Maitake Mushrooms

Other Names for Maitake Mushrooms: Grifolafrondosa;Grifola; Hen-of-the-Woods; Ram's Head; Sheep's Head; Signorina mushroom; Dancing mushroom; Monkey's bench

Useful Parts of the Plant: Whole mushroom

Maitake mushrooms grow in Japan and in the northeast regions of the US. It grows from a tuber-like structure under the ground and the fruiting body can grow as large as 100 cm. It forms a cluster of greyish-brown caps that are often curled into a spoon shape. The underside of the caps contain up to three spores per millimeter. The milky white stalk toughens as the mushroom matures. In Japan the maitake can grow up to 50 pounds and is known as the "King of mushrooms". Along with other mushrooms it is used in Japanese cuisine in a wide range of dishes. They are prized in traditional Japanese and Chinese medicine as an aid to return altered body states to a balanced state. Its taste and texture make it a popular food in Japan even though some cases of allergic reactions have been reported.

Nutritional Information and Properties of Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake mushrooms are rich in a variety of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium and various vitamins like niacin, B2 and D2. An active compound in maitake was discovered in the late 1980's. It is a protein based beta-glucan compound which has the property of enhancing immune activity. Research has also indicated that whole maitake has the ability to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels, decrease insulin resistance and decrease levels of cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids. It may also be beneficial in inducing weight loss.

Health Benefits and Therapeutic Uses of Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake mushroom is best known for its cancer fighting properties. Grifolan, a beta-glucan polysaccharide, is one of the active compounds in maitake with these properties. Grifolan has been known to activate macrophages within the immune system which help in fighting cancer cells. This immune boosting capability may make it useful in treating HIV/AIDS patients.

Phase I/II human trials on humans, conducted by the Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center, showed that maitake could stimulate the immune system of breast cancer patients. In vitro research has shown that maitake induces apoptosis in cancer cells and inhibits the growth of various types of cancer cells. Other studies with human cancer patients showed that an active compound, the Maitake D-fraction, possesses anti-cancer properties. Natural killer (NK) cells play a primary role in regulating immune responses. Maitake D may be able to activate these NK cells and boost immune responses. Individuals treated with maitake in conjunction with chemotherapy reported less side effects from chemotherapy, such as loss of appetite, hair loss, nausea and vomiting. The US Food and Drug Administration approved an Investigational New Drug Application for a part of the maitake mushroom in 1997.

Another active compound in maitake contains an alpha glucosidase inhibitor. Research has shown that this compound has the ability to lower blood sugar levels, making it potentially useful in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes. It has shown that maitake can also reduce insulin resistance.

Maitake also contains antioxidants which help to neutralize the damage caused by free-radicals in the body. Many doctors in Japan use it to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and thereby improve cardiovascular health.It is also recommended in case of stomach ailments as it aids digestion by regulating the stomach and intestine actions. Some people even take maitake mushroom supplements as a means to ward off cold and flu.