Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinula Edodes)
You will be familiar with the shiitake mushroom as a staple ingredient in Asian cuisine. But this savory mushroom has some surprising medicinal properties as well, which is why it is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as in the form of supplements.
The shiitake mushroom (Lentinula edodes) is an edible mushroom native to East Asia, which is now cultivated and consumed around the world.
Miles Joseph Berkeley, one of the founders of plant pathology, first called the fungus Agaricus edodes in 1887. Then in 1976, the mycologist David Pegler placed the mushroom in the genus Lentinula. Throughout history, this fungus has been given a variety of scientific names.
The mushroom’s Japanese name shiitake is made up of shii (for the tree Castanopsis cuspidata that provides the dead logs on which the mushroom is cultivated) and take (“mushroom”). In terms of the scientific name, edodes is the Latin word for “edible”.
Other common names for the shiitake mushroom include “sawtooth oak mushroom”, “black forest mushroom”, “black mushroom”, “golden oak mushroom”, and “oakwood mushroom”.
Shiitake mushrooms grow in groups on the decaying wood of deciduous trees, especially shii, as well as chestnut, oak, maple, beech, sweetgum, poplar, hornbeam, ironwood, and mulberry. Its natural distribution includes warm and moist climates in Southeast Asia.
The earliest written record of shiitake cultivation can be found in the Records of Longquan County, which He Zhan compiled in 1209 during the Song dynasty in China.
The Japanese horticulturist Satō Chūryō adapted this description of shiitake cultivation into a book in 1796, making this the first book on shiitake cultivation in Japan. The Japanese cultivated the shiitake mushroom by cutting shii trees with axes and placing the logs by trees that were already growing shiitake mushrooms or that contained shiitake spores.
Commercially, shiitake mushrooms are usually grown in conditions similar to that of their natural environment, utilizing either an artificial substrate or hardwood logs, such as oak.
Around 83 percent of shiitake mushrooms are grown in Japan, although the United States, Canada, Singapore, and China also produce them (using synthetic substrate). Over 60 percent of the total world production is dried before consumption. In Taiwan, South Korea, and China, nearly all shiitake mushrooms are used in dried form.
In this post, we’ll be doing a deep dive into the shiitake mushroom, looking at:
- Shiitake mushroom benefits
- How to grow shiitake mushrooms
- Potential side effects of consuming shiitake mushrooms
- How to cook shiitake mushrooms
- How to make shiitake mushroom tea/coffee
- Shiitake mushroom powder
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Shiitake Mushroom Benefits
Before exploring the medicinal benefits of the shiitake mushroom, let’s highlight its nutritional profile.
The Nutritional Profile Of Shiitake Mushrooms
The shiitake mushroom is low in calories, yet they offer good amounts of fiber, as well as B vitamins and some minerals.
- Calories: 44
- Carbohydrates: 11 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 1 g
- Riboflavin: 11 percent of the Daily Value (DV)
- Niacin: 11 percent of the DV
- Copper: 39 percent of the DV
- Vitamin B5: 33 percent of the DV
- Selenium: 10 percent of the DV
- Manganese: 9 percent of the DV
- Zinc: 8 percent of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 7 percent of the DV
- Folate: 6 percent of the DV
- Vitamin D: 6 percent of the DV
The nutrients in four dried shiitake mushrooms (15 g) are:
Shiitake mushrooms also contain polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids, some of which have a range of beneficial effects, which we will now describe.
Heart Health Benefits
Shiitake mushrooms may offer some heart health benefits. For example, they contain three compounds that may help to lower bad “LDL” cholesterol:
- Eritadenine: This compound inhibits an enzyme involved in producing cholesterol.
- Sterols: These molecules help block cholesterol absorption in your gut.
- Beta-glucans: These soluble fibers (that come from the cell walls of the mushroom) can lower cholesterol.
One study in rats with high blood pressure found that shiitake powder prevented an increase in blood pressure. A separate study in lab rats fed a high-fat diet revealed that those given shiitake developed less fat in their livers, less plaque in their artery walls, and lower cholesterol levels than the animals that didn’t eat the mushrooms.
Nonetheless, these effects need to be confirmed in human studies.
Immune System Benefits
Consuming shiitake mushrooms may also help strengthen your immune system.
