The Ultimate Guide to Maitake: The Footloose Fungi

The Maitake mushroom has so many benefits that it'll make you dance for joy. Let us introduce you!

We like to think of our communitea as a fun place where we can gather together, provide information on our favorite ‘shrooms, discuss all things wellness, and make some bad mushroom-related puns (#sorrynotsorry).

Like any other gathering, it would be super awkward if we didn’t introduce you to our ‘shroommates before expecting you to mingle. Could you imagine mistaking a Chaga mushroom for a Reishi?

Yikes.

Never fear! These guides to each mushroom are to get that awkward small talk out of the way. We’re here to break the ice so that you know these ‘shrooms inside and out and can avoid a fungal faux pas.

All of our beverage mixes feature the same six mushrooms, which we have deemed the “6 Protectors Mushroom Immune Support Complex.” We believe that we have found the tastiest, ‘shroomiest, most immune-boosting mix of mushrooms that we could to give you a quality drink that is not only enjoyable to drink, but also gives you some awesome benefits.

Sure, we picked out these ‘shrooms specifically for their immune support, but each functional mushroom that we use has various other distinctions and benefits. We would be remiss if we didn’t give you a deep dive into each mushroom individually to let you know what makes them special.

So let’s dive in and learn all about the Maitake mushroom...

 

Introduction

Just when you thought that mushrooms couldn’t get any more fun, in this article, you’re going to learn all about our footloose fungi, Maitake, also known as “the dancing mushroom.”

The Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) got its name because it was said that Samurai who foraged it would dance for joy when they found one. “Maitake” literally means “the dancing mushroom” in Japanese! Even the mushroom itself seems to dance for joy when its frilly cap is blown by the wind. Because of its frilly appearance, it has been given several other names such as “hen of the woods,” “sheep’s head,” and “ram’s head.” The Maitake mushroom is considered a polypore mushroom, so it doesn’t have the classic gills you may expect to see on a mushroom, but instead spreads its spores from tiny pores on its underside.

 

two maitake mushrooms growing on a mossy log

Figure 1. The Maitake mushroom has a frilly cap that “dances” in the wind and looks a bit like a sheep’s head or a ram’s head. Photo by puttography. (Shutterstock).

 

If you're out in the woods of Japan, China, or North America, you'll often find it growing from the bottom of oak and elm trees. It appears briefly in the autumn months, only to vanish come winter.

The Maitake mushroom is wildly popular in Japan and China (and has been for centuries), being sought after not just for its invigorating vitality, but also its delicious taste. Maitake mushrooms are most commonly used dried in Japanese cuisine, where they are crumbled into food, adding flavor and texture to many dishes like soups and salads. However, the mushroom craze is beginning to rub off on the West. Increasingly Maitake has been gaining popularity in the western world in recent decades.

Maitake mushrooms are magical, but not in the way you may think. Maitakes are adaptogens, meaning they conform to whichever mental or physical ailment that your body needs help healing. They also work hard to help balance the systems within your body that are out of whack. Even without these effects, they’re an impressive source of nutrition. The dancing mushroom is rich in antioxidants, vitamins B and C, copper, potassium, amino acids, and various other minerals.

 

Immunitea Support

Before we go into the various other benefits that the Maitake mushroom has to offer, let’s look at how the Maitake mushroom supports immunity (or “immunitea” as we like to call it ;)).

The Maitake mushroom is known for its immune-boosting properties. Maitakes have been shown to stimulate the bone marrow to produce both red and white blood cells depending on which the body is lacking. As white blood cells are an important part of our immune system, this makes Maitake mushrooms very helpful in supporting our immune response.

One study that examined the effects of Maitake and Shiitake mushrooms on the immune system found that mice that had been given both Maitake and Shiitake had the most significant boost to their immune systems. The subjects given only Maitake had the second most significant boost, proving that Maitake has a positive effect on the immune system, even though our ‘shrooms are better when taken together.

Additionally, Maitake mushrooms have a bioactive component called “D Fraction” that is responsible for much of the anticancer benefits of taking Maitake mushrooms. Research has found that D Fraction (the bioactive component of the maitake mushroom) is effective for cancer treatment because it strengthens the body’s immunity and appears to slow the growth of cancer tumors. D Fraction extract has been shown to be a powerful agent to be considered either alone or in conjunction with other agents as a cancer therapy.

