In this article, you’ll learn how to find, identify, and use reishi mushrooms. Reishis have been used medicinally in Asian cultures for thousands of years, and also grow in the wild in North America.
“Divine mushroom,” “mushroom of immortality”… These are the meanings behind the common names of what is perhaps the most famous of all Asian medicinal mushrooms: reishi (aka lingzhi).
Reishi mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine. Granted, the people who originally referred to them as the mushroom of immortality are no longer around, so it’s safe to assume they won’t actually help you live forever.
However, modern research has shown reishi mushrooms to have some fascinating medicinal properties. Other good news: you don’t have to import reishis from Asia.
In fact, there’s a good chance they’re growing in a forest near you. You just have to know how to safely identify and use them in order to take advantage of their health benefits.
Let’s dive in and find out how!
As with all of our foraging/wild fungi articles, we need to clearly state up front that there are plenty of wild mushrooms that can kill you or make you very sick. Please read our Beginner’s Guide to Foraging: 12 Rules to Follow and never risk your life or safety (or someone else’s) due to carelessness or negligence.
How to find reishi mushrooms
Three important factors to consider when foraging for reishi mushrooms in the wild:
1. There are different species of reishi mushrooms.
First, it should be noted that there are quite a few species of reishi mushrooms. All have medicinal qualities and all look distinctly like reishi mushrooms, with only minor visual differences between them. (More on physical/morphological characteristics below.)
Reishi species vary based on:
- geographic region, and
- the type of wood they grow on/consume.
As for species endemic to the US, one study found 13 distinct reishi species commonly collected across the country, as follows:
The most commonly collected species in the eastern U.S. were G. sessile (29%), G. curtisii (28%) and G. zonatum (14%), while the more commonly encountered species in the western U.S. were G. oregonense (3%) and G. polychromum (2%) were the more commonly encountered species.
We live at the base of the Appalachian Mountains in Greenville, SC (southeast United States). In our area, Ganoderma sessile are most common.
We typically find reishis growing on the base/stumps of dead or dying hardwood trees, sometimes even emerging from shallow underground tree roots. However, in the northeast, a common reishi species is Ganoderma tsugae, which grows on hemlock trees.
Bottom line: reishi mushrooms grow on dead or dying trees and are most commonly found in forested areas. Specific host trees vary by region and species of Ganoderma.
2. When do reishi mushrooms fruit?
Reishi mushrooms fruit in warmer weather, from spring through fall. Unlike other common mushrooms we forage which are ephemeral, lasting for only days or a couple of weeks, a mature reishi mushroom has a hard, cork-like texture which allows it to last for months without desiccating.
We prefer to pick reishis when they’re young and less woody. This makes them easier to cut back in the kitchen. However, older fruiting bodies are perfectly fine to use, too.
To harvest reishi mushrooms simply pull or cut them off their woody host.
The morphology (shape) of individual reishi mushrooms is determined by environmental factors:
- the quality of the wood they’re digesting,
- moisture/rain quantity, and
- sunlight levels.
Interestingly, in mushroom cultivation operations, we’ve seen photos of reishis grown under high CO2 levels that look like coral spikes with no cap formation.
3. Identification: what do reishi mushrooms look like?
It’s essential you know the physical characteristics of reishi mushrooms if you intend to harvest them.
“Ganoderma” is a combination of Greek words meaning bright/shining skin. As this name implies, the top of reishi mushroom caps does indeed have a lustrous, polished shine to it.
The shape of mature reishi caps is similar to a clam shell, whereas the young mushrooms look like brightly colored fingers until a cap begins to form. As reishi mushrooms mature, the caps will develop concentric rings of red, orange, and white coloration. Exact coloration varies by species and environmental factors.
Reishis are NOT gilled mushrooms. They’re polypores, meaning the underside of the cap (where the spores are emitted) looks like the surface of a small-pored sponge with lots of small dots. The color of a reishi pore surface is white.
Spore print: If you place a reishi mushroom pore side down, it should make a brownish-colored spore print within ~6+ hours.
Do reishi mushrooms have poisonous lookalikes?
There are no poisonous look-alikes to reishi mushrooms in North America. Red belted conk (Fomitopsis pinicola) is a reishi lookalike that’s not poisonous.
What do reishi mushrooms taste like?
Reishi mushrooms taste very bitter. Thus, think of reishis as a medicinal — not culinary — mushroom.
Like all mushrooms, reishis need to be cooked before use to break down the chitin in their cell walls, kill any potential pathogens, and make their nutritional and medicinal compounds more bioavailable.
What are the medicinal properties of reishi mushrooms?
Sure, reishi mushrooms have been used as medicine for thousands of years by traditional cultures throughout Asia, but does modern science support the hype?
There are some tantalizing preliminary studies showing that reishi mushrooms do indeed match up to their long-claimed medicinal lore. As the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center for Cancer states:
Reishi mushroom contains complex sugars known as beta-glucans. Lab studies suggest that these compounds may help stop the growth and spread of cancer cells. When animals were fed beta-glucans, some cells of their immune system became more active.
Limited data from clinical studies suggest reishi can strengthen immune response in humans. In addition, reishi mushrooms contain sterols that can act as precursors to hormones in the body, along with substances called triterpenes that may have blood pressure-lowering and anti-allergy effects. Reishi mushrooms have also been shown to slow blood clotting.
