Is the fruiting body or mycelium better for reishi mushroom extracts?

The reishi mushroom has an ancient history of use in China, for over 2000 years, and is indicated for longevity, cancer treatment, autoimmune diseases, anxiety, insomnia, and cardiovascular health, amongst other uses (Dudhgaonkar et al., 2009). It is accepted that it is the triterpenes in reishi which are responsible for its anti-inflammatory activity, while its polysaccharides stimulate the immune system. However, there is controversy surrounding whether the fruiting body (above ground part) or mycelium (root like structure) is better for medicinal purposes. Many companies are selling only mycelium grown on grain (rice), which is cheaper, but opposed to tradition. Traditionally, it was the fruiting body of reishi that was used as a medicine (Jong and Birmingham, 1992) and linked with longevity. So, the question is, how much does this matter?

Despite their different locations, both the mycelium and fruiting body contain similar medicinal compounds, such as the polysaccharides and triterpenes (Jong and Birmingham, 1992). However, there are more specific dissimilarities between these molecules between the two parts of the fungus. For example, gandoderic acids (triterpenes) A, B, and H have been detected only in the fruiting body, whereas, gandoderic acids R, S, and T were found in the mycelium. To extract the triterpenes efficiently alcohol is required. This is important, as traditionally just a hot water extraction has been used when TCM doctors ask for a decoction to be made. However, many of the polysaccharides are in fact hot water soluble (Sone et al., 1985) and so hot water can be used to extract them. Therefore, a dual hot water and alcohol extraction of reishi is preferred. Both polysaccharides from the fruiting body and mycelium have been shown to be active against tumours in vivo model studies (Sone et al., 1985).

Figure 1. (left) Mycelium from an oyster mushroom, these are often grown in either flasks or petri dishes for scientific studies. (right) A Reishi fruiting body, the part traditionally used as a medicine in humans.

Another point made in the review article is that a bitter taste has long been associated with the medicinal properties of reishi, and it is the triterpenes which taste bitter (Jong and Birmingham, 1992). Therefore, when testing different extracts of reishi, a bitter taste is a good sign. The fruiting body is supposed to taste particularly bitter. If anti-inflammatory activity is desired (from triterpenes), therefore it probably is best to go for the fruiting body of reishi.

Reishi should not be considered a single medicine and its properties change depending on the life cycle, extraction location, extraction method, and growing environment of the mushroom. The fruiting body has been most studied scientifically, however the mycelium also receives a great deal of attention in studies as well. The two currently highest impact papers on reishi, one published in PNAS describing anti-tumour activity (Liao et al., 2013) and another in Nature Communications describing a therapeutic effect on obesity (Chang et al., 2015), both in mice, used a fruiting body extract or a mycelium body extract, respectively. Various human studies have used the fruiting body extracts, but also spore extracts (Tang et al., 2005; Zhao et al., 2012). It is far from clear whether the mycelium, fruiting body, or spore extracts are preferred, it may emerge to be the case they are better for different applications. However, both, the fruiting body and mycelium both contain potent immune stimulating polysaccharides that may be good for boosting immune defence.

Growth of mycelium for studies is often done in shaking flasks where substrates like glucose are added (Yang et al., 1998). They also may be grown in petri dishes in solid culture (Heleno et al., 2012). Another common method is growing mushrooms on brown rice as a substrate and it has been shown that reishi, grown on brown rice, has anti-inflammatory properties (Hasnat et al., 2015). So, it appears that a variety of ways of growing reishi and extractions from different parts of the fungi all have medicinal activity. It is hard to form a consensus viewpoint of what is better from scientific papers at the moment, more research is required, but it is good to remember the fruiting body of reishi is the most studied scientifically.

I currently prefer reishi that is grown in a way similar to how it grows in nature. This is on logs and organically. I also prefer a dual extract using water and alcohol of the fruiting body, not mycelium. This is in line with the traditional use of the mushroom, except a decoction avoids use of alcohol and therefore will be lacking in triterpenes compared with the more modern duel extract. It is possible to get a duel extracted tincture from herbalists or make your own which should be effective, although powdered capsules are reasonable as well.


Chang, Chih-Jung, et al. “Ganoderma lucidum reduces obesity in mice by modulating the composition of the gut microbiota.” Nature communications 6 (2015): 7489.

Dudhgaonkar, Shailesh, Anita Thyagarajan, and Daniel Sliva. “Suppression of the inflammatory response by triterpenes isolated from the mushroom Ganoderma lucidum.” International immunopharmacology 9.11 (2009): 1272-1280.

Jong, S. C., and J. M. Birmingham. “Medicinal benefits of the mushroom Ganoderma.” Advances in applied microbiology. Vol. 37. Academic Press, 1992. 101-134.

