Maitake mushrooms: A leap beyond the ordinary!



This exquisite mushroom comes to us from the Orient, grown in the mountains of Japan. Folklore tells us that, for centuries, the natives of the region collected them not only for delicious taste, but also because of health benefits.

Literally, maitake means "dancing mushroom," so named because Japan's nobility placed a high monetary value on its healing powers. Therefore, people who found these valuable mushrooms danced with joy, knowing they could be exchanged for their weight in silver.

Deep in the lush, green valleys and along the plush, rich mountainsides of Northeast Japan, grow the great, mighty oaks, nurturing and protecting the majestic mushrooms growing at their base. Like a lace veil, the gentle sea mist hangs over the mountain ranges, carrying just the right moisture to these hidden valleys and their treasured wild mushrooms.

In the Orient, maitake mushrooms (Grifola Frondosa) were used for promoting longevity, and maintaining health. Because of their important applications, over the last 20 years, scientists have begun to study mushrooms and their traditional uses. Empirical knowledge, acquired over the centuries, has been the starting point for this scientific research. Maitake and shiitake mushrooms are all gaining recognition in this country for their culinary and therapeutic values.

Leading researchers and scientists have studied maitake and found that it contains many valuable nutrients, including vitamins C, D, B2, and niacin, as well as minerals (especially magnesium and potassium), fiber, and amino acids. In addition, research has confirmed that it is high in a polysaccharide compound called "Beta 1.6 Glucan." This polysaccharide, unique to maitake, is well-known as a cellular immune system-strengthener. Their immunostimulant and anti-tumor activity is well researched in Japan.

Because this particular mushroom increases cellular immunity, it could help fight such conditions as: 1) cancer; 2) HIV/AIDS and 3) Chronic FatiqueSyndrome and Lyme Disease to name a few. It also has been shown beneficial in fighting obesity and decreasing high blood pressure and in fighting diabetes.

According to Dr. Hiroaki Nanba, "It is well known in Japan that some types of medicinal mushrooms contain polysaccharide compounds which demonstrate anti-tumor activity."

Professor Nanba obtained a polysaccharide (called "D-fraction") from the fruiting body of mushrooms. When administered orally to mice, this extract exhibited anti-tumor activity. Results of another study by Professor Nanba on activity of orally administered mushroom extract, confirmed its tumor neutralizing ability. Dr. Nanba believes it works against tumors because it activated the body's T cells and macrophages (our PacMen[TM]). This is exciting!

Another Japanese researcher, Kyoko Adachi, studied the anti-tumor activity of beta glucan (obtained from the mushroom) in mice. Professor Adachi and his associates have found this polysaccharide had an anti-tumor effect. It not only directly activates their immune "policemen" (macrophages, natural killer cells, killer T cells, etc.) to attack the tumor cells, but also makes the activities of various fighters (including lymphokines, interleukin-1 and interleukin-2) possible. This stimulates cellular functions and, at the same time, prevents a decrease in the immune system's ability to fight tumors.

Grifolan, the extract of the fruit body of Grifola Frondosa is particularly interesting because maitake has immunostimulatory and anti-tumor activity when administered orally to both rodents and man.

In addition to cancer, these mushrooms have been very effective in weight loss and control of obesity. As we know, obesity has been associated with such deadly diseases as heart problems, atherosclerosis and diabetes.

Besides improving health, losing weight can bring other benefits such as looking and feeling better and having more energy.

In one study, 30 patients took 20 tablets per day of the maitake food supplement for two months without changing their regular meals. The patients successfully lost between six and 26 pounds (3-12kg), with an average of 11 to 13 pounds (5-6kg), per person. So it not only helps us feel good, but look good as well.

Studies by the U.S. National Cancer Institute found maitake mushroom extract was active against the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This extract appears to prevent HIV from killing T-cells. The death of these cells is a critical factor in the progression of an HIV-infected individual to "fullblown" AIDS. A decreased T-cell count often corresponds to a downturn in patient health. Maitake apparently stimulates cellular immunity. That is, it stimulates the activities of viral cell-killing T-cells, natural killer cells and macrophages.

At a conference in Japan in 1992, Dr. Nanba announced his findings that a maitake extract was able to prevent HIV-related destruction of T-helper lymphocytes by as much as 97% in vitro.

Preliminary reports on the anti-HIV activity of a sulphated form of the polysaccharide from maitake have been issued by both the Japanese National Institutes of Health, as well as the National Cancer Institute here in the United States.

As can be seen from the research, an extract of the mushroom may be effective, not only in fighting cancer and AIDS, but also in stimulating the immune systems of people suffering from immunosuppressive diseases, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lyme Disease and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Researchers in Japan conducted a study of mushrooms to analyze their effectiveness in lowering blood pressure. They fed rats a mixture of dried mushroom with their normal feed. Results indicate the maitake-fed group experienced a significant reduction in blood pressure. As soon as the rats were returned to their normal diet, their blood pressure increased to the level of the control group (the group NOT receiving maitake along with their feed).

Those succulent, melt-in-your-mouth mushrooms taste good and are good for you, tool Although we can't wander to the hills of Northeast Japan, we can take advantage of maitake's culinary and health benefits right here in the U.S., in dried, fresh or tablet form.

Research confirms the voluminous testimonials, showing these mushrooms can help:

1. Weight loss
2. Lower blood pressure
3. Fight cancer
4. Fight HIV/AIDS/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
5. Lower blood sugar
6. Fight diabetes
7. Lyme Disease
8. Rheumatoid arthritis
9. Lower cholesterol

It's amazing what can be found under the big oak tree.

Maitake mushrooms can be taken in concentrated pill form or in delicious food form. As they say, "Try it, you'll like it." The following is a great mushroom recipe to tickle your taste buds.

Tempura is a traditional Japanese dish of deep-fried seasonal vegetables and fish. Vegetable tempura has traditionally been popular among Zen monks.


1 package (20-30 gm) dried maitake mushrooms
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs
12 cups cold water (or use the water in which you soaked the
Vegetable oil
Tempura sauce

Cover the dried mushrooms with water and soak for about 45 minutes. Drain the water, but save it (it is rich in nutrients, so you may want to use some of it as the liquid for your batter). Cut the mushrooms into uniform sizes (about 2"). Mix the flour with the eggs and the cold water (or maitake broth) to make a proper batter for dipping the mushrooms. Dip the mushrooms in the batter and fry at 400degreesF vegetable oil for about one minute. Remove the mushrooms from the oil and drain. Enjoy with tempura sauce!

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Maitake Mushrooms


By Anthony J. Cichoke, M.A., D.C., D.A.C.F.N.

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