by Geri Walton ~ December 20th, 2008
Many people know the shiitake mushroom is a staple used by Asian cultures, and they equate it with longevity. In fact, medicinally it has been used in Asian culture for over 6,000 years to enhance the body’s resistance against illness and disease. In America, the shiitake is often seen as an edible exotic mushroom, and many people may not realize that it supports and boosts the immune system.
The shiitake contains lentinan, which is a polysaccharide complex that possesses immune-enhancing properties. Lentinan is known to fight against infections and disease, and, in fact, it’s been shown to be more effective than prescription drugs when it comes to influenza or viruses. It’s because the skiitake stimulates the production of white bloods cells—lymphocytes and mcarophages—and natural proteins, called interferons, that defend against illnesses.
Shiitake mushrooms are well-known for their health benefits. They have antitumor properties and have been used to treat cysts, and they’re often used during cancer treatments as a nutritional supplement. The shiitake also contains eritadenine, a component that helps lower blood cholesterol. This little mushroom is also considered to be effective in the treatment of arthritis and allergies, and the shiitake has been known to improve the health of HIV patients suffering from AIDS.
These mushrooms are also tops when it comes to a powerful antioxidant called L-ergothioneine(LE), which can also be found in wheat germ and chicken livers. LE cannot be synthized by the body and so is acquired solely from dietary sources. LE is important because it regulates energy and protects the body’s cells from oxidative damage. It is also found in high concentrations in several organs: the liver, kidney, and eyes.
As healthy and delicious as shiitake mushrooms are, some people may need to avoid them. Shiitakes contain purine, which is a natural substance that when taken in excess causes health problems because it’s broken down into uric acid, and, when there’s too much in the body, it can lead to gout or kidney stones. Therefore, people with these types of problems need to limit their intake of shiitake mushrooms.
The shiitake is also a good source of dietary fiber, and it contains folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, and vitamin B6. It’s also an excellent source of selenium, and a very good source of iron.
I love shiitakes, and as they have become more popular, they’re easier to find at grocery stores. You can also purchase shiitakes dried, and, in fact, many people prefer them dried because they claim it draws out the umami (savory or delicious) tastes of the mushroom.
Shiitakes are expensive at the store, but you can grow them at home if you’re so inclined. I found this great site called Heavy Petal, and if you click here you can get all the information on how to do it. It actually looks fairly easy, although it can take a year or so before you can actually harvest the mushrooms. If you think the Heavy Petal instructions are too difficult, you can buy this kit Large 14-15″ Shiitake Mushroom Log with Soaking Tray. They claim you can get shiitakes in just two months.