Hasnat, Md Abul, et al. “Anti-inflammatory activity on mice of extract of Ganoderma lucidum grown on rice via modulation of MAPK and NF-κB pathways.” Phytochemistry 114 (2015): 125-136.

Heleno, Sandrina A., et al. “Fruiting body, spores and in vitro produced mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum from Northeast Portugal: A comparative study of the antioxidant potential of phenolic and polysaccharidic extracts.” Food Research International 46.1 (2012): 135-140.

Liao, Shih-Fen, et al. “Immunization of fucose-containing polysaccharides from Reishi mushroom induces antibodies to tumor-associated Globo H-series epitopes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.34 (2013): 13809-13814.

Sone, Yoshiaki, et al. “Structures and antitumor activities of the polysaccharides isolated from fruiting body and the growing culture of mycelium of Ganoderma lucidum.” Agricultural and biological chemistry 49.9 (1985): 2641-2653.

Tang, Wenbo, et al. “A randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study of a Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharide extract in neurasthenia.” Journal of medicinal food 8.1 (2005): 53-58.Yang, F-C., and C-B.

Liau. “Effects of cultivating conditions on the mycelial growth of Ganoderma lucidum in submerged flask cultures.” Bioprocess Engineering 19.3 (1998): 233-236.

Zhao, Hong, et al. “Spore powder of Ganoderma lucidum improves cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing endocrine therapy: a pilot clinical trial.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2012 (2012).

Do medicinal mushrooms work against cancer?

Edible mushrooms, such as reishi, maitake, and cordyceps, have long been used in Japan and China as food, but also medicines (Mizuno et al., 1995). These medicinal mushrooms have a deep history of medicinal use that extends back thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine, and have long been associated with longevity (Castleman, 2001). In cancer research, there is special interest in the polysaccharides of these mushrooms present in the fruiting bodies and mycelium as they are responsible for anti-tumour and immunostimulating properties (Wasser, 2010). I will now critically discuss the current state of cancer science related to these polysaccharides and medicinal mushrooms.


A mushroom polysaccharide called polysaccharide-K (PSK) was originally extracted by Japanese researchers and used in various clinical trials in Asia together with conventional therapies (Fisher et al., 2002). The result of these trials were its acceptance as a mainstream anti-cancer drug in Japan to complement the existing chemotherapy and surgical techniques. PSK is a polysaccharide from the fungus Coriolus versicolor. PSK has shown efficiency in helping maintain remission in colorectal cancer patients after surgery (Torisu et al., 1990), a meta-analysis of different clinical trials in 2006 supported this discovery (Sakamoto et al., 2006). Another high quality study published in the Lancet found PSK supported ordinary chemotherapy treatment for gastric cancer after surgery and significantly increased five year survival and disease free survival rates (Nakazato et al., 1994). PSK increases the ability of the host to defend itself against the cancer (Fisher et al., 2002). It may do this by increasing white blood cell activation and response via increasing levels of specific cytokines. However, it is not just PSK which displays anti-tumour potential, there are several mushroom extracts which show promise.


A mushroom of particular value in traditional Chinese medicine is reishi, this mushroom has been known as ‘the mushroom of immortality’ since ancient times (Castleman, 2001). Reishi has an array of health benefits and has anti-oxidant, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory properties (Joseph et al., 2011; Baskar et al., 2008). An interesting study appeared in the American journal PNAS in 2013 on the mechanism by which reishi has anti-tumour effects (Liao et al., 2013). In this paper, they demonstrated that mice injected with reishi polysaccharides produced antibodies against lung cancer cells. This resulted in increased cytotoxicity against the cancer cells and reduction of inflammatory mediators associated with the tumour. However, although promising, this study was using an animal model and high quality human clinical trials are required to further assess the anti-cancer potential of reishi.


Human Studies

There are a number of human studies with some preliminary data which is interesting. A randomised placebo controlled study of reishi polysaccharides in patients with lung cancer found increase in leukocyte and natural killer cell activity (Gao et al., 2003). They also observed better quality of life in the reishi mushroom patients and stability of disease. Improvements were seen in the reishi group in reduction of cancer related fever, cough, weakness, sweating and insomnia. The dose for this study was 600mg of patented extract a day, which seems a little low, as herbalists suggest between 3-6 grams of polysaccharide extracts for serious diseases like cancer (Powell, 2015). This translates to somewhere in the region of 10g of mycelium or fruiting body extract of reishi per day. However, this study only suggests that reishi may be effective as a complementary treatment for cancer patients, much further work is required (Gao et al., 2003).

