Reishi’s Medicinal Benefits: What are they and what role do triterpenes play?

May 11, 2022 | By Sebastian Munevar (The Mad Mycologists, LLC) Instagram: @themadmycologists

Part 2 of Understanding the Reishi Mushroom

Reishi as a Healer

For over 2,000 years, the Reishi mushroom has been known for having powerful medicinal properties that bring forth a deep sense of harmony within the body. She’s a queen whose history is rich with a variety of medicinal applications and her stories of profound healing have given modern scientists more than enough reasons to explore Reishi’s potential for revealing new discoveries in modern medicine. In the past 30 years, there have been many studies conducted in Europe, China, and Japan investigating the therapeutic activity of the chemical compounds found in the Reishi mushroom. The findings of these studies are just the tip of the iceberg with many more discoveries on the horizon.

Not All Reishi Is Created Equal

Reishi contains a wide range of medicinal benefits whose effects can be attributed to the extensive list of novel compounds found within it. However, it would be fair to remind ourselves that not all Reishi is created equally. This can be said for Reishi across species and even with respect to how they were grown or where they were sourced. There are many different species of Reishi; each with varying levels of different active compounds. Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma tsugae (the Hemlock Reishi) are two species recognized as the most common and medicinally prized species of Reishi, but let’s not let them cast shadow over some of other species of Reishi with just as much or even more potential for medicinal application. They are great species of Reishi to start with, but if you’re feeling a little adventurous and eager to experiment with a lesser-known species, then I recommend exploring species like Ganoderma multipilieum, Ganoderma curtisii, or even Ganoderma sessile. Overall, Reishi is a mushroom that packs a medicinal punch with each fruiting body, so regardless of the species, you will always be working with a unique and potent mushroom. Now, let’s roll with the punches and explore some of the novel compounds that give Reishi it’s wonderful healing properties.

(Photo above: Wild Ganoderma tsugae in North Carolina)

What are Reishi Triterpenes?

The main active compounds that we find packed in-and-around the cell walls of Reishi can be broken down into two groups: Terpenes & Polysaccharides. Since Extract Craft devices work exclusively with ethanol and many readers of this blog are familiar with the terpenes found in cannabis, so why not start with the terpenes found in Reishi? 

Yes, Reishi mushrooms contain terpenes. More specifically, you will be learning about triterpenes, which is a terpene in a class of its own, and Reishi contains over 150 different kinds. Like…..bruh. And a majority of these triterpenes can be found in the Reishi cap, with most of them accumulating in the tubes of the cap.

(Photo above: The tubes are the brown and striped bottom half of this Reishi cross-cut. This is where the Reishi spores are housed before sporulation occurs.)

When compared to other terpenes, like diterpenes (found in Lions Mane) or monoterpenes (Menthol for example), triterpenes have shown to have the longest shelf life, followed by monoterpenes and then diterpenes. When it comes to shelf life, the stability of a terpene is strongly influenced by the number of oxygen groups present on the molecule, so when a terpene bears more oxygen groups, its shelf life is considered less stable. 

Listed below are just a few of the triterpenes found in Reishi:

  • Ganoderic acid
  • Lucidenic acid
  • Ganodermic acid
  • Ganoderenic acid
  • Ganolucidic acid

I encourage you to Google one of the triterpenes that I listed above and explore the information surrounding these compounds and possibly dive into the studies investigating them. There is a likely chance to learn something new and interesting with how it relates to you.

The Therapeutic Activity of Reishi Triterpenes

From the results of numerous studies, Reishi triterpenes were found to have a wide range of medicinal benefits, such as anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antiviral (anti-HIV), hypocholesterolemic, neuroprotective, hepatoprotective (liver protective),  radioprotective (significant for chemo patients), and was even found to reduce platelet aggregation in the arteries. Aside from that medicinally potent introduction, Reishi also has the ability to increase lung capacity, support cardiovascular health, and even calm the nervous system. 

Within the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Reishi is believed to be the ultimate tonic for restoring Qi (chi) within the body. For those not familiar with this term, Qi is believed to be the flowing force, electrical current, and metabolic energy in our body. On a physical level, it is the energy that can be correlated with our nervous system. From a TCM perspective, no other herb is renowned for its ability to unlock human potential and trigger deep inner transformation over time, like Reishi is.

Isolating Triterpenes in Extract Craft Devices

If we take a closer look at the chemical nature of Reishi triterpenes, they are essentially precursors to steroids, so many of their medicinal benefits can be largely attributed to this chemical makeup. Being that these triterpenes are essentially oils and resins, it means they are not water soluble, so using ethanol as a solvent would be the ideal extraction method for triterpenes. Thanks to the low recovery temperatures in the crucible and to being processed within a vacuum environment, the Source Turbo and EtOH Pro do a great job of preserving Reishi triterpenes throughout the process of recovery. In addition, let’s remember that triterpenes are one of the most stable terpenes, so its stability allows for relatively minimal oxidation when isolating your extract using Extract Craft devices.

(Photo above: A mix of Reishi Triterpenes extracted from wild Ganoderma curtisii & cultivated Ganoderma lucidum) 

(Recovered from 90% ethanol using The Source Turbo)

 (Reishi triterpenes have a very dark, reddish-burgundy color when concentrated, to the point they almost look black in color.)

Triterpenes are just one group of active compounds found in Reishi and we’ve already covered so many medicinal benefits, so adjust your seat and get ready for more. In a later blog, I will talk about a hydrophilic, chemical player with a little more weight to carry: the polysaccharides. These compounds can go toe-to-toe with all kinds of ailments and illnesses in the ring. But until that powerhouse gets the spotlight, our next blog post will teach you how to identify Reishi in the wild and species of trees to lookout for relative to the species of Reishi you’re looking for, with the end-goal of extraction in mind. In the near future, we will be sharing how-to and written guides for optimal Reishi extraction with Extract Craft devices facilitating that process, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions regarding this article or about Reishi, you are welcome to message me on IG at @themadmycologists