How to boost your immune system with herbs – Reishi
Eight Herbs for the Immune System
Common Names: Reishi, which is the Japanese name for the plant, has become the most common name for the herb in the West.
Properties of Reishi
Spleen and thymus tonic
As an immune stimulant, reishi stimulates interleukin 1 and 2, phagocytosis, and lymphocyte proliferation, enhances natural killer cells, activates macrophages, enhances polymorphonuclear leukocytes, protects and enhances T cells, enhances thymus weight and functioning, stimulates gamma-interferon production. As an antitumor agent, it also reduces the proliferation of tumor cells and inhibits tumor necrosis factor. And as an antiviral, it’s been shown to be active against numerous viruses, including HBV and HIV.
Herb shops everywhere, the Internet, or you can grow your own fairly easily—try Fungi Perfecti (www.fungi.com), which sells easy-to-use starter kits.
Species Used: There are 80 or maybe 250 species of ganoderma (taxonomy is a science?). A number of them are used medicinally. The primary medicinal is considered to be Ganoderma lucidum but G. luteum, G. tsugae, G. applanatum, G. australe, G. capense, G. tropicum, G. tenue, and G. sinense are also used.
In the Chinese system all are considered to possess slightly different effects. The mushrooms are grouped, medicinally, by their color. Blue (sour) is considered to improve eyesight and liver function and calm the nerves; red (bitter) is considered the most medicinally potent, and aids internal organs, improves memory, enhances vitality; yellow (sweet) strengthens spleen function, calms the spirit; white (hot) improves lung function, gives courage and strong will; black (salty) protects the kidneys; and purple (sweet) enhances function of the ears, joints, muscles, and helps the complexion.
Generally the fruiting body, i.e., the mushroom itself, and sometimes the mycelium.
Preparation and Dosage
May be taken as tablets, tincture, syrup decoction, or powder, or even used as a soup base.
Take three 1-gram tablets (bought retail) up to 3x daily.
1:5, 20 percent alcohol, 10–20 ml (2–4 tsp), up to 3x daily.
The tincture is best made by first making a decoction of the herb; this will extract the polysaccharides most efficiently. If you have 16 ounces of powdered reishi, you would then use 80 ounces of liquid, 64 ounces of which would be water, and 16 alcohol. Add the powdered or chopped-up reishi to the water, bring to a boil, cover, and slow-boil for 30 minutes. Allow to cool with the lid on. When cool, pour into large jar, add 16 ounces pure grain alcohol, cover, and allow to steep for 2 weeks. Decant, press, and store.
Use 2–5 grams of reishi per quart of water depending on strength desired. Slowly bring to boil and simmer at lowest boil obtainable for 2 hours, uncovered, until the volume of water is reduced by two-thirds. Cool and strain. Consume in the evening before bed or in three equal amounts over the course of the day. In acute conditions the amount consumed can be increased as much as desired.
Take 3–6 grams a day in chronic disease, 9–15 grams a day in acute conditions, equally divided in three doses. Stir into water and drink or encapsulate (6–12 “00” capsules in chronic disease, 18–30 in acute conditions).
For mushroom poisoning: Take 120–200 grams of dried powdered reishi in water, 3–5x daily.
Side Effects and Contraindications
Contraindicated in cases of obstructed bile duct. Occasionally, skin rash, loose stool, dry mouth, sleepiness, bloating, frequent urination, sweating, nausea may occur. Adverse reactions cease upon discontinuance of the herb. In the case of nausea take with meals.
Reishi is synergistic with cefazolin, interferon-alpha, and to some extent interferon-gamma, and potently so with acyclovir. Caution should be exercised if you are on immunosuppresive drugs. There may be an additive effect with blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or warfarin.
Habitat and Appearance
Reishi is a hard, tough, woody mushroom that has a shiny or varnished appearance to the cap. The Latin word for the primary medicinal species, lucidum, means “shiny” or “brilliant.” Essentially, so does the genus nameGanoderma, from the Greek, gano meaning “sheen” or “brightness,” derma meaning “skin.” So … the Latinate term for the plant, created by botanists, means “shiny skin shiny.” (Latin terminology is not all that philosophically deep. The sonorous sound of the words just makes us think so.)
The various species range in cap color from yellow to black, but the most common one found wild in the United States, G. lucidum, is red.
Reishi mushrooms grow on a wide variety of trees, often dead or dying, especially deciduous trees such as oak, elm, maple, willow, sweet gum, magnolia, plum, and locust. They will sometimes grow on coniferous trees such as pine, larch, and spruce. They tend to grow in temperate regions.
Cultivation and Collection
The fruiting mushroom bodies can be harvested at any time. They don’t need any special treatment. Just let them sit out and dry thoroughly, then store in plastic bags in plastic tubs out of the light. They will last for years.
Reishi can be easily cultivated through the use of inoculated wooden dowels or plugs. It does best in nonaromatic hardwoods. Cut a log into sections, let it sit out for a few months, then drill and insert the plugs, generally in early spring after the last frost. The mycelium will spread through the log the first year and begin producing mushrooms the second year. Try Fungi Perfecti (www.fungi.com) for inoculated plugs and much more information.
