The Maitake Mushroom

Maitake is the Japanese name for the mushroom, Grifola frondosa. Curiously, Maitake in Japanese means ‘the dancing mushroom’. It is said that people were so excited when they found Maitake, a very precious mushroom and commodity in the old days, that they danced in joy. And there came the nickname.

The original home of Maitake is Japan and North America, but it seems to have danced its way around the world. Many cultures now have a special name for it. For instance, the English call it the ‘hen-of-the-woods’. Sometimes it also referred to as the ‘sheep’s head’ or the ‘ram’s head’. Italians refer to it as the ‘signorina’ mushroom while the Chinese call it ‘Huishuhua’.


Conditions for Growing Maitake

Grifola Frondosa - Maitake (Hen of the woods) mushroomsMaitake grows at the base of trees in clusters. Particularly, it likes the Oak tree. Sometimes it is also found growing around the Chestnut, Elm and Mapletrees. As a polypore, it is best eaten in its young stage because it gets tougher as it grows older.

The Maitake mushroom is perennial which means it is readily available for many seasons. It, however, requires temperatures of between (5-37) degrees centigrade. It sprouts from a sclerotium in the soil, a tuber like lump the size of a potato. The mushroom has greyish-brown caps which are usually spoon shaped, tongue shaped or fan shaped with few pores on the underside of the cap. It is usually identifiable by its stalk which is usually milky white.

In Japan, Maitake is referred as the ‘King of Mushrooms’ because of its size; it grows to a weight of more than 20kg. There are some mycologists who take the Maitake mushroom to be parasitic while others categorise it as being saprotrophic. 

The mushroom is delicious and the Japanese use it widely in their cuisines. In some rare cases, though, consumers suffer allergic reactions. The Japanese like using Maitake as a major ingredient in nabemono, a popular Japanese dish.

When preparing Maitake for a meal, you need to go for the cap since the stalk is usually too tough to eat. You can then go ahead and cook it liberally - fry, bake, stuff, or make a drink out of it.


Therapeutic Qualities

Maitake has long been included by the Chinese and the Japanese in their curative herbal medications. This is evident stemming from the fact that they both refer to it as the Medicinal Mushroom. The mushroom has hence been used for cuisines and for medicinal purposes as a continuation of tradition. Nevertheless real scientific research on the mushroom began in the 1980s in Japan. In the other European countries, such research is more recent.


Impact on Cancer

Maitake is seen to avert the advancement of cancer by enhancing the production of interleukins and also lymphokines, with the impact of slowing down the growth of tumour. Also in 2009, a trial conducted on humans by Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center showed Maitake as being able to stimulate the immune systems of patients suffering from breast cancer.


Boosting the Immune System

Since the Maitake mushroom is rich in polysaccharides, regular consumption will go a long way in enhancing your body’s immune system. This is usually accomplished with the help of antioxidants in Maitake. These ensure there are no free radicals trying to destabilise the body.

A strong immunity means that a person who regularly consumes meals containing the Maitake mushroom is assured of general body health with optimal blood pressure.

In trial results that are yet to be published in medical journals, 11 hypertensive patients took Maitake based 500mg pills two times a day. The outcome was a mean drop in systolic BP of close to 14 mm Hg and a mean drop of diastolic BP of about 8 mm Hg.


Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

The polysaccharides in the mushroom also regulate the blood sugar and cholesterol. Maitake is particularly recommended for patients suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Research has also shown that Maitake can increase insulin sensitivity while reducing insulin resistance.



Due to the fact that Maitake contains lean proteins and low amounts of cholesterol, it is an effective weight loss agent. If you consume this mushroom regularly in meals, you will only need a relaxed fitness regimen to keep fit.


Commercial Value

Maitake has grown so much in commercial value that a liquid product of Maitake, Maitake Gold, is selling on at more than $40 for a quantity of 30ml. Another widely marketed product in the US and Japan is Maitake-D fraction which is an extract of Maitake, the mushroom. According to the sellers of Maitake-D fraction which is available in capsule, tablet and liquid form, the basic medicinal component they rely on is the beta-glucan.

A lot of the research done on the medicine, Maitake D-fraction has taken place in Japan using the Maitake extract in injectable form. A study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science published in 1997 indicated the success of Maitake D-fraction in boosting the immune system and curtailing the spread of tumours in mice with breast cancer cells.


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Health Benefits of Maitake Mushrooms


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