Researchers in one study gave people two dried shiitake mushrooms daily. After one month, the participants’ immune markers improved and their inflammation levels dropped. This immune effect could be partly down to one of the polysaccharides found in shiitake mushrooms.
(Some level of inflammation is necessary to protect the body, but too much is associated with damage to the arteries, organs, and joints, contributing to a range of physical and psychological conditions.)
While people’s immune systems tend to weaken with age, one mouse study discovered that a supplement derived from shiitake mushrooms can help reverse some age-related decline in immune function.
Potential Anti-Cancer Effects
The polysaccharides contained in shiitake mushrooms may also have an anti-cancer effect.
For instance, the polysaccharide lentinan helps fight tumors by activating the immune system. This compound has been shown to inhibit the growth and spread of leukemia cells.
For this reason, in China and Japan, an injectable form of lentinan is used alongside chemotherapy and other major cancer treatments to enhance the immune system and quality of life in people with gastric cancer.
However, there is still insufficient evidence on whether eating shiitake mushrooms has any effect on cancer.
Possible Antibacterial And Antiviral Effects
There are several compounds in shiitake mushrooms that have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal effects.
Since antibiotic resistance is growing worldwide, some scientists believe that it’s important to explore the antimicrobial potential of shiitake mushrooms.
However, while isolated compounds found in shiitake show antimicrobial activity in test tubes, it is not clear if eating shiitake mushrooms would have any effect on viral, bacterial, or fungal infections in people.
Potential Bone-Strengthening Effects
Mushrooms are the only natural plant source of vitamin D. This is an essential nutrient. Your body needs it to build strong bones, yet very few foods contain it.
The vitamin D levels of any mushroom depend on how it’s grown. When exposed to UV light, mushrooms develop higher levels of this compound.
In one study, mice fed a low-calcium, low-vitamin D diet developed symptoms of osteoporosis (characterized by fragile bones that are more likely to break). In contrast, mice given calcium and UV-enhanced shiitake had higher bone density.
However, you should keep in mind that shiitake provided vitamin D2. This is an inferior form compared to vitamin D3, which is found in fatty fish and some other animal foods.
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Potential Side Effects Of Shiitake Mushrooms
Most people can safely consume shiitake mushrooms, although some side effects may occur for certain individuals.
In rare cases, consumption of raw or slightly cooked shiitake mushrooms may cause an allergic reaction called “shiitake mushroom dermatitis”. This involves a rash that occurs all over the body, including the face and scalp, appearing about 24 hours after consumption, possibly worsened by sun exposure. The rash will disappear after 3-21 days.
Shiitake dermatitis is thought to occur due to the presence of the polysaccharide lentinan. The condition is more common in East Asia, although it may be growing in occurrence in Europe as shiitake mushroom consumption increases. Cooking the mushroom thoroughly may eliminate the risk.
In addition, using powdered shiitake mushroom extract over a long period of time may cause other side effects, including stomach upset and sensitivity to sunlight.
Some also claim that shiitake mushrooms’ high levels of purine can cause symptoms in people with gout. This is a compound in food known to cause gout. Most mushrooms contain low amounts of it, but shiitake and hiratake contain higher levels. Nevertheless, there is also research suggesting that eating mushrooms can lower one’s risk of gout.
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How To Grow Shiitake Mushrooms
If you want to have an abundant supply of shiitake mushrooms for culinary and/or health reasons, then you may decide you want to grow them. The best way to cultivate these mushrooms is by using logs as the substrate.
Here’s everything you need to grow shiitake mushrooms in logs:
- 100 inoculated shiitake mushroom plugs. You can buy these from a variety of vendors.
- Two recently cut hardwood tree sections with the bark still intact. These should be 4-8” in diameter and 3-4’ long. Thick barked hardwoods such as oak and poplars are ideal.
- A high-speed/power drill with a multi-purpose 5/16” drill bit.
- A rubber mallet (or a hammer, but a mallet is better). This is for tapping the mushroom plugs into the holes.
- Food grade wax for sealing the mushroom plugs in the logs. (Note: don’t use canning wax as it becomes really brittle and can fall off, leaving your logs open and exposed to being colonized by other mushrooms.)
- An old junk can for melting your wax.
- A camping stove or other heat source for melting wax in the can.
- A small paint brush for applying the wax.