Over 400 different bioactive constituents have been identified in reishi so far. One hundred forty of them are triterpenes, primarily ganodermic acids, though there are 10 specific groups. Over 100 additional compounds are polysaccharides, which produce many of the plant’s immune actions. There are numerous other compounds, one of which—the LZ-8 protein—has fairly strong immune-stimulating actions in the spleen and on peripheral lymphocytes.
Traditional Uses of Reishi
Apparently unknown, though there is a similar mushroom recorded in Indian lore, a mysterious chih fungus considered to be an herb of immortality. Versions of the Indian legends of the fungus are rife in ancient Chinese literature and are considered, by many historical figures, to be ling chih, or reishi. I can’t find any reference to reishi in Ayurvedic practice in my library, however.
TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
Ganoderma is known as ling chih or ling zhi (mushroom of immortality) in China and reishi (ten-thousand-year mushroom) in Japan, under which name it is now commonly known in the West. The reputation of the herb is as a longevity and vitality-enhancing tonic.
Reishi has been used in China and Japan for at least four thousand years in the treatment of debility from prolonged illness, for “deficiency” fatigue, as an antiaging herb, and for coronary heart disease, hepatitis, kidney disease, arthritis, hypertension, sleep disorders, asthma and bronchitis, ulcer, and nerve pain.
In TCM it is considered warming, tonic, nourishing, antitoxic, astringent, and dispersing of accumulations. At least five species of Ganoderma are used in traditional medicine in China and Japan, each for different disorders.Ganoderma lucidum, in many respects, is considered to be the most potent.
WESTERN BOTANIC PRACTICE
Apparently unknown until its introduction by traditional Chinese practitioners in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Western use has been stimulated by the extensive studies carried out in Japan (for the most part).
The best overviews of Ganoderma, I think, are S. Bhagwan et al., “Ganoderma lucidum: A Potent Pharmacological Macrofungus,” and R. Russel and M. Paterson, “Ganoderma: A Therapeutic Fungal Biofactory.”1 They cover about everything, however … a brief look:
In vivo and in vitro studies have found reishi to be liver regenerative, liver protective, choleretic, liver enzyme normalizing, analgesic, antiallergenic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, antitumor (inhibiting or regressing tumors), hypotensive, a bronchial relaxant, immunostimulant, immunomodulating, cardiotonic, expectorant, and antitussive.
Human trials have found effectiveness for neurasthenia, insomnia, dizziness, duodenal ulcers, liver pain, rhinitis, muscular dystrophy, stress, Alzheimer’s disease, hyperlipidemia, liver failure, diabetes, cancer, immune enhancement, and hepatitis.
Although not primarily thought of as such, reishi is antibacterial, antifungal, and a fairly potent antiviral against a number of pathogens.
Reishi is antibacterial against Helicobacter pylori, Pseudomonas syringae, P. aeruginosa, E. coli, Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Salmonella typhi, Micrococcus flavus, andMicrococcus luteus.
Reishi is a strong antiviral, especially against hepatitis viruses. It is active against influenza A viruses, potently so against herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 (it also inhibits their attachment and penetration into cells), and strongly so against vesicular stomatitis virus, Epstein-Barr virus, and HIV.
Reishi is active against Candida spp., Microsporum canis, Trichophyton mentagrophytes. It is also active against plasmodial parasites.
Like eleuthero, reishi has profound effects on the immune system, especially the spleen, stimulating its immune responses considerably. Reishi is strongly mitogenic, especially on splenocytes, stimulating the generation of highly active immune cells. It activates immune effector cells such as T cells, macrophages, and natural killer cells and increases the production of cytokines, including interleukins, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, and interferons. Reishi potently stimulates macrophages and their activity in the body against pathogens. The primary clinical studies on the enhancement of immune function have occurred with cancer patients; most immune studies have been in vivo or in vitro.
Reishi has a number of fairly potent anticancer actions, which are generating a lot of interest. It reducesangiogenesis, the formation of new blood cells by tumors, is antiproliferative, has direct anticancer effects on a number of cancer cell lines, including prostate, colon, leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma cells, strongly inhibits intracellular signaling and invasive behavior of cancer cells, protects the body from radiation damage during cancer treatment, and mediates cancer cell growth through enhancement of host immune defenses.
Here is a sampling of a few clinical trials: In one human trial of 355 people with hepatitis B, with a combination formula containing reishi, 92.4 percent of patients showed improvement. Another trial found that patients with hepatitis B experienced the alleviation of hepatitis symptoms and lowering of SGOT and SGPT levels. Other trials showed reduction in blood pressure in all patients with hypertension who took reishi over a 6-month period. In trials with over 2,000 patients with chronic bronchitis, 60 percent to 90 percent experienced alleviation of symptoms, marked improvement, and weight gain. Studies with people with high blood pressure have consistently showed improvement in blood pressure levels and people with impaired memory or thinking have shown increased mental clarity and memory.
Reishi has a long history of folk and historical clinical use in protecting the liver against Amanita phalloidespoisoning, though I could locate no specific trials.