The Shiitake mushroom was first recognized for its medicinal properties in China, where it has been used as a healing agent for thousands of years. The name comes from Shii Tree, on whose dead trunks the mushroom is traditionally cultivated.
In addition to its salutary properties, the mushroom makes a tasty food. It is used in soups and steamed dishes, but is especially popular as a sautéed addition to many dishes. In order to preserve the health benefits, it is best to sauté the mushroom no longer than seven minutes.
Shiitake stands out among mushrooms as a good provider of many wholesome nutrients. The mushroom provides large amounts of vitamins B2, B5 and B6; six minerals, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, copper and zinc; dietary fiber; protein, magnesium, and vitamin D.
One protein in Shiitake is known to stimulate the metabolism of cholesterol in the liver. The regulation of cholesterol may contribute to the mushroom’s cardiovascular effects. Additional benefits come from compounds in Shiitake that block binding of immune cells to the inner lining of blood vessels. This prevents the development of inflammatory reactions in the walls of blood vessels, which consequently reduces the amount of atherosclerosis.
Other polysaccharide compounds in Shiitake stimulate the immune system. One such chemical is Lentinan, which is registered as an anti-cancer drug on the Japanese formulary, and studies have shown its effectiveness in fighting hepatocellular cancer and prostate cancer.
Other components in the mushroom have been shown to stimulate interferon, one of the body’s strong infection fighters. And at the same time Shiitake has been shown to stimulate macrophages, cells that help get rid of the body’s internal garbage.
Providing all these effects together helps explain why the mushroom’s extract has been found to suppress symptoms in AIDS patients, lower blood pressure, reduce platelet aggregation, fight viral illnesses and bacterial infections.
The mushroom is effective both when consumed as a food and when ingested as an extract. However, people are warned not to eat large quantities of raw Shiitake, as that can cause a 10 day unpleasant dermatitis.
Shiitake is available in many herbal preparations, and recently, for example, the online marketing company E-Helps included it in their immune stimulating herbal treatment “BioHope.” They added Shiitake to four other healing mushrooms including Golden Needle Mushroom Extract, Agaricus Mushroom Extract, Ganoderma Extract and Cordyceps Extract.