A Step-By-Step Guide To Growing Shiitake Mushrooms
1. Inoculate Your Shiitake Logs In The Warm Months (Ideally Spring)
If you inoculate your shiitake logs in the middle of winter when it’s below freezing outside, then the spawn won’t be very active. The ideal time to inoculate shiitake logs is when freezing weather has passed, in the spring.
You can continue to inoculate your shiitake logs throughout the warm months up until a couple of months before the first freeze.
2. Order The Shiitake Mushroom Plugs
Once you’ve obtained your logs, go ahead and order the shiitake mushroom plugs. 100 plugs are enough for two 6” diameter logs that are 3-4’ long. If you have more logs, order more shiitake plugs.
If you’re not able to use your shiitake plugs within a week of arrival, put them in the fridge (where they can stay for up to six months).
3. Cut Hardwood Tree Sections Or Source Just-Cut Hardwood Logs
Choose two suitable living hardwood tree sections or tree branches that are 4-8” in diameter and 3-4’ long. Oak is ideal, but you can use other hardwoods as well. 100 mushroom plugs will adequately inoculate two logs with these dimensions.
We recommend that you inoculate the logs immediately after cutting. The longer you let your logs sit without inoculating them with your shiitake mushroom plugs, the more time you give fungal spores from other species to land on the logs and start to grow.
Wait no longer than a month before inoculating your logs or your mushrooms will likely face increased competition.
4. Drill Holes In The Shiitake Mushroom Logs
Use a power drill with a 5/16” drill bit attachment to drill offsetting, parallel rows of holes in each of your logs. You should end up with a diamond pattern. The holes should be about 1 ¼“ deep and no more than 3-4” apart.
On a three-foot log, you should have 50 holes. On a six-foot log, there should be 100. You may prefer to go with three-foot logs, as they’re much easier to carry and move.
5. Insert Your Shiitake Mushroom Plugs Into Logs
First, wash your hands to ensure you’re not infecting your shiitake plugs with any competing fungi. In a shaded area, separate your plugs into two piles of 50 plugs (assuming that you’re using three-foot logs). Place the plugs on a clean surface, such as a washed plate or a ziplock bag.
Put the logs on newspaper or plastic if you want to avoid getting melted wax on the floor.
Insert your shiitake plugs into each hole, then immediately tap them in with your rubber mallet or hammer. Make sure each shiitake plug is well set into the hole so that the surface of the plug is at or below the surface level of the log.
Don’t leave any holes empty. If necessary, just fill any empty holes with wax. Otherwise, another species of mushroom may take hold there.
6. Melt And Apply Wax To Your Shiitake Logs
On a stovetop, grill, or camp stove, heat your wax until it’s fully melted.
Using a cheap paint brush, seal each cut end of the log completely with melted wax. After this, seal each hole thoroughly with wax. This will prevent competing fungi from entering the holes.
7. Incubate Your Shiitake Logs For 6-12 Months
You want to place your shiitake logs in a shady, moist location. They should be off the ground but within reach of a garden hose. You don’t want too much sunlight to hit the logs. You also don’t want the logs touching the ground, as this will encourage other competing fungi to grow on them.
An old palette, bricks, or concrete blocks would work well for this purpose. You can also cover the logs with a breathable cloth (such as a shade cloth or weed blocker), which will help keep out the sun while allowing moisture to come through.
If you live in a wet climate, you can water your shiitake logs once per week for about 10 minutes. However, if it rains, then you don’t need to worry about watering them.
On the other hand, if you live in a dry/arid climate, you should water your logs twice per week for 10+ minutes each time. However, don’t water your logs if the outside temperature is below freezing as this can cause your logs to split or lose their bark.
Set up a recurring calendar event with an alert so that you remember to water your logs at the right intervals.
8. “Initiate” The Shiitake Logs
Under ideal conditions, your shiitake logs will be ready to fruit after six months. However, we recommend waiting at least 9-12 months before “initiating” them, which means forcing them to fruit and produce mushrooms.
It requires a lot of energy for the shiitake colony to produce mushrooms. Waiting to initiate them, therefore, ensures that the colony will be really strong.
Be mindful of the cut ends of the logs that you sealed with wax. If the surface area looks dark and mottled, this means the colony has taken over the log and is ready to fruit. Sometimes, though, under ideal conditions, the logs will go ahead and fruit on their own without your help.
