Common Name: Ling Chi, Reishi, Varnished Conk, Ling Zhi, Ling Chih, Mannentake
Scientific Name: Ganoderma lucidum
This shelf-fungus has a shiny (varnished) appearance, and it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2,000 years! Fruiting Body: 0.8-13.8 inches (2-35 cm) wide and 1.6-3.1 inches (4-8 cm) thick and it is usually fan or kidney-shaped. The growing edge is whitish, and it yellows and turns reddish-brown when it matures. It is a polypore mushroom, so it has pores on the underside of the cap instead of gills. It is found in tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate climates all around the world on a large variety of trees, but prefers warmer-climate, deciduous, hardwood trees (especially oak and maple). There has not been nearly as much outdoor, small-scale cultivation as there is commercial, large-scale cultivation, but it has growing requirements similar to Shiitake, so it should be considered in your Permaculture designs and Forest Gardens.
Closely Related Species (There are a number of closely related species that are found around the world. Defining species is difficult with fungi because they can have such similar characteristics, but is slowly becoming more clear with DNA analysis. The following fungi are the more common similar species found in North America. They likely have similar medicinal properties, but no reliable information/studies can be found):
- Ganoderma curtisii: smaller, orchre to whitish or only a partly reddish cap, found in eastern and southeastern North America.
- Ganoderma tsugae: very similar, all white flesh, only grows on conifers, especially Hemlock, found in northern North America.
- Ganoderma oregonense: larger with larger pores as well, found in Oregon, Washington, and California (prefers cooler climates).
Mushroom Niche: Decomposer and/or Parasitic. The researchers are still trying to decide, although it appears that this mushroom may be what is called a “facultative parasite”. This means the Reishi mushroom may just be an opportunist… if it can survive on a living tree as a parasite, it will do it… if the tree dies, it will live on it as a decomposer… if the fungus is only given decaying wood to grow, it will be fine as living its entire life as a decomposer.
Natural Culture Medium: Stumps, logs, and occasionally from the ground on buried roots.
Reishi has been used for at least 2,000 years in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and became so revered that it is the most commonly rendered mushroom in the art of ancient China, Japan, and Korea – no other mushroom comes close. This mushroom, or other very closely related species, are found all over the globe. Today, it is intentionally grown more often than harvested from the wild, but it is still used primarily as a medicine.
- Ling Zhi means “tree of life mushroom (herb)” in Chinese.
- Reishi means “divine” or “spiritual mushroom” in Japanese.
- Mannentake means “10,000-year mushroom” or “mushroom of immortality” in Japanese as well.
- If the mushrooms are dried in the sun, the natural ergocalciferols (considered vitamin D “provitamins”) are converted into Vitamin D2 which is readily absorbed by the human body.
- The stalk of this mushroom can be quite long or almost entirely absent. It depends on the growing conditions, one major factor is the amount of carbon dioxide present during growth.
- Long-stalked mushrooms are highly valued. They occur in nature more often when growing in cavities of a fallen tree.
- The cap is most commonly reddish-brown, but can be almost black, purple, blue, yellow, or almost entirely white. These color variations may represent closely related species, but they could just be various forms of the same species. We are awaiting more DNA testing to know for sure. It does appear that the red form has the most health benefits, but there are limited studies to show this.
- While almost all Reishi is prepared with hot water or alcohol extraction methods, the very thin white margin (not the bitter yellowed part) can be cooked and eaten when fresh. These “Reishi Tips” are reported to have a meaty taste/texture, but I have yet to try them.
General “Mushroom” Vocabulary
- Mushroom – lay-person term for the spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus
- Fruiting-body – what is commonly called a “mushroom”… the spore-bearing reproductive structure of a fungus. I will use the term mushroom from here on because that is how what the average person understands.
- Spore – the reproductive unit. Typically only one microscopic cell. We can consider it like a mushroom “seed”.
- Hyphae – microscopic, filamentous (thread-like) strand that is the vegetative part of the fungus. It grows from the spore.
- Mycelium (mycelia is plural) – a mass of hyphae. These will develop a fruiting body to reproduce (release spores).