A 2017 study found the following:
Our results provide evidence that Reishi suppresses breast cancer cell growth and migration through inhibiting Wnt/β-catenin signaling, indicating that Reishi may be a potential natural inhibitor for breast cancer.
Hopefully, additional high quality studies (and replicability) will shed more light on reishi mushrooms’ medicinal potential.
How to use reishi mushrooms
First, three recommended safety precautions:
- The first time you try reishi mushrooms (or any new food), only use a small amount to make certain you don’t have any averse or allergic reactions.
- If you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking medication that might be contraindicated with reishi mushrooms, consult your doctor before using reishis.
- For reasons specified above, ALWAYS cook reishi mushrooms (and other mushrooms) prior to use. Eating raw reishi mushrooms can make you sick.
Reishi mushroom double extraction tincture
Reishi mushroom have water-soluble (example: polysaccharides) and alcohol-soluble (example: triterpenoids) constituents. Thus, a double extraction tincture is typically how reishi mushrooms are prepared, as follows:
- Alcohol extraction – Place chopped reishi mushrooms in jar and cover with alcohol (usually vodka). Let sit for two weeks, shaking daily.
- Water extraction – Strain the mushrooms out of the alcohol and add them to pot of water. Low boil for at least 2-6 hours to extract the water soluble medicinal compounds.
- Combination – Strain out mushrooms from water and add water extraction to the alcohol extraction, in a roughly 1:1 ratio. Use ~1 tablespoons on tincture per serving, by adding it to drinks, tea, etc.
There are also other ways to use reishi mushrooms…
Reishi mushroom mimosa flower cordial recipe
Grapefruits are characteristically sweet and bitter. Since reishi mushrooms are bitter, we wanted to create a recipe that balanced out that bitter with sweet, like grapefruit does.
We make a lot of homemade wild flower cordials (which are sweet and effervescent), have a beehive full of honey in our backyard, and potted citrus plants. Thus, we decided to try to make something new: reishi mushroom mimosa flower cordial.
The result? A drink that tastes almost identical to grapefruit juice! It offers sweet-floral notes on the front with a mildly bitter finish. We’re quite pleased with the results!
As far as extracting the medicinal compounds from the reishi mushrooms, our recipe does the water extraction up front via the reishi tea. Then, rather than a high ABV alcohol extraction, we hope the microbial activity via the ferment which then creates a very low ABV alcohol ~2-3%, helps extract the other medicinal compounds from the reishi mushrooms. Even if not, there’s still plenty of good medicinal compounds present, plus probiotics.
And now we (and you) have another recipe you can make with reishi mushrooms! *If you don’t have access to mimosa tree flowers, there are plenty of other edible wild flowers you can substitute.
Reishi mushroom mimosa flower cordial
A sweet and mildly bitter medicinal cordial made with reishi mushrooms and wild-picked mimosa flowers.
- 2 cups fresh-picked mimosa flowers (loose packed)
- 1 cup honey
- 5 cups water
- 6 grams dried reishi musrhoom, cut into small chunks
- 1/3 cup fresh sliced citrus we used calamondin oranges since that's the only citrus we have ripe this time of year
Put one cup water + chopped reishi mushrooms in small pot with lid on. Bring to boil, then turn down to simmer. Cook for an additional 3-4 hours (with lid on) on medium low heat. Add more water if necessary - you want to end up with about 1 cup of reishi mushroom tea at the end.
After ~4 hours, remove mushroom tea from heat and let cool to room temperature. Whisk in honey when tea is warm, but not hot in order to dissolve the honey without cooking it.
Combine all ingredients together (honey-sweetened mushroom tea + remaining 4 cups water, flowers, and citrus) in glass container. Stir, then cover with breathable fabric like cheesecloth or linen. Place on counter at room temperature out of sunlight. Stir vigorously at least once every 12 hours and take a small taste to see how flavor is developing.
Mixture should start getting bubbly within ~3 days as microbial activity increases and fermentation commences. From start to finish, we let our reishi mimosa flower cordial ferment for about 7 days. Once done, strain out liquid (including squeezing out flowers and mushroom pieces by hand), and refrigerate. The cold temperatures of your fridge arrest fermentation by slowing down the metabolism of the microbes. During refrigeration, the lees (dead yeasts and other sediments) also drop to the bottom of your jar, resulting in a clearer liquid.
*Final quantity of this recipe is about 4.5 cups, slightly more than 1 quart jar.
Serve as a digestif or apertif, or use as a base in mixed drinks.
We hope you enjoy finding and using reishi mushrooms, a medicinal mushroom that has been prized by humans for thousands of years!
More mushy articles you’ll love:
- 6 gourmet and medicinal mushrooms you can easily grow in your garden
- Complete guide: how to forage and use chanterelle mushrooms
- DIY: How to grow shiitake mushrooms
- How to find, identify, grow, and cook chicken of the woods mushrooms
- Bicolor bolete: how to find, ID, and eat this wild gourmet mushroom
- Blue mushrooms? A delicious indigo milkcap mushroom recipe
- The hunt for the elusive morel mushroom
- How to find, ID, and eat umbrella polypore (Polyporus umbellatus)
- Lions mane mushrooms: a brain booster that tastes like crab meat (with “crab” cake recipe!)
- How to find and prepare maitake mushrooms
- How to grow and eat King stropharia mushrooms