Once you’ve determined that your shiitake logs are ready to be initiated, you should submerge them in water for 24 hours. You can use a bathtub, a pail, a contractor bag, a natural (and clean) body of water, or whatever else will be big enough to submerge them. Ideally, you should use non-chlorinated water, such as from the rain, a spring, boiled tap water, or a creek.
After 24 hours of soaking, place your logs back in a shaded area and in an upright, vertical position. This ensures that when the mushrooms start forming, they don’t get dirty.
You’ll see baby mushrooms appear after 2-14 days. Make sure the shiitake logs stay moist during this waiting period by watering them 1-2 times per day for about five minutes each time.
Soon, the entire log will be covered with shiitake mushrooms. There’s no ‘right’ size to eat them. You can pick them when they’re small or let them get huge.
9. Expose The Mushrooms To Sunlight To Enhance Vitamin D Production
Once you’ve harvested your shiitake mushrooms, place them in a sunny location gill side up for 24-48 hours. This will drastically boost the mushrooms’ natural vitamin D2 levels.
10. Store Your Shiitake Mushrooms
Fresh shiitake mushrooms will stay good for about 1-2 weeks in the fridge. If you want to keep them for long-term use, then you should dry them. Once dried, you can also powderize the mushrooms, making them easier to consume.
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How To Prepare Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms work well in a variety of dishes. The mushrooms taste rich, meaty, and buttery when cooked. While you can eat shiitake mushrooms raw, their flavor is far more pronounced and developed when they’re cooked.
Before listing some of the dishes that these mushrooms work well in, let’s describe the best way to prepare them.
How To Clean Shiitake Mushrooms
- Rinse the shiitake mushrooms under cold water to get rid of any dirt. Shiitake mushrooms absorb a lot of moisture and you’ll notice they’ve absorbed some of the water after you’ve rinsed them. Give the mushrooms a little shake or lightly pat them dry with a paper towel. They don’t have to be completely dry before you cook them.
- Cut off the stems and either discard them or save them in a freezer bag to make vegetable stock later. While the stems don’t have the best texture to be edible, they’re still full of flavor.
- Cut each mushroom cap into strips.
How To Cook Shiitake Mushrooms
There are many ways to cook shiitake mushrooms.
A basic way to cook them is to use olive, salt, and pepper, cooked in a large skillet over medium heat. They’ll come out tasting great this way, but there are other ways to cook them that will drastically change their taste (which you may prefer).
Since shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia and are used widely in Asian cooking, you can try adding a little soy sauce along with the olive oil. This addition can make a big difference. The mushrooms will immediately soak up all the flavor of the soy sauce.
An alternative to olive oil is sesame oil. Using this type of oil instead can once again transform the taste of the mushrooms. Sesame oil adds a ‘toasted’ nutty flavor that balances perfectly with the salty soy sauce. For this recipe, use:
- 1 cup of shiitake mushrooms, cut lengthwise into strips
- 1 tbsp of sesame oil
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce
Here’s how to cook them with this recipe in mind:
- Preheat a non-stick skillet on medium heat.
- Add shiitake mushrooms, sesame oil, and soy sauce.
- Sauté for about 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender and golden brown. Shiitake mushrooms cook quickly.
Cooked shiitake mushrooms have a meaty flavor and texture. When you follow the recipes above, they will be chewy and juicy.
Shiitake Mushroom Recipes
Once you know how to cook shiitake mushrooms, you can add them to a variety of dishes, including:
- Pasta with red sauce
- Pasta with white sauce
- Buddha bowls
- Stir fry
- Avocado toast
Making Shiitake Mushroom Tea/Coffee
Another way to consume shiitake mushrooms and enjoy all of their health benefits is in the form of tea or coffee. Making shiitake mushroom tea/coffee is actually pretty simple. Let’s explain how to do it.
Shiitake Mushroom Tea
You can use shiitake mushrooms in different forms to make shiitake mushroom tea. You can use the powder form (such as a supplement or after you’ve dried them and ground them up), or you can use a shiitake tincture.
Tinctures are extracts of plant or mushroom material dissolved in ethanol. You only need a few drops of a shiitake mushroom tincture to experience the full benefits, so they’re an easy addition to your favorite type of tea. You can also add the tincture to your morning coffee, oatmeal, smoothies, or whatever you feel like adding it to.