- Spawn – material that contains actively growing hyphae of the fungus. Spawn can be used to inoculate the desired culture substrate (logs, branches, stumps, sawdust, etc.) for people to produce a crop of fruiting bodies/mushrooms
- Stipe – the stem/stalk of the fruiting body/mushroom
- Pileus – the cap or cap-like structure on top of the stem that supports the spore bearing surface
- Lamella – the gills (aka ribs) on the undersurface of some fruiting bodies/mushrooms
- Pores – spongy material with “holes” in it on the undersurface of some fruiting bodies/mushrooms… some mushrooms have these instead of gills
USING THIS MUSHROOM
- Medicinal – There are a number of ways to prepare Reishi (see below). Of all the medicinal mushrooms, even though many of the claims are often overblown, Reishi seems to have the most history and evidence to support it being a medically active. There are dozens of scientific/medical journal articles detailing how this mushroom is effective in improving the human immune system. It settles down the overexpression of the immune system (provides relief from bronchitis, asthma, and seasonal allergies). It settles down inflammatory reactions (improves arthritis and prostate symptoms and atherosclerotic disease). But it also enhances the functions/elements of the immune system that fight off infections, tumors, and cancers. It is a very strong antioxidant, hence its anti-aging reputation. It has direct antimicrobial properties, and can lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and can even slow down blood clotting. These last few properties need to be considered if a person has or is taking medication for high blood pressure, diabetes, or blood clots/bleeding disorders. If you have any medical problems or are taking any prescription medications, as a physician, I have to recommend that you talk with a trusted medical provider before consuming this mushroom as a medicinal, although it appears to be very safe.
- Used as a “health” component in teas, candies (chocolates!), energy bars, energy drinks, coffees, beers, wine, etc.
- Art and craft pieces. Some of these pieces have been passed down in families for generations.
- Typical dose is 3-5 grams per day. Keep in mind the weight of the mushrooms you start with and the volume of liquid you end up with – this will give you the final concentration of your extract. You can then dose accordingly.
- Decoction (aka “Hot Water Extraction”) – This is the most common method of consuming this mushroom. One can use fresh mushrooms, but dried mushrooms are used most frequently.
- Fresh Mushroom Decoction: break the mushroom into pieces, boil in water for 60 minutes, let steep for 30 minutes, strain, and use. If the lid is kept off the boiling pot, the extract will become more concentrated.
- Dried Mushroom Decoction: Dried pieces of mushroom are placed into almost boiling water and simmered for 2 hours. If the lid is kept off the boiling pot, the extract will become more concentrated. Some sourced recommend grinding the dried mushroom, and others recommend just breaking into very small pieces. After the liquid has cooled enough, the mushrooms can be squeezed to extract more liquid. Some people with take repeat the process again using the same mushrooms in a second decoction. This ensures all the “goodness” is extracted from the mushrooms.
- Alcohol Extraction (Tincture): Take a jar of fresh Reishi or a half jar of dried Reishi (the dried mushrooms will expand) and add alcohol to fill the jar to the top. Use 100 proof alcohol – vodka is a good choice as it really has no flavor. Put the top on the jar and let it sit for 6-8 weeks. Then strain the mushrooms and save the alcohol – this is your alcohol extraction, a.k.a. “tincture”. The mushrooms can then be used again in a decoction, as outlined above. This is known as a double extraction. The alcohol and hot water extracts are combined and used (called a double extraction tincture).
- Elixir – the mushroom is soaked in wine for several months to create an elixir. This elixir can be used straight or mixed into candies, especially chocolates. Note that there are many ways to make an elixir; this is just one method.
- The extracts are bitter, so add them sparingly in teas or other drinks or liquids (soups, sauces, etc.)
- Alcohol extracts can last for up to 2 years. Water extracts last significantly less time, but they can be frozen in ice cube trays for easy use in the future.
Yield: Variable. Yields on stumps or logs are reported as averaging 1-2 lbs (0.45-0.9 kg) per year
Harvesting: The size of the cap is greatly dependent on the diameter of the log or stump on which it was grown. Mature mushrooms have a thinned cap, and the light-colored margin is not present (and has not been present for a few weeks). This is the perfect time for harvest.
Wild Harvest: NOTE: BE VERY SURE OF THE MUSHROOM YOU HARVEST FROM THE WILD! Fruiting runs from Summer through early Autumn. Make sure to harvest the recent year’s Reishi. Older Reishi don’t contain anywhere near the medicinal quality. Reishi with a white ridge means they are still growing. Remember their location and harvest them a few weeks to months later. Reishi from last year or older will be significantly darker and will be showing signs of rot.
