Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is perhaps the best known of the medicinal mushrooms. Traditionally grown on ‘shii’ logs (hence its name), shiitake is the second most cultivated mushroom worldwide, its medicinal properties extensively researched upon, and popular in the kitchen due to its robust earthy flavour and fleshy caps. Dried shiitake is especially packed with satisfying umami, the fifth savoury taste, as it is rich in the glutamate guanylate.
Shiitake has been renowned in Japan and China as a food and medicine for thousands of years, with historical records dating as far back as 199 A.D. Modern research has revealed that shiitake contains the active polysaccharide lentinan, which has anti-tumour, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing activity. Today, lentinan from shiitake is used as an anti-cancer drug in Japan, usually in conjunction with chemotherapy. Another active constituent of shiitake, eritadenine, may help lower blood cholesterol. In traditional Chinese medicine, shiitake is said to have a sweet taste and mild nature, and used to to restore and strengthen qi.
As with other mushrooms, shiitake has excellent nutritional value, rich in proteins, minerals (especially calcium), and vitamins B2 and C. Interestingly, while vitamin D is best obtained from the sun, we can also obtain this bone-building essential vitamin from shiitake as it contains ergosterol, a provitamin which converts to vitamin D under sunlight.
Shiitake is relatively tender and can be enjoyed in stir-fries or as part of a tasty vegetable patty. For a more potent extraction, you can make a decoction of shiitake along with other vegetables such as carrots, daikon and/or burdock root. To specifically strengthen the immune system, medicinal mushrooms like shiitake are best taken daily for an extended period.« Back to Glossary Index