The west coast reishi (scientific name Ganoderma tsugae) is a polypore mushroom with a flat shape. The scientific name is a mixture of the ancient Greek words ganos (bright) and derma (skin), due to the shiny surface of this species. The west coast reishi is commonly found on hemlock trees, part of the Tsuga genus, which serve as a host. A very similar species is Ganoderma lucidum, which looks almost the same but grows on deciduous trees instead. The name lucidum comes from the Latin word for "light" or "bright", which again is due to the glinting surface of this species.
Just like the same implies, the west coast reishi is a close relative of the reishi and shares some of the medicinal qualifies of this famous mushroom. It has a knobby or elongated shape when young, usually irregular, but it becomes shaped like a fan or kidney when mature. The size of the cap is between 4 and 24 cm, with a shiny surface that consists of several lumps. Young specimens have yellow or white patches at the edge, mature ones turn reddish brown, orange or dark red. The stem has a thickness of 3 cm and a length between 3 and 14 cm, it is sometimes absent. West coast reishi usually grows at an angle from one side of the cap and has the same color as the rest of the mushroom. Young specimens have white flesh, it later becomes brown. The surface is covered by pores that consist of 2 cm long tubes, between 4 and 6 pores are located on every mm, too small to be visible.
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The species can be both a parasite, on eastern hemlocks and western hemlocks, and a saprobic of dead trees, especially conifers.
It is basically impossible to visually distinguish this beautiful mushroom from the closely related Ganoderma lucidum, all physical traits are almost identical. The two species can be identified based on the host trees: Ganoderma tsugae grows on hemlocks, firs and conifers, while Ganoderma lucidum is typically found on hardwoods. The flesh also has a different color, the one of Ganoderma lucidum being whiter. The caps and stems of both species have the same varnished appearance.
The west coast reishi is believed to share the medicinal benefits of its relative, Ganoderma lucidum (reishi). Both are commonly used to speed up the healing of skin wounds. Scientists are trying to determine the effectiveness of the various Ganoderma species using phylogenetic analysis; it is not yet known which one has the strongest effects. The medicinal power of these mushrooms seems to depend on many factors, even the same species is heavily influenced for example by the environmental conditions or the type of soil in the area.
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West coast reishi was found to have significant medicinal benefits after studies on mice. West coast reishi provides a number of bioactive polysaccharides that might be effective against cancer as well. One of the oldest known effects of these mushrooms is as a wound dresser. This appears to be caused by an important increase in the production of fibroblast cells, which was validated by modern research.
Both Ganoderma tsugae and G. lucidum are not toxic but their tough woody texture makes them inedible. The bioactive compounds in their composition can be used if the mushrooms are prepared as extracts or brewed as teas. If polysaccharides are needed, the best option is a tea or another hot water beverage. Triterpenoids can be extracted more effectively using alcohol or a combination of alcohol with glycerin.
Ancient Chinese medicine used various species of Ganoderma to perk up memory, to support agility or to extend life span. This species was also used to treat rheumatism, leukemia, asthma, gastric ulcers, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and eating problems. The species was even known as the mushroom of immortality due to the belief that it could increase longevity. It is an old custom in many Asian countries to drink Ganoderma tea daily as a method to fight the effects of aging.
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Due to its importance as a dietary supplement, the west coast reishi has been cultivated commercially. It is considered to be an effective treatment for cardiac diseases, due to the very high content of antioxidants. Oxidative damage is one of the main causes of cardiovascular conditions.
Since cancer is one of the most lethal diseases of the modern society, thousands of research studies are trying to find a cure for it. The west coast reishi has also been investigated as a promising counter for this widespread problem. It provides a mixture of triterpenoids that can limit the expansion of tumours and prevent metastasis. Extracts from west coast reishi are able to find and destroy cancer cells inside the body in an active manner, which makes it even more interesting for scientists.
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High blood pressure is another very common health concern of today's world and heart diseases kill more people than any other condition. Tests have proven that west coast reishi decreases blood pressure while increasing the flow of blood to the heart at the same time. In addition, more oxygen reaches the body tissues and organs because the heart uses a lower amount for its own needs. Some of the bioactive compounds provided by the west coast reishi and found in generous amounts in the extract can greatly reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack by controlling the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) which causes these problems.
West coast reishi extracts were also found to be very beneficial for the liver. Since the liver is one of the key organs of the human body, it is very important to keep it clear of toxins. Compounds supplied by the mushroom can eliminate waste, neutralize the free radicals that accumulate in the liver and boost the regeneration of liver cells.
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Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and other neurological conditions are poorly understood by scientists and these cognitive disorders remain impossible to cure effectively. Extracts of west coast reishi mushrooms are not a definite solution either but provide very valuable neuroprotective effects. They can stimulate the nerve growth factor and improve cognitive activity, which decreases the symptoms of these diseases.
Traditional medicinal system also uses west coast reishi to improve energy, in addition to longevity. These effects are actually very well paired, since the level of energy decreases with age. As a result, west coast reishi fights both the cause and the effect at the same time.
West coast reishi grows as a parasite of live conifers such as the eastern hemlock and western hemlocks and also as a saprobic on dead conifer wood. On the heartwood west coast reishi produces a visible white butt rot. It is usually found alone but multiple fruiting bodies in the same area are not uncommon. West coast reishi is widespread in all the North American forests where hemlocks grow.