 

dried maitake mushrooms in a wooden carton on a white background

Figure 2. Maitake is commonly used dried in Japanese cuisine. Photo by jotapg. (Shutterstock).

 

Other Benefits

Maitake mushrooms have a growing wealth of studies documenting some pretty impressive effects. Firstly, it has been reported they can suppress tumor growth. Most of the research has been done on mice, but the results are believed to have significance for people.

Further research carried out in 2013 suggested that D Fraction could be especially useful in preventing and treating breast cancer. Lab tests on human breast cancer cells showed significant reductions in size and spread of tumors. Although this has not been tested yet on patients, this could be very promising as a supplement to conventional cancer treatment. Beyond being a helpful supplemental cancer treatment, the Maitake mushroom also helped to alleviate some of the negative side effects of chemotherapy such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and leukopaenia (the reduction of white blood cells).

The Maitake mushroom could also be beneficial for those suffering from diabetes. A 2015 study found that maitake mushrooms had very positive benefits in regulating blood sugar levels and improved glycemic responses in diabetic rats. Maitake has two beta-glucans in particular that help those with diabetes: factor X and SX. While both serve to lower blood sugar, factor X normalizes insulin function in the body, while SX promotes insulin production and increases the use of blood sugar by the cells. Maitake could be largely helpful to those suffering from diabetes because it not only increases the production of insulin, but also lowers blood sugar levels by limiting the body’s absorption of sugars.

Insulin is not solely a diabetic-related problem, either. Those suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a disorder that affects 6-12% of women in the US and is one of the leading causes of infertility, are also often insulin resistant. With Maitake’s effects on insulin production and function, it has been shown to also help those suffering from PCOS. In one study, a Maitake polysaccharide extract helped to facilitate ovulation in the majority of women taking it, and several women in the study who expressed interest in becoming pregnant were able to do so.

But women aren’t the only group of people who can benefit! Maitake has also been shown to help counteract prostate enlargement and improve urinary flow in men.

Maitake also has anti-inflammatory properties that are helpful for several organs and processes. Primarily in the gut, people can take Maitake mushrooms to relieve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and promote gastrointestinal health. The Maitake mushroom can also help to regulate the intestine by stimulating trypsin, amylase, and lipase (enzymes in the pancreas). This stimulation enhances digestion and aids the absorption of nutrients by the small intestine.

One study found that maitake was pivotal to reducing a pro-inflammatory compound known as TNF-alpha. As a result, colonic ulceration was inhibited and free radical damage reduced. Additionally, the Maitake mushroom suppresses a biological toxin called D-galactosamine, which can cause inflammation of the liver.

Finally, the Maitake mushroom can be beneficial for those trying to manage their cholesterol. High cholesterol is a common issue that can lead to heart attack and stroke. Research carried out on mice found that the maitake mushroom increased fatty acids and therefore could help keep the arteries clear and healthy. Other animal testing suggests that the fibers in the maitake increased HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and reduced LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

 

Conclusion

The benefits of the Maitake mushroom are far-reaching, but its effects on cholesterol and diabetes are truly astounding. From both lowering “bad” cholesterol while raising “good” cholesterol to lowering blood sugar while normalizing insulin functioning, the Maitake mushroom can help those suffering from many different ailments. If we were lucky enough to find Maitake in nature, we’re sure that we’d be dancing, just like the Samurai did. This is why we consider Maitake to be our “Footloose fungi.”

If you’d like to continue your research, we encourage you to check out our blog to learn about the benefits of all of our functional mushrooms and how they compare to one another.

Have you incorporated the Maitake mushroom into your diet? What benefits have you found to taking Maitake?

 

Cover Photo By puttography from Shutterstock.

 

Sources:

Ardigò, W. (2017). Healing With Medicinal Mushrooms: A Practical Handbook. Youcanprint Self-Publishing.

HALPERN, G. M. (2007). HEALING MUSHROOMS. Garden City Park, NY: SQUARE ONE.

Isokauppila, T., & Hyman, M. H. (2017). Healing mushrooms: A practical and culinary guide to using mushrooms for whole body health. New York, NY: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Powell, M. (2014). Medicinal mushrooms - a clinical guide. Ferndown, Dorset: Mycology Press.