The Health Benefits of Reishis

Expand your garden to include mushrooms and you’ll not only reap tasty ingredients but health boosters, as well.

by Dawn Combs

The Health Benefits of Reishis - Photo by iStock/Thinkstock ( #mushrooms #reishi

How far are you willing to stretch your definition of gardening? Does it entail only vegetables? How about flowers or herbs? Have you considered raising mushrooms this year?

By now, I think most of us recognize the value of the mushroom beyond the miscellaneous pizza topping. Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) mushrooms can be found in most grocery store produce sections. At our local farmers’ market, we find fresh oyster and shiitake mushrooms at the booth between the flower farm and the strawberries. But how many of us feel confident enough to grow these at home, just like we grow our spring greens?

This weekend I spoke at the Organic Grower’s School in Asheville, N.C., during their annual spring conference. One of my favorite parts of every conference I attend is the marketplace. This time I stumbled upon what seemed like a double booth of mushroom nirvana. Mushroom Mountain is a seed store (in this case seeds are called spawn) for mushroom growers. I’m heading home with starts for my own blue oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushrooms.

Mushrooms are a perfect example of food as medicine. Every time you sauté up a pan of shiitake mushrooms, it’s delicious but also a great support for your immune system. If you’ve only experienced the white button mushroom that comes in a cellophane wrapped package from the supermarket, growing your own mushrooms can seem like an unnecessary leap. I can assure you, though, it’s worth the time and effort to enjoy a larger variety of fresh mushrooms.

If you can get on board with the idea of finding space near your garden shed for a few hardwood logs inoculated with shiitake, the next step to take is raising mushrooms for medicinal reasons. I was so excited to see reishi mushroom spawn on the table this weekend.

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Reishi mushrooms look like varnished wood. They are tougher in texture, even when fresh, than many other mushrooms. You’re not going to sauté some up in a pan. Instead, reishi mushrooms can be powdered or tinctured. Reishi is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body to adjust to stress and doesn’t present any contraindications to most people. Like most adaptogens, it offers support to the immune system. It’s high in antioxidants and has been found to support healthy pressure and blood sugar levels, as well as has anti-viral and tumor-suppressant properties.

The first time I held a reishi mushroom in my hand I was struck by how exotic it seemed. For a long time, it was best known in traditional Chinese medicine. There really isn’t a need for us to see it as an exotic medicine from another country, though. Ganoderma lucidum is native to North America and can be grown at home or sustainably wildcrafted if you know to look for it. If you decide to give mushroom gardening a try this year, let’s plan to meet back up here in about six months, when the fruits of our labor begin to sprout … we can compare recipes!

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