Maitake mushrooms have been consumed in the Orient for at least 3000 years. Commonly called Hen of the Woods, they have frond-like growths which resemble the feathers of a fluffed-up chicken. These delicious-tasting mushrooms grow deep in the mountains of northeastern Japan, as well as east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. Maitake, which can grow as large as basketballs, are mainly found growing at the base of oak trees, but will appear under elms and maples too.
The Japanese word, Maitake, means ‘dancing mushroom’. According to Japanese legend, Buddhist monks discovered these mushrooms growing on a forest trail and they danced, celebrating their discovery of these delicious, health-promoting allies!
The medicinal properties of this King of the Mushrooms have been studied since the mid-1980’s. Numerous studies have shown Maitake to have immune-modulatory potential (1,22), anti-bacterial (2), anti-fungal (2), anti-tumor (3,4,5,6,7,8), anti-diabetic (9,10,11,12) and anti-viral properties (2).
Medicinal mushrooms, including Maitake, have been used for millennia to treat viral diseases. In 1990, the National Cancer Institute determined that Maitake gave 100% protection to uninfected T-cells exposed to the HIV virus in the test tube (2)
It is thought that Maitake’s beta-glucans stimulate the immune system and activate macrophages, T-cells and natural killer cells-cells that attack cancer. According to the U. S. National Cancer Institute, polysaccharide complexes in these mushroom appear to have significant anti-cancer activity and they could be a potential target for breast cancer prevention and treatment (7,2). In the last 12 years, more than 42 animal studies have been conducted to examine the activity of Maitake in cancer and the conclusion from these studies was that this mushroom may inhibit cancer through its stimulation of the immune system. (2)
A small but statistically significant clinical Japanese study showed that consuming Maitake increases ovulation by helping renormalize the insulin-glucose feedback pathways. More studies are needed to see if these mushrooms will help with infertility yet preliminary data suggest that Maitake may be useful in inducing ovulation in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (12). Another study showed this mushroom alleviated inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease (13)
It seems that for eons Maitake has been used to help heal the ills of humanity. Contemporary research is pointing us back to the wisdom of our ancestors who understood the healing power of mushrooms.
Possible Medicinal Benefits of Maitake:
- blood pressure
- blood sugar moderator
- cholesterol reducer
- immune enhancer
- stress reducer
My family is delighted every time I cook maitake. Our taste buds awaken in anticipation of its rich, deep and nuanced flavors. Paul Stamets
This medicinal mushroom is contra-indicated for those taking blood-thinning medications like warfarin or those taking hypoglycemic medications as it can have synergistic effects.*. (*Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website)
© Mushroom Mama, 2015. All rights reserved.