Medical uses: Laboratory studies have shown that maitake extract can inhibit the growth of tumors and stimulate the immune system of cancerous mice. Human clinical studies of patients with breast and colorectal cancers are under way in the United States. In China, sixty-three patients with lung, stomach, or liver cancers or leukemia who took four capsules of maitake extract three times daily before meals for one to three months showed an ``anticancer'' effect. Reports that maitake extracts may help AIDS patients fight Kaposi's sarcoma and other symptoms are preliminary and require further studies.
Precautions: Little information has been collected concerning the toxicity of maitake, although some cases of allergic reaction have been reported.
Taking maitake: Maitake can be found in gourmet restaurants, dried and packaged in gourmet grocery stores, and increasingly in prepared products in the United States, Asia, and Europe. As a general health supplement, I recommend taking 3 to 7 g a day in tea or in soups and other dishes.
In the wild, this light amber fungus is found on fallen hardwood trees. The caps have nearly ragged gills and an inrolled margin when young, and they are covered with a delicate white flocking. The stem may be central or off center. Indigenous to temperate Asia, they are not found in the wild in the United States but are widely cultivated. A similar species occurs wild in Costa Rica.
Medical uses: A vast amount of research into shiitake's medicinal properties has been completed and shows that it has the ability to fight tumors and viruses and enhance the immune system. For more details, refer to the accompanying story.
Precautions: Shiitake is nonpoisonous, but researchers have observed cases of shiitake-induced skin rashes, and some people who work indoors cultivating shiitake experience ``mushroom worker's lung'', an immune reaction to shiitake spores. A watery extract of the whole mushroom is reported to hinder blood coagulation, so people who bleed easily or who are taking blood thinners should check with their health-care provider before using shiitake or its derivatives for a long period.
LEM has shown no evidence of acute toxicity in more than seventeen years of use in Japan, even in massive doses (more than 50 mg a day for one week), though mild side effects such as diarrhea and skin rashes have been reported. Likewise, lentinan has no known serious side effects. People with allergies may experience adverse reactions due to its histamine-sensitizing properties.
Taking shiitake: The traditional dose is 1 or 2 fresh shiitake mushrooms daily for preventive care or 6 to 16 g of dried shiitake in tea, soup, or other dishes. Commercial preparations (extracts in capsule form) of shiitake are available in the United States in health-food stores but may be expensive. Dried shiitake mushrooms are available in Asian food stores in the United States, usually at more affordable prices. To avert possible digestive upset from eating large quantities of fresh shiitake, LEM, which is concentrated and easily absorbed, is preferred as medicine.
Recipe: Stuffed Shiitake
The rich taste of shiitake makes this recipe a perfect one to serve as an appetizer or offer as a light evening meal.
1 dozen fresh shiitake
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon tamari
1/2 dozen wild mushrooms, such as oyster, chopped
1 cup bread crumbs
1/3 to 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
Chopped parsley to taste
Paprika to taste
Cut the stems off the shiitakes and chop them finely. Reserve the caps. Saut‚ the onion, celery, and garlic in the olive oil. When the onion is transparent, add the shiitake stems, tamari, oyster mushrooms, bread crumbs, and Parmesan cheese, and saute for 3 to 4 minutes longer. Stuff the shiitake caps with the filling, sprinkle them with chopped parsley and paprika, and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake the shiitakes at 375øF for 15 minutes, broil for a minute longer to brown the cheese and serve.