It's well known that mushrooms pack a punch when it comes to nutrition. Most mushrooms are filled with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins. But mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes—and each comes with its own set of unique health benefits. One mushroom that's been gaining attention recently is the reishi mushroom, or linghzi, as they're sometimes called (Ganoderma lucidum). Reishi mushrooms have long been touted as the king of mushrooms in Chinese medicine, and they're most often grown in Asia.
Reishi mushrooms are a reddish-orange color and grow in a fan-like shape. Unlike portobellos or shiitakes, however, reishis aren't typically tossed straight into a stir-fry, flatbread, or omelet. The taste is rather bitter and woodsy, and the texture is tough, so you'll often find these mushrooms in a more easily consumable powdered form.
These mushrooms have been around for centuries, so why the sudden attention? With a rise in interest in functional medicine and a growing curiosity in the advantages of adaptogens (which may help our bodies adapt to stress), it's no wonder this medicinal fungus is garnering more notice in the U.S. While more studies are needed to fully prove the full range of health benefits, here's how reishi mushrooms show health promise, according to preliminary research and RDs.
Reishi Mushroom Benefits
Although many of the studies on reishi mushrooms have been done in a lab or with animals, preliminary research suggests there may be a correlation between these mushrooms and immune-boosting properties. "Interest in health and disease prevention is at the forefront of everyone's minds, especially with COVID-19 concerns," says Kimberly Glen, RN. "People are especially looking for ways to support their immune system, and reishi mushrooms have claims of boosting immunity."
Reishi mushrooms are said to contain a good amount of antioxidants, which "protect the cells in our bodies against DNA damage caused by free radicals or oxidative stress that we encounter everyday—from normal metabolic processes like breathing to exposure to pollution and carcinogens," Glen says.
Potential Brain and Mood Boost
"There's also initial research that suggests [reishi mushrooms] could be good for fatigue, cognition, and brain health," says DJ Blatner, RDN, author of Superfood Swap, but more evidence is needed to substantiate this.
Blood Sugar Balance
"Some preliminary studies have shown that the polysaccharides and triterpenes in reishi may help balance blood sugar levels," says Glen.
Some other claims include that reishis boost energy levels and mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and balance hormones, help aid with heart health, prevent signs of aging and reduce blood pressure, but again, more studies are needed.
Tips for Buying and Eating Reishi Mushrooms
With all of the potential benefits, reishi mushrooms may be something you want to consider adding into your diet. Glen notes that much of what's sold isn't regulated, so you should "always talk to your doctor before adding a new supplement into your diet."
When looking for the right thing to buy, "first, make sure they're organic and harvested from a trusted source," Glen advises. "Look for products that say 100 percent reishi mushrooms without mycelium (a grain-based additive that often improves the taste, but isn't reishi)."
You'll also often find this mushroom in powdered form (sometimes mixed with other mushrooms), dried, as in a tea, in a capsule, or even mixed into hot cocoa or protein bars as an ingredient. "The recommended dose is about 3 grams, or a half teaspoon," Blatner says. "So a little goes a long way."
If you decide to give cooking with this mushroom a try, you might want to find ways to help mask or complement its earthy, bitter profile. "Understand this isn't just a tasty succulent mushroom," Blatner says. She suggests using the dried mushrooms to make a broth for a soup or ramen dish, since these mushrooms add rich umami flavor.
To sneak it into your diet and fully mask the flavor, you can add reishi mushroom powder into hot chocolate, coffee, or even chocolate bark.
The Bottom Line
There's no doubt that many mushrooms contain vast health benefits, and there's promise that reishi can as well, with more studies needed to fully corroborate its current health claims.
"Remember that one 'superfood' alone cannot solve our diet problems or make us 'healthy,' especially one that hasn't been proven yet," Glen says. "It's the sum of all the efforts we put into our bodies: balanced nutrition, adequate hydration, sleep, physical activity, and stress reduction."