Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) is a gourmet food and fragrant delight. It is an edible mushroom believed to enhance immunity and prevent fatigue. Shiitake are also used to treat nutritional deficiencies and improve liver function.
Shiitake has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over a thousand years to treat colds, flu and heart disease. As is the case with other medicinal mushrooms, shiitake is usefull as an adjunct to cancer therapy as it helps immunosuppressed patients by activating their immune system.
Shiitake mushrooms grow in the wild on fallen oak and chestnut trees in forests. They are also grown commercially on synthetic logs of sawdust.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B-vitamins as well as the branch-chained amino acids leucine isoleucine and valine. These amino acids are often metabolized for energy during periods of intense exercise.
Shiitake, like the other medicinal mushrooms, owe their healing properties and bioactivity to the polysaccharides they contain.
Shiitake extracts are also thought useful in lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure due to eritadenine, one of the mushroom’s unique polysaccharides.
Lentinan, the beta-glucan in shiitake, is believed responsible for reducing the size of tumors. Shiitake is also thought to have antimicrobial activity and useful in fighting infections.
Shiitake may be effective against viruses as well. Human immune deficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, and the hepatitis B virus, may be most susceptible to the mushroom’s polysaccharides.
These lignins or extracts of shiitake mushroom block HIV cells from reproducing and thus prevent the virus from damaging normal T cells. They are also believed to stop cell damage from herpes simplex I and II, two viral infections associated with HIV.
In addition to lentinan, shiitake musshrooms synthesize a eritadenine, a secondary metabolite known to speed up the metabolism of cholesterol by the liver. This activity is thought to lower cholesterol levels, especially the low-density or lousy variety.
Hot-water extracts of shiitake are available in 400 mg capsules containing 10% beta-glucan by weight.