Along with the bold yet delicate taste that shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms add to soups and other dishes, these gourmet delicacies are prized as herbal medicines. Traditional Asian healers have used them for centuries to strengthen the immune system and promote longevity. Recently, an extract from a different mushroom altogether--PSK (Coriolus versicolor)--was identified as a possible ally in the fight against cancer. While mushrooms other than these may well have specific health-promoting actions, they haven't been as thoroughly researched for medicinal purposes.
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes), maitake (Grifola frondosa), and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) are available as powders. They also come as liquid extracts, which are more potent. For therapeutic purposes, however, supplements are preferred; indeed, maitake, shiitake and reishi are sometimes combined in one capsule.
All three of these healing mushrooms contain polysaccharides, powerful compounds that help in building immunity. Polysaccharides and other compounds in mushrooms may also lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of dangerous blood clots, prevent heart disease, relieve bronchitis and sinusitis, and possibly fight cancer cells and increase the potency of cancer treatments.
Because compounds in reishi supplements can delay blood clotting, consult your doctor before trying them if you take anticoagulant medications.
Consult your doctor before taking reishi mushrooms if you are on long-term aspirin therapy. The two combined may thin the blood and raise the risk of unwanted bleeding.
The four mushrooms recommended--shiitake, maitake, reishi, and PSK--are all safe to take at appropriate doses. PSK in particular appears to be free of adverse side effects according to clinical tests of cancer patients. Allergic reactions to mushrooms, although seldom reported, are possible.
Don't gather mushrooms in the wild yourself. Edible varieties can easily be mistaken for deadly ones.
If you are pregnant or breast-feeding, talk with your doctor before using mushrooms therapeutically.
In rare cases, taking reishi mushrooms daily for periods of three to six months can cause dryness in the mouth, itchiness and skin rashes, nose bleeds, stomach upset, or bloody stools. If you experience any of these side effects, stop taking reishi mushroom preparations.
Bronchitis Acute: 400-700 mg reishi and 400-700 mg maitake 3 times a day; can be used in place of echinacea.
Chronic: 400-700 mg reishi and 400-700 mg maitake mushrooms once a day as maintenance; use in rotation with echinacea, astragalus, and pau d'arco.
Cancer 400-700 mg reishi and 400-700 mg maitake 3 times a day
Cold Sores 600-900 mg reishi or 500 mg miatake mushrooms once or twice a day (in rotation with echinacea and astragalus)
Colds 400-700 mg reishi and 400-700 mg maitake mushrooms once a day as maintenance, in rotation with echinacea and astragalus
Flu 400-700 mg reishi and 400-700 mg maitake mushrooms once a day as maintenance, in rotation with echinacea and astragalus.