Forest Mushroom, Black Forest Mushroom, Shaingugu, Hua Gu, Qua Gu, Xiānggū, Pyogo, Lentin des Chênes, Champignon parfumé
Native to Japan, China, the Korean peninsula, and other areas of East Asia.
The Shiitake is the most popular mushroom in the world after the button mushroom and is another culinary favourite of the Chinese and Japanese. Although both these Asian cultures consume a great deal of Shiitake, and the well-known common name is Japanese, most of the traditional medicinal properties were pioneered by the Chinese. In the Ri Youg Ben Cao, a Traditional Chinese Medicine compendium written in 1620, Shiitake is attributed to being able to relieve hunger, stimulate ‘Qi’ (the vital life force), treat problems of cholesterol and cure colds and flu. In the 1960’s Japanese researchers conducted a survey of Japan to evaluate disease throughout the country. They found there were two districts in remote mountainous areas where nearly none of the population seemed to die from tumours. The researchers decided to investigate further and found that these two small region’s economy subsisted nearly exclusively from the cultivation of Shiitake Mushrooms. As a consequence the diet of these people was very heavy in Shiitake. This early research led Japanese scientists to later conduct further research into the composition of the Shitake to see if there was any validity to mushroom folklore that told of Shiitake enlivening vitality.
As with many medicinal mushroom Shiitake has a good amount of polysaccharide compounds within the fruiting body. Polysaccharides are polymeric carbohydrate molecules that when ingested are thought to be very good at boosting 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 are several studies that have been conducted with Shiitake that show that this mushroom could help with a number of other illnesses and problems. These include protecting the liver, tooth decay, helping the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon, cholesterol and Hepatitis B.
The nutritional content of these mushrooms has been seen to be very high meaning that in general Shiitake can help in sustaining the body in overall health.
Most commonly this mushroom is consumed as a food. In China and Japan it is also taken for its medical properties.
Shiitake is indigenous to Japan, China and Korea and has a long history of cultivation. One of the first historical records that mentions Shiitake is from 199 AD and tells of how the Kyusuyu tribe presented Chuai, the 14th emperor of Japan with Shiitake. In China the cultivation of Shiitake started around 1,000 years ago with a man called Wu San-Kwung from Zhejiang Province. A legend tells of how Kwung was testing his axe on a log that had Shiitake growing on it. Swinging his axe he made several cuts in the log before leaving. Returning after some days he discovered that the log had grown more Shiitake exactly where he had cut the log with his axe. Kwung continued to experiment and was the first pioneer of cultivated shitake. In a continuation of the same story Kwung is trying to perfect his method of cultivation but gets frustrated with one particular log that won’t fruit with Shiitake. After a long hard day of rain Kwung vents his frustration by beating and flinging the log around. After his return Kwung discovers that the mushroom that he beat so vigorously is completely covered in mushrooms, even more so than his other logs. Kwung had inadvertently discovered the ‘soak and beat’ method of mushroom cultivation which is still used today by some. Kwung’s contribution to Shiitake cultivation is commemorated in a temple situated in Qingyuan and festivals are still celebrated in his name.
1-3 beta-glucans; polysaccharide KS-2; glycoproteins (LEM, LAP); eritadenine; iron, niacin, vitamins B1 and B2.