Depending on the recipe you use, you can expect shiitake mushroom tea to taste very similar to a mushroom broth. If you already enjoy that distinct umami flavor of the mushrooms, then this will be good news for you.
It’s very easy to make shiitake mushroom tea. You can easily brew a few cups in the morning before you dive into your day. The tea also makes a great broth base for soups and stews.
What You Need:
- 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms (around 15 g). For a stronger tea, use more mushrooms.
- 1 cup of fresh water per whole mushroom. We recommend spring, distilled, or bottled mineral water for the best results.
- A heavy-bottom pot like a sauce pot.
- A slotted spoon or strainer (that can scoop out your dried mushrooms from the water).
- Optional flavor additives (e.g. turmeric powder, salt, soy sauce, or tamari).
- Gather as many mushrooms as you’d like to add to your tea (we recommend 3-4).
- Add one cup of water for each of your mushrooms to a pot. Then, add the mushrooms. Don’t add heat just yet. You’ll want to let the dried mushrooms soak in the water for about 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes have passed, gently scoop out the mushrooms from the water with a slotted spoon. They’ll be mushy (which is what you want). Next, put them on a cutting board.
- Finely chop the now mushy mushrooms and toss them back into your pot.
- Bring the water to a gentle boil. Immediately reduce the heat to the lowest setting so that the water is not quite boiling but is heated. Let the mushrooms simmer for 15-20 minutes or as long as 40 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside. Now it’s time to add your additives of choice.
- Optional: you can add a tsp of turmeric, liquid aminos, a dash of tamari, a pinch of salt, or soy sauce to adjust the flavor. Try experimenting with different ratios of each to see what you like best.
- At this stage, you can filter your mushrooms out or leave them to float in your tea. Pour the tea into mugs and enjoy it while it’s warm.
Most recipes for shiitake mushroom tea involve powdered or dried mushrooms. But it is possible to make the tea out of fresh mushrooms. This doesn’t require a big change to the recipe. We still recommend soaking your mushrooms for 30 minutes before chopping them up. Brew your tea following the same steps outlined above.
Shiitake Mushroom Coffee
If you’re more of a coffee drinker and you want to feel more energized in the morning and throughout the day, then making shiitake mushroom coffee is an option as well. Here’s a recipe for making a shiitake latte.
- 2 tsp of instant coffee
- 1 tsp of shiitake mushroom powder
- 1 tbsp of maple syrup
- 1 ½ tsp of cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
- 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
- A pinch of sea salt
- 1 cup of dairy-free milk
- ¼ cup of hot water
- Add and blend shiitake mushroom powder, maple syrup, cacao powder (optional), cinnamon, and sea salt in a small blender.
- In a cup, dissolve instant coffee with hot water.
- Steam milk until hot and add to the blender along with the instant coffee.
- Blend on high for 30 seconds to one minute, or until frothy and fully combined.
- Serve as is, or top with more cinnamon.
Shiitake Mushroom Powder
You can purchase shiitake mushroom powder from a variety of vendors. If you decide to do so, just make sure the vendor is reputable and well-reviewed. The product should be organic and produced in a way so that it’s free from industrial pollutants.
Another option is to make your own shiitake mushroom powder. To do this, you first want to dry the mushrooms. Place the fresh shiitake mushrooms in an oven heated to 175 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours, flipping them halfway through. Then transfer them to a colander to air-dry for another 3-5 days. Once (completely) dried, you can keep them in a sealed container for up to two years.
If you want to turn these dried mushrooms into a powder, you can achieve this by putting them into a food processor or blender. Process them until they turn into a fine powder.
You should be aware that there are two different forms of shiitake mushroom powder that you can buy online:
- Powder derived from ground-up, dried, whole shiitake mushrooms
- Shiitake mushroom extract powder: This is a more concentrated form of shiitake, in which the active constituents of the mushroom are extracted. By using an extract powder, you will consume a much lower dosage to get the same medicinal benefits. Extracts can vary widely in terms of strengths (and therefore dosages), so make sure you follow recommendations for dosing when buying an extract.
Many shiitake extracts (which can come in the form of capsules or tinctures) may also have other mushroom extracts added to them. These include chaga, lion’s mane, cordyceps, reishi, maitake, and Tremella, as these also offer health benefits.