Many of us don’t think of mushrooms as much more than a strange food that tastes good in risotto—but these funky fungi are so, so much more. In fact, a quick scroll on Instagram these days will reveal all sorts of drinks (have you seen mushroom coffee?) and supplements starring mushrooms. One ‘shroom in the spotlight lately: reishi, which has also been called ‘liquid yoga.’
You won’t find reishi mushrooms in the supermarket, because though they are edible, they’re made of non-digestible fiber and have a woody texture (so you wouldn’t really want to sauté them up for your next meal). Instead, reishi mushrooms are ground down and made into tinctures and supplements.
While reishi mushrooms may be new to your news-feed, they’ve been used in traditional Chinese medicine (known as Ling Zhi, Chizhi, or Zizhi) for pretty much forever, and grow in Asia, Europe, Australia, and North and South America.
So what’s the hype all about? Reishi’s main claim to fame is its ability to boost our immune system, thanks to chemical compounds called triterpenoids and beta-glucans, says board-certified nutrition specialist Alexander J. Rinehart, M.S. “The beta-glucan components are probably the most studied as immune modulators and prebiotics,” says Rinehart. (Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fiber that feeds the probiotics in your gut so they can thrive.) Meanwhile, triterpenoids, which are part of plants’ self-defense mechanisms, have also been studied for their immune-boosting effects. Together, these compounds help our immune system activate in times of need (such as when we’re fighting a cold or another illness).
Because of their immune benefits, reishi mushrooms are considered part of a trendy class of herbs and foods called adaptogens, which “help your body adapt to your environment and calm your body down,” says Ginger Hultin, R.D.N., Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (Ginseng and holy basil are two other well-known examples.) Research shows these adaptogens up your production of certain proteins involved in helping your body fend off stress and stabilizing levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and gut problems in excess.
Reishi can benefit anyone dealing with high levels of stress or immune issues, says Janelle Louis, D.N.M., functional medicine practitioner at Focus Integrative Healthcare. In fact, one study published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry suggests the polysaccharides in reishi mushrooms help curb the spread of the type of fibroblast responsible for some joint issues.
That doesn’t mean reishi isn’t useful for people in generally good health, too! Not only can reishi provide immune support, but it can also boost your concentration and endurance without making you feel wired or messing with your sleep, says Rinehart.
Experience The Reishi Magic For Yourself
If you want to add reishi to your day, you’ve got a few options. “I typically recommend reishi as an herbal tea,” says Louis. Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Elixir Mix also contains peppermint and stevia for flavor, and can be mixed into hot water or blended into a smoothie.
Coffee drinkers will enjoy mushroom coffee mix (like Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix), which adds mushroom powder to good ol’ ground coffee beans. “You get an earthy taste that may be more complex than you find in a traditional coffee, along with the energy and stamina support, and ability to adapt to stress without feeling jittery,” says Rinehart.
If you just want to pop a quick supplement and be done with it, though, Rinehart recommends Host Defense Mushrooms, which offers reishi in capsule and extract form and is “developed by Paul Stamets, arguably the number-one mushroom expert in the world.”
Hultin recommends working with an integrative dietitian or functional medicine doctor to determine the best dose of reishi for you and make sure it won’t interact with any other supplements or medications you’re taking. (It can have a slight blood-thinning and blood pressure-lowering effect.)