Shiitake - The Romantic Mushroom
Shiitake is said to love music - classical and rock and roll. It also likes company and flashlights. At least that is what some farmers who deal with Shiitake on a daily basis say. They assert that when you grow Shiitake on an isolated log, it does not produce as much as when the log is in a cluster. Word has it that it also produces generously when the people attending to it emit positive energy. If there are some clumsy people near it or arguments or fighting going on, Shiitake tends to be defiant and wilts. In fact some Shiitake farmers simulate the ideal environment in anticipation for better yields. In return, Shiitake too provides a unique variety known as Donko whose inside remains moist and soft even when its surface is dry. The variety has white pores well patterned against its dark brown caps. According to Asians, Donko is a potent aphrodisiac. For that reason, while it sells for $40 a pound in the US, it goes for double that amount and more in the Asian countries.
And although most of us might disagree and take this as schoolboy myths, it still does not change the fact that Asia is the most populous continent with more than a third of the world’s population.
Where is Shiitake found?
Shiitake’s native land is Asia with a great presence in China. It has been held with great importance in Japan too. Its name, Shiitake, is Japanese, where ‘Shii’ is the name of the tree that usually hosts the mushroom. The tree belongs to the Birch family. ‘Take’ means the mushroom fruit. Despite its preferences above, Shiitake is very adaptable and can grow anywhere. In the US, for instance, people grow them in simple greenhouses, converted chicken houses, under tree shades outside, and virtually anywhere.
In a natural environment, the mushroom spores are released in the seasons of spring and autumn. Thereafter they prepare themselves to sprout when the moisture and temperatures are fitting. Sometimes the mushroom will sprout in fives or sixes overnight.
Although taken seriously in the US today, for many years Shiitake used to be among the restricted or forbidden plants in the country. It was confused with a strain of Lentinula fungus that was destructive to railroads. However, in the 1970s, the US congress saw the light and opened doors to Shiitake. This meant many countries followed suit and today it is grown in large scale using modern agricultural practices.
Shiitake’s Culinary & Health superiority
Shiitake’s flavour is 4 to 10 times more intense than that of ordinary button mushroom. It is also fleshy and is rich in nutrients. It contains proteins (18%), potassium, niacin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and B vitamins.
Johann Bruhn, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor, Division of
Plant Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia & Michelle Hall, Senior Information Specialist, Center for Agroforestry, University of Missouri-Columbia in 2008 updated their elaborate article on the Shiitake mushroom, describing it from the forest to the table. They even give recipes that go well with the mushroom in a very simplified setting.
They indicated that the mushroom is low in sodium, low in glucose and is a rich source of fibre. Hence, Shiitake is ideal for diabetics and other invalids. In their writings,“Influence of shiitake (Lentinusedodes) on human serum cholesterol” they recommend Shiitake for lowering serum cholesterol.
In Japan, Shiitake has been used as a natural treatment of cancer because of its complex carbohydrate, Lentinan. It is also a source of selenium, an antioxidant that is said to prevent cancer. According to The National Cancer Institute website, the institute has been using selenium in the hope of coming up with a cure to cancer. However until then why don’t you get a head start and reduce your chances of contracting cancer.
The mushroom is credited with lowering serum cholesterol levels by 12% through eritadenine. Eritadenine is a compound contained in the mushroom.
Shiitake’s healing properties are also reflected in its anti-viral strengths. It is said that once metabolised, the glucan based compound therein is able to fight the influenza virus, bacterial infection, and other infectious elements like cancerous cells. The Japanese pharmaceutical company, Ajinomoto, is already using Lentinan from Shiitake mushrooms to treat stomach cancers. Other countries are also using it as injectable medication to fight cancer.
The City of Hope National Medical Center is conducting further research to determine if Lentinan from the Shiitake mushroom is capable of preventing lung cancer. Research shows that Lentinan has strong anti-tumour properties and is already being used to fight gastric cancer. In some other areas, it is being tried as a cure for candida, tuberculosis, and the HIV virus. Generally, the polysaccharides in the Shiitake mushroom are credited with boosting a person’s immune system and hence keeping disease at bay. According to mushroom researcher Jeff Chilton:
"These compounds have been the primary focus of research due to their ability to inhibit tumors in laboratory test animals. Mushroom polysaccharides act by enhancing host defenses rather than directly killing tumor cells. For this reason they are called host defense potentiators (HDP)."