Storage: Can be used fresh, but most people dry them. Some people have elaborate drying set ups. Some use an Excaliber dehydrator. Some use solar dehydrators. We can consider exposing the mushrooms to the sun for a bit first which will increase the Vitamin D2 content. Dried Reishi will store well for years.
CULTIVATING THIS MUSHROOM
Cultivation Substrate: Logs, stumps, bundles of sticks, blocks of sawdust and/or woodchips. Primarily on hardwood, deciduous trees. Grows on maple, oaks, elms, beech, birch, alder, willow, sweetgum, magnolia, locust, and plum, but will likely grow on many other woods as well.
- Logs are ideally harvested from live, healthy trees in winter when there are a lot of stored carbohydrates. Diameter 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) and length 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters), although length is really based on what can be easily handled. Bark is left intact. Inoculation of the logs should take place 2-4 weeks after cutting to allow enough time for the natural anti-fungals to break down but not enough time for other fungi to start colonization.
- Logs can be inoculated in a traditional manner… placing new logs next to logs/stumps that are currently growing Reishi so that the new logs become infected.
- Logs can be inoculated with hardwood plugs which are themselves already inoculated with Reishi spawn.
- Hardwood sticks can be tightly bundled together and treated as a log. I have not seen any specifics for inoculation of the bundles, but I imagine that the bundles could be covered with inoculated sawdust or the larger sticks may take an inoculated plug. Placing the bundles next to currently growing logs should also work.
- Tightly packed bags of sterilized sawdust or sawdust/woodchip combination are also inoculated and commonly used.
- Inoculated wood chips are even used in glass jars to grow Reishi.
- Hardwood Plugs – dowels inoculated with mushroom spawn that are hammered in holes (typically 5/16 inch diameter, about an inch deep, and about 2 inches apart) drilled in logs, branches, or stumps.
- Grain or Sawdust Spawn – these are sometimes available for purchase.
- In Vitro Culture – pure mycelium in petri dishes… used by more advanced growers.
Incubation of Logs:
- Inoculated logs can be treated as Shiitake logs. Stack logs close together for the first two months. This helps conserve moisture. If the logs become too dry, then constant watering or soaking for 48 hrs is needed. Allow for good air circulation between the logs. Providing shade (50-75% depending on local conditions) will help keep the moisture balance correct.
- Short logs can also be put into a garden pot which is then filled with sand or gravel to keep the log upright. About 1/4 to 1/3 of the log itself is covered with the sand/gravel. The entire log, sand/gravel, and pot can be watered if needed. The sand/gravel helps stabilize temperatures and moisture.
- Logs can also be laid down horizontally and entirely buried (shallow) in sawdust or sand or soil. The mushroom (fruiting body) will grow up through the covering material, and the covering material will stabilize temperature and moisture.
FRUITING CONDITIONS FOR THIS MUSHROOM
Fruiting Temperature: Typically needs warmer weather (60-95 F/15.5-35 C), and so fruiting often occurs in Summer to early Autumn.
Induction of Fruiting: Typically needs sustained moisture for a few days before fruiting begins. Bark can be dry but the wood underneath should be moist. This can occur with seasonal rains or with watering by us.
- Time to Begin Fruiting: 6 months to 2 years. A 6-month old inoculated log can be induced to fruit with watering.
- Years to Maximum Fruiting: 1-2 years
- Years of Useful Life: Varies on the density of the wood (oak is very dense), the thickness of the log, and the conditions in which the mushroom substrate is kept, but 4-5 years of annual harvesting is common.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR THIS MUSHROOM
- Some people may develop dry mouth, nose, or throat when consuming this mushroom. This is not common.
- Some people may develop nosebleeds or blood in the stool after consuming this mushroom. This is not common.
- People with low blood pressure may consider avoiding this mushroom, and people on high blood pressure medications need to be careful that their blood pressure doesn’t get too low.
- People with low platelets (thrombocytopenia) or other blood clotting disorders or on “blood thinners” (typically because they had a blood clot or previous heart attack or stroke) should consult their healthcare provider before taking this medication as Reishi can interfere with normal clotting.
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