Hen of the Woods, Sheep’s Head, Ram's Head, Huai Su Gu
Indigenous to northeast Japan, Europe, Asia, and the eastern side of the North American continent.
The Japanese have always been at the forefront of traditional mushroom knowledge and the Maitake Mushroom is no exception. Extending back through Japanese history the Maitake has played an important part in local economies and traditions being recognised for its delicious flavour and being a favourite amongst Japanese royalty. As with other mushrooms in East Asia, the Maitake was treasured for its life lengthening properties and was thought to bring vigour to the body. Taken as a tonic, this Mushroom was rumoured to fortify the immune system, lower blood pressure and bring extra vitality when taken regularly.
Although the medical benefits of the Maitake mushroom are seen as very important to the Japanese, it is the taste that has made this mushroom famous. Described as woody, smoky, deep and rich Maitake is said to awaken ‘umami’ or ‘the fifth taste’ and acts as a natural flavour enhancer when cooked with other foods. This mushroom grows in forests on the decaying roots of Oak, Beech and other hardwood trees. According to local Japanese folklore the mushroom prefers trees that have been struck by lightning.
During the 1980’s two Japanese researchers from Kobe Pharmaceutical University decided to see whether the traditional claims attributed to the Maitake Mushroom held weight. Hiroaki Nanba and Keiko Kubo through their research found significant amounts of beta-glucan polysaccharide compounds which are polymeric carbohydrate molecules in the fruiting body and mycelium of Maitake. Polysaccharides when ingested are thought to be very good at supporting the immune system and, in particular, helping those who are undergoing heavy treatment for life threatening illnesses. Beta-glucans from specific mushrooms attach to exact membrane receptors of phagocytic cells and natural killer cells, stimulating their germ-destroying abilities.
There have been other studies conducted that might also point to Maitake being of use to those suffering from Diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, hay fever, high cholesterol and Hepatitis.
Most commonly this mushroom is consumed as a food. In China and Japan it is also taken for its medical properties.
Maitake means ‘dancing mushroom’ in Japanese and has always been attributed to the feeling of joy. This might be because in feudal Japan local lords are said to have paid their subjects the equivalent weight of the Mushroom in silver. A tradition arose whereby the local lords would present their Shogun with Maitake Mushrooms to gain their favour. Japanese Villagers are said to have danced for joy upon finding a big clump of Maitake because they knew that they would be paid handsomely for them. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that Maitake were grown commercially and until this point the Maitake was the exclusive domain of those who knew where they grew. Because Maitake was seen as such a delicacy, and because of high demand, a culture of expert mushroom foragers flourished in the mountainous northern regions of Japan. Mushroom foragers would jealously guard exact locations in the forest where the mushrooms fruited. These spots where called ‘treasure islands’ and would be a secret to the forager until his death and only ever passed onto the eldest son in a will. Even though cultivation of Maitake was perfected and has been commercially available since the 1980’s, there still exists the culture of Japanese Mushroom foragers since many prefer Maitake that are found in the wild. Wild Maitake can grow into clusters the size of a volleyball or even bigger while commercially grown mushrooms usually have much smaller fruiting bodies.
Beta-glucans, fractions D and MD; Grifon-D, complex immunostimulant polysaccharides, amino acids, water, minerals: potassium, calcium, and magnesium and vitamins (b2, d2 and niacin)
Maitake shouldn’t be taken by those who have low blood pressure as this Mushroom could lower it even further.