Origin: Indigenous to northeast Japan, Europe, Asia, and the eastern side of the North American continent.
Other recognizable names:Hen of the Woods, Sheep’s Head, Ram’s Head, Huai Su Gu
As with other mushrooms in East Asia, the Maitake was treasured for its longevity properties and was thought to bring vigor to the body. Taken as a tonic, this mushroom was rumored to fortify the immune system, lower blood pressure and bring extra vitality when taken regularly.
Although the medicinal benefits of the maitake mushroom are very important to the Japanese, it is the taste that has made this mushroom famous. Described as woody, smoky, deep and rich, maitake is said to awaken ‘umami’ or ‘the fifth taste’ and acts as a natural flavor enhancer when cooked with other foods.
The fruiting bodies of maitake mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides, in particular beta-glucans, with one portion of these complex sugars known as maitake’s “D-fraction”. These powerful compounds activate a host defense response by stimulating the proliferation of immune cells such as macrophages, T-cells, natural killer cells and neutrophils. These cells will help the immune system to rapidly and efficiently fight against illness, increase resistance against sickness and disease, help the body to remove cellular waste and speed up recovery from tissue damage. The polysaccharides found in maitake mushrooms are also helpful to those undergoing heavy treatment for life threatening illnesses and have been reported to reduce the side effects of certain treatments.
There is evidence to suggest that maitake mushrooms may help to lower blood sugar levels. According to a study by Japanese researchers Hiroake Nanba and Keiko Kubo, a decrease in blood glucose levels is observed in mice given doses of maitake mushrooms compared to a control group. This led them to believe that the mushrooms may work to decrease insulin resistance, which in turn led them to conclude that maitake may be useful for the prevention and management of Type 2 diabetes.
A study done by the College of Pharmacy at Yeungnam University in Korea found that maitake mushrooms demonstrate an anti-inflammatory effect on the GI tract, with the authors concluding that maitake is a “valuable medicinal food for IBD (irritable bowel disease) treatment and may be useful as an alternative treatment for IBD”. In the study, it was shown that maitake reduced a primary inflammatory signal known as TNFa, inhibiting colon ulceration and free radical damage, thus promoting a healthy GI tract.
Fiber rich and low in calories, these fabulous fungi can increase satiety and a feeling of fullness.
Maitake shouldn’t be taken by those who have low blood pressure as this Mushroom could lower it even further. Maitake shouldn’t be taken by those on diabetes medication to lower blood sugar as it might cause blood sugar to go too low.