Currently, we can be sure at least that reishi stimulates the immune system as this was seen in another well controlled human study also (Wicks et al., 2007). Another study documented a patient with breast cancer who used reishi extract as a complementary therapy (Chen et al., 2007). According to this account, reishi helped reduce side effects from chemotherapy and radiotherapy, improved quality of life, and assisted tumour shrinkage.

Like reishi, there is similar interest in the turkey tail mushroom (trametes versicolor) and a phase I clinical trial indicated immune up-regulation in breast cancer patients taking extract of this mushroom (Torkelson et al., 2012). This mushroom made headlines in 2012 as researchers were given $5.4 million for continuing their investigation of its ability to assist conventional cancer therapy. This is a very large amount of money for a complementary medicine study. These pioneering researchers of the turkey tail mushroom are aiming to create effective natural anti-tumour therapies without the harsh side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Similar to reishi, the turkey tail mushroom has been shown to be effective against tumours in mice (Harhaji et al., 2008).


(Above) The maitake mushroom, another fungus where there is interest in it’s anti-tumour properties.


So it is not a good idea to throw away conventional medicine and run into the forest to hunt mushrooms. However, as research funding into complementary therapy grows, it is just a matter of time before convincing evidence regarding the human anti-tumor medicinal activity of mushrooms becomes available. In vivo and ex vivo experiments in experimental models imply mushrooms such as reishi, turkey tail, and cordyceps, will have a role in reducing side effects from chemotherapy, improving the efficiency of standard therapy, and possibly, even as a standalone therapy. The demonstrated efficiency of PSK in several high quality clinical trials supports the potential of medicinal mushrooms in the fight against cancer. What is needed now is more human clinical studies.


Baskar, R., et al. “Free radical scavenging activity of antitumour polysaccharide fractions isolated from Ganoderma lucidum (Fr.) P. karst.” (2008).

Castleman, Michael. “The new healing herbs.” Bantam Book, New York (2001): 465-471.

Chen, Alice W., and John Seleen. “Potential benefits of Ling Zhi or Reishi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.: Fr.) P. Karst.(Aphyllophoromycetideae) to breast cancer patients.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 9.1 (2007).

Fisher, Monte, and Li-Xi Yang. “Anticancer effects and mechanisms of polysaccharide-K (PSK): implications of cancer immunotherapy.” Anticancer research 22.3 (2002): 1737-1754.

Gao, Yihuai, et al. “A randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter study of Ganoderma lucidum (W. Curt.: Fr.) Lloyd (Aphyllophoromycetideae) polysaccharides (Ganopoly®) in patients with advanced lung cancer.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 5.4 (2003).

Harhaji, L. J., et al. “Anti-tumor effect of Coriolus versicolor methanol extract against mouse B16 melanoma cells: in vitro and in vivo study.” Food and chemical toxicology 46.5 (2008): 1825-1833.

Joseph, Soniamol, et al. “Antitumor and anti-inflammatory activities of polysaccharides isolated from Ganoderma lucidum.” Acta pharmaceutica 61.3 (2011): 335-342.

Liao, Shih-Fen, et al. “Immunization of fucose-containing polysaccharides from Reishi mushroom induces antibodies to tumor-associated Globo H-series epitopes.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110.34 (2013): 13809-13814.

Mizuno, Takashi, Tadamoto Sakai, and Goro Chihara. “Health foods and medicinal usages of mushrooms.” Food Reviews International 11.1 (1995): 69-81.

Nakazato, Hiroaki, et al. “Efficacy of immunochemotherapy as adjuvant treatment after curative resection of gastric cancer.” The Lancet 343.8906 (1994): 1122-1126.

Powell, Martin. Medicinal Mushrooms-A Clinical Guide. Mycology Press, 2015.

Sakamoto, Junichi, et al. “Efficacy of adjuvant immunochemotherapy with polysaccharide K for patients with curatively resected colorectal cancer: a meta-analysis of centrally randomized controlled clinical trials.” Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy 55.4 (2006): 404-411.

Torisu, Motomichi, et al. “Significant prolongation of disease-free period gained by oral polysaccharide K (PSK) administration after curative surgical operation of colorectal cancer.” Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy 31.5 (1990): 261-268.

Torkelson, Carolyn J., et al. “Phase 1 clinical trial of Trametes versicolor in women with breast cancer.” ISRN oncology 2012 (2012).

Wasser, Solomon P. “Medicinal mushroom science: history, current status, future trends, and unsolved problems.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 12.1 (2010).

Wicks, Sheila M., et al. “Safety and tolerability of Ganoderma lucidum in healthy subjects: a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial.” The American journal of Chinese medicine 35.03 (2007): 407-414.