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Reishi Mushroom – A Promise of Immortality?

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Reishi mushrooms, also known as Lingzhi, have long been a traditional ingredient in Chinese medicine. However, recently food delivery company UberEats have noted its popularity as more searches crop up for this mushroom in its online platform.

The woody, bitter-tasting mushroom is ending up in smoothie bowls, hot chocolates or are being pounded into capsules for consumption.

Reishi mushrooms (scientifically known as Ganoderma lucidum) has a long history of being used in Japan, China and other Asian countries. A book on this medicinal mushroom by Sissi Wachtel-Galor, John Yuen, John A. Buswell, and Iris F. F. Benzie discovered that the usages of the mushroom span over 2,000 years old.  In China, the Lingzhi symbolise success, well-being and longevity and has earned the reputation as a ‘herb of spiritual potency’. 

The dark and glossy mushroom has a varnished appearance and a woody texture. This expert, Iris Benzie from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that if you tapped on the mushroom, the sound resembles that of a door knock. Usually found growing on logs in humid and warmer locations in Asia, the shroom has a bitter profile as a protective mechanism to prevent animals from eating them. Benzie’s study of the mushroom covers more than 15 years, and she advised that the mushrooms are not to be eaten whole, but rather in small quantities in powdered form.

Are Reishi mushrooms good for you?

In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s known as a practice that the more bitter an ingredient is, the better it is for your health. Reishi mushrooms are known for their bitterness and have been studied in its relation to immune systems, for its anti-cancer properties and benefits to the liver, as well as neurological advantages.

This study found that reishi mushrooms have an effect on the genes in our white blood cells, are a critical part of our immune system, while this study notes that the complexity of the mushroom marginally improves inflammation as it impacts its behaviour in our white blood cells.  

Meanwhile, this group of researchers experimented reishi mushrooms with advanced cancer patients, who then showed improvements in their immune systems. The study concluded that some of the molecules in the reishi mushroom appeared to boost the activity of white blood cells known as natural killer cells that fight tumours. More clinical trials are needed, as experts advised patients to use a combination of treatments instead of relying solely on reishi mushrooms as an anti-cancer treatment.

Other studies point to the mushroom’s efficacy in liver detoxification, as the triterpenes compound in the mushrooms helps with reducing toxicity in liver damage cases. In another case, the mushrooms have shown the production of a vital protein for healthy neurological functions, which may positively affect the work of researchers studying treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. 

These research have yet to take on larger human samples or clinical trials, so more studies are required. Just be advised that while reishi mushroom may be growing in popularity, always check with your doctor if you’re pregnant or undergoing other treatments, before trying the mushrooms for the first time.

Cooking the shrooms

Food authors and cooks describe reishi mushroom’s flavour as being earthy and bitter, alongside with being chewy.  The bitterness stems from the triterpenes compound in the fungi, which earns its reputation as a medicine rather than a culinary ingredient.

If you’re interested in experimenting with reishi, here are a few tips. Note that the white part of the mushroom is edible but stay clear of the yellow flesh. The yellow zone is very bitter and it will be tough to remove its flavour once added to soups or dishes. Don’t go overboard with the amount of reishi and use it sparingly, as the bitter taste may dominate your drink or dish.

Here’s where we can mix a little bit of Eastern culture and Western favourites – in a reishi “cappuccino”. If trying these mushrooms for the first time, it may be wiser to have them in powder form blended in with your favourite drink.  You can dissolve the reishi powder with cacao powder and use coconut or almond milk in your hot drink. Sweeten your cappuccino with your preferred honey, and add a little coconut oil for creaminess.  Swap cacao powder with tea instead if you’re craving for a chai latte.

From beverages, you can graduate to making soups. This hearty recipe of carrot, reishi mushroom and kale soup is easy to prepare in 20 minutes. Mix the reishi mushrooms with other fungi like shitake and cremini mushrooms to add variety to your soup. The soup needs to be gently simmered for an hour to ensure all the mushrooms are cooked.

And how about an Asian-styled dish to complete your reishi mushroom experiment. Try cooking reishi slices with lean pork, kidney beans, barley and brown rice in a one-pot dish in this simple heartwarming recipe.

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