Yesterday this popped up in my BBC World Latest Headlines feed: Mushroom Used in Chinese Medicine “slows weight gain.”
Yep. It was reishi.
Reishi is about to get a lot more press than usual.
Anything having to do with weight loss is a sure thing to get peoples’ attention. You’d think something that was used for centuries for longevity and overall health wouldn’t need any more press, but there’s something about the promise of a trim figure that really makes folks sit up and take notice (and take out their pocketbooks).
While we wait for the certain onslaught of fast-buck types to begin churning out cheap snake oil versions of reishi products, let’s just head out to the reishi patch in the backyard.
No wondering if there’s really reishi in it, how it was grown, what it was adulterated with, what possible toxins it was exposed to, and whether or not cheap labor was involved.
And it only takes two or three years to arrive.
So there is a downside, but not really. Gardeners value the patience required by (and developed because of) our avocation.
Back to the mushroom patch. The reishi is ready to harvest when the edges go from white (or whitish) to red (or reddish). That indicates the growing is complete.
The tough stems were impossible to cut with a serrated kitchen knife, so I went to the shop for a saw.
The saw was much more up to the job.
The underside of the mushroom is a clear, vibrant yellow pore surface that bruises brown.
When the harvest was finished, I had six pounds of ripe reishi mushrooms.
In the kitchen, I took an old, inexpensive mandoline-style slicer and went to work. When my husband gave me this contraption, I thought he was nuts. What was I going to do with this scary sharp specialty tool that was hard to store? Fast-forward about 20 years and presto– slice exotic medicinal Chinese mushrooms I grew on a log. Duh.
I could slice all but the super-tough stalks.
I put three quarts of the slices in canning jars with Everclear to tincture.
The rest I spread out on a towel.
It only took a few days for the thin slices to air-dry. I’ll store them in a dark place until I decide what to do with them. I may tincture them, too, or I might save them for boiling for tea. With reishi, some of the beneficial compounds are released by the alcohol in tincturing, but some others are only released by boiling in water. So to get the most from reishi, people often do what’s called a double extraction. They tincture the reishi in alcohol, then when it’s time to strain off the mushroom and bottle the tincture, they save the mushroom and boil it for several hours in water and then drink the resulting tea, or infusion.
It’s also possible to combine the tea with the tincture and it is often sold that way and called ‘double-extracted’. I’m not a trained herbalist, just an armchair enthusiast, but something about that troubles me. I think you get a much more potent dose of reishi if you take your tincture separately and drink your tea separately. A bottle of half tincture and half tea seems more to me like diluted tincture and a tiny dab of tea. After all, you drink tea by the cupful and take tincture by the dropper full.
Any herbalists/mushroom experts out there please feel free to correct me on that hypothesis.
In terms of helping people avoid weight gain, the reishi extract in the study cited in the BBC article reportedly changed the intestinal bacteria in study mice. You may have heard recently about the woman who gained weight after receiving a fecal transplant from her daughter who suffered from obesity. In case you’re wondering why anyone would undergo a fecal transplant, it’s a procedure sometimes used in severe cases of recurrent Clostridium difficile infections and other GI disorders. The woman’s BMI rose from 26 to 34.5 after the transplant.
Reishi is thought to change the “obese gut bugs” (to coin a phrase) into “thin gut bugs.”
Since the idea of being a helpless prisoner of your gut bacteria is very discouraging, it’s nice to know reishi can possibly be used as a defense in that regard.
If you want to look into growing your own, I got my reishi spawn from Field & Forest Products. I inoculated the logs according to their directions, covered them with paper grocery bags, put those inside vented plastic garbage bags, and left them in a corner of my shop for several months. When they showed signs of mycelial activity (I saw whitish growth all over the logs) I half-buried them in a shady part of the yard. About a year and a half to two years later, they fruited.
Reishi has also been studied with promising results as an anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral, among other things.
Growing your own isn’t exactly easy, and it certainly isn’t fast, but when they start to fruit in all their crazy glory, and you’re able to use them for your family’s health and amazement, it’s worth every minute.