Widely known as an immune modulator, this gorgeous mushroom is also a superb nervous system tonic, both soothing and restorative. Reishi’s calming effect is quite unusual and very difficult to describe, but it is recognizable and familiar. Taken on a regular basis, it promotes deep sleep, settles the mind and improves oxygen utilization (an action that strengthens brain function). It is most effective for people whose lungs and liver are weak and for those with poor circulation. Reishi dramatically improves circulation and is a very effective medicine for many cardiovascular disorders. Emotional wounds are often trapped and remembered in the circulatory system. Certain herbs that promote blood flow are helpful for clearing old psychic pain as they release stagnant blood. Reishi does this very nicely.
Rosemary is another extremely effective herb for facilitating the release of painful memories that are lodged in the liver, blood, and heart. Much of what we think the brain is doing is actually being done by the liver. Rosemary’s and Reishi’s propensity to increase circulation, detoxify the liver, and calm the heart simultaneously allow for the full rounded effect necessary for deep healing. But Rosemary can be warm, acrid, dispersing and a little harsh. Reishi is more gentle and forgiving. Reishi and Rosemary both increase mental power, in part, by clearing obsessive ideation from the heptobiliary system. Stuck liver and gallbladder energy is responsible for much of what we believe to be our grudges and dislikes. As we break up stagnant Blood and Chi we make space for new and original thoughts and insights.
Arnica has a very similar action and can also release hidden or long-forgotten memories. But Arnica is extremely potent and you may relive all those memories, as they pass directly through your consciousness and are cleared. Because Arnica doesn’t have a nerve calming effect, you may end up dealing with these old issues in a very direct and kinesthetic way. Because Reishi also calms the nervous system and is a great comforter, it’s like dealing with all these issues while a friend holds your hand- with Arnica you’re on your own. The best way to use Arnica for this purpose is to chew on a tiny piece of a leaf. This option is usually only available to people who live in the Rocky Mountains (where it grows wild) or Scandinavia. Otherwise, you can use a very tiny amount of tincture, 1/5th of one drop of a 1:10 tincture (Herb Pharm) or homeopathic Arnica 200c. Arnica tincture can be toxic internally, hence the very low dose.
Thyme also acts on long-forgotten events and unresolved emotions deep in the subconscious. But Thyme, with its rich and hot essential oil, seems to somehow dissolve them, so that we don’t have to relive these painful stories as acutely as we do with Arnica.
Because of Reishi’s tonic effect on the lungs, it is useful for enhancing the creative process. In many cases, when people (often men) are treated poorly or are emotionally beaten down over an extended period of time they tend to bend forward and hunch over in a protective stance. This can close down both their lungs and their hearts, creating not only a boundary to the outside world, but also a boundary to their own creative process. Formality and obsessive ritual interfere with physical and psychic inhalation/exhalation. As a result, our connection with heaven and its inspirational forces suffer. Reishi works well with Oshá (which brings out the fire within metal) to restore deep breathing, cellular respiration and circulation of energy in the heart and lungs so we have access to both our own deeply hidden truths and the elemental forces. Oshá contributes the spark of Wild Nature that turns our vision away from the normal and towards the subtle light that grounds our artistic enterprises.
Reishi and Hawthorn combine beautifully for women who feel emotionally hollow and unable to connect to their own feelings and creative core. They warm the heart and strengthen both the physical and emotional heartbeat. Reishi and Hawthorn both carry, in their respective cultures, a reputation of supernatural and shamanic importance – both are associated with the sacred red color that their traditions say connect us with a hidden world – the heart, with all its secrets, is a true hidden world – one we need to visit once in a while. Dong Quai is also specific for warming the heart, which fosters a loving and compassionate attitude that is the hallmark of feminine power. Much of the supposed hormonal activity of Dong Quai is really the body waking up when the heart is tended to.
Reishi can be very helpful in overcoming small but destructive addictions. When our minds and hearts are disquieted they naturally seek an anchor to hold them steady. These anchors are often repetitive thoughts and attitudes that keep us from looking more closely at a situation or understanding the people around us. Reishi’s ability to create in us a sense of quiet and lucid serenity can be like a wise friend who points out something we haven’t noticed before.
Matthew Becker is an herbalist and Lead Practitioner at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in Boulder, CO. He is a senior faculty member at CSCH who teaches in our Fundamentals and Advanced Herbalism programs.