in water. You need 7 parts decoction to 3 parts Everclear tincture. It will cost more and you will need more Everclear but it is convenient.)

Ganoderma 3 You can also find Chinese dried granules to rehydrate with warm water, but it won’t have the triterpenes.  These can be combined with other Chinese herbs in a formula, although I find granule formulas somewhat less effective than raw herb formulas.  (They are convenient however.) And Mushroom Harvest makes a well-done steamed granule that you can put into smoothies.  If you purchase tinctures call the company that makes them and find out how they make the tincture- there is a lot of inert or very weak medicinal mushroom tincture out there.  You can do better by following these instructions.

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