The Ultimate Guide to Shiitake: The Familiar Fungi

Think you know the Shiitake mushroom? If you think its only benefits are in its nutrient profile, it's time we gave you a proper introduction...

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 Shiitake mushroom...

 

Introduction

Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) were first used by those in the Far East thousands of years ago. Shiitake mushrooms were used as both a medicine and a source of nutrition. According to legend, the Shiitake mushroom was given as a gift from an ancient Chinese deity. Since its introduction, it has long been considered to provide youthful, vibrant, and virile qualities.

Informally referred to as the “sawtooth oak mushroom,” “black forest mushroom,” and “golden oak mushroom,” Shiitake is known for its wide umbrella shape and curly rims. While the caps' exterior color usually ranges in varying tones of brown and tan, the inside of Shiitake is cream-colored or white and produces a firm, spongy texture.

Sometimes described as a burnt campfire marshmallow, these mushrooms are usually more massive than the white button mushrooms that you find at your local grocery store – they pack more flavor too! Shiitake is one of the most popular mushrooms throughout the world. You will usually see these buttons present in many Asian cuisines and other cultural dishes that have adapted their recipes to include this flavorful fungus. They are commonly used in many dishes to add a savoury or umami flavor.

Shiitake grows in clusters on the decaying wood of trees such as chestnut, oak, beech, maple, poplar, sweetgum, mulberry, and many more. They prefer warm and moist climates. If you plan on growing a few for yourself, you can also grow them on logs of hardwood trees they would naturally grow on in the wild.

 

shiitake mushrooms growing on mossy logs

Figure 1. Clusters of Shiitake mushrooms love to grow on decaying trees — you can even grow them yourself! Photo by puttography. (Shutterstock).

 

Immunitea Support

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

Studies have found Shiitake mushrooms support your immune system. 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.

Not only have Shiitake mushrooms shown to improve immune markers in humans, but they even showed the ability to reverse the age-related decline in immune function in mice. Moreover, consumption of Shiitake mushrooms has been linked to improved gut immunity and reduced inflammation.

 

Other Benefits

First off, Shiitake mushrooms pack in an impressive nutrient profile. Rich in essential minerals and vitamins: just four shiitake mushrooms will give you 39% of your daily copper, 33% of vitamin B5, 11% of niacin, as well as tons more vital nutrients (e.g. iron, selenium, and zinc). Plus, they contain many of the same amino acids as meat, so function as a reliable and filling source of protein.

Their nutrient profile might make them incredible dietary additions, but they also contain a few ingredients to boost your libido. Shiitake mushrooms are rich in zinc, which has been shown to increase testosterone levels, thereby reducing erectile dysfunction and sending your libido into the stratosphere.

They also contain a substantial amount of niacin. Recent reports have earned the compound a reputation as the vitamin of love. It helps open blood vessels, particularly to the pelvic region. This has been shown to help men suffering from impotence.

Shiitake mushrooms also work wonders for your digestive system! Shiitake mushrooms help to repopulate the intestines with one of our “healthy” gut bacteria, lactic acid, which combats “bad” gut bacteria. Further down the digestive tract, Shiitake mushrooms have a positive effect on the colon, too. Because Shiitake mushrooms also help growth of “healthy” gut bacteria in the colon, they have been shown to reduce colon cancer formation.

Nor do the benefits stop there. Meanwhile, they aid heart health by reducing cholesterol and lowering your risk of heart disease. Overall, the energy you get from these little mushrooms is impressive. But best of all, there’s a growing belief they can even ward off cancer. Certain countries throughout Asia even use an injectable form of a compound found within shiitake mushrooms to use alongside chemotherapy.

Shiitake mushrooms are even beneficial for your teeth and bones. Because Shiitake mushrooms are rich in vitamin D2, they strengthen bones through re-mineralization and increasing calcium absorption. On those “outside bones” we call teeth, Shiitake mushrooms help to keep your teeth healthy by preventing bacteria that causes plaque from colonizing the mouth, thereby protecting the teeth against tooth decay.

 

box of shiitake mushrooms with a sign that reads "certified organic shiitake 12.50 lb."

Figure 2. Shiitake mushrooms are easy to find at your local store and make a great savoury addition to your meal! Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash.

 

Conclusion

The Shiitake mushroom has many powerful benefits. Beyond its support of the immune system, the Shiitake mushroom is great if you’re looking to support your digestive system or even prevent cavities! Not only that, but Shiitake mushrooms are easy to buy and cook, which makes it easy to add this delicious ‘shroom to your diet. Since this mushroom is so well-known (although you may not have been previously aware of all of the health benefits you were adding to your stir-fry!), we consider the Shiitake mushroom to be our “Familiar 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 Shiitake mushroom into your diet? What benefits have you found to taking Shiitake?

 

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.