\nThe maitake mushroom goes by many names, including the sheep head mushroom, king of the mushrooms and hen of the woods (due to its distinctive shape).\nBut perhaps most eloquently, in Japan, the word “maitake” translates to “dancing mushroom”, so-called because those who initially found it in the wild and discovered its health benefits literally danced with joy and happiness.\nMaitake mushrooms can be found growing at the bottom of maple, oak and elm trees in the autumn, mainly in Japan, China and North America. They form in a round cluster of wavy cap-like structures that resemble the ruffled fan of a hens tail when she’s sitting down and are usually a brown-grey colour with creamy white undersides.\nHaving been used medicinally for generations in Eastern cultures, the maitake mushroom is now gaining popularity elsewhere in the world due to its significant health benefits.\nMaitake mushrooms: fast facts\n\nKnown in Japan as the “dancing mushroom” maitake mushrooms have a distinctive shape and flavour.\nThey grow at the bottom of certain hardwood trees in Japan, China and North America.\nMaitake mushrooms contain a type of fibre called beta glucans that support the health of our immune system and can help to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.\nThey can be used in cooking in stews, curries and stir fries or simply sautéed and enjoyed on their own - they’re also available in concentrated supplement form.\n\nWhat are the health benefits of Maitake mushrooms?\nThe maitake mushroom is usually found growing in wild conditions, which means that it’s able to produce higher levels of vitamin D than other mushrooms, which is beneficial for the strength of our teeth and bones as well as our mental health.\nThey’re also considered an adaptogen, which helps the body adapt to physical and emotional stress.\nMaitake mushrooms contain certain other compounds that make them particularly beneficial to our immune and heart health.\nImmune system support\n\nThese amazing mushrooms contain high levels of a polysaccharide called beta glucans, a type of soluble fibre. This soluble fibre is great for the gut, since it helps to support a thriving gut microbiota, the collection of probiotic bacteria and viruses that keep the gut healthy.\nThere is now evidence that a thriving microbiota is beneficial for the immune system as it’s estimated that around 70-80% of the immune system is actually in the gut. Therefore, the gut microbiota and immune system have a symbiotic relationship – when one is healthy, strong and thriving, the other is too.\nNot only that, beta glucans found in maitake mushrooms stimulate the production of certain cells of the immune system including neutrophils, macrophages, T-cells and natural killer cells – that all play an important part in fighting infections and supporting the health of the immune system.\nMaitake mushrooms are also a rich source of antioxidants that help to protect the cells from being damaged by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules of oxygen that can damage cells and cause chronic disease.\nHelps to regulate blood sugar levels\nEarly studies suggest that extracts of maitake mushrooms could help to lower raised blood sugar levels to healthier levels. It’s thought this is because of the ability of the mushrooms to improve insulin resistance – a condition whereby the body needs more and more insulin to deal with sugars in the bloodstream, that can lead to type 2 diabetes.\nHelps to lower cholesterol levels\nOther studies suggest that concentrated extracts of maitake mushrooms could also lower cholesterol levels to healthier values.\nHigh cholesterol can lead to plaque formation in the arteries, clogging them, potentially leading to future problems with high blood pressure and heart disease.\nThe beta glucans in maitake mushrooms are thought to be responsible for lowering levels of bad cholesterol called low density lipoprotein, or LDL, and improving the health of the arteries.\nWhat are the side effects of Maitake mushrooms?\n\nIf you decide to eat fresh maitake mushrooms, ensure they’re as fresh as possible. Once they’re harvested, they tend to become quite tough after a few days, which can mean that they become difficult to digest, potentially causing stomach upsets.\nThere are no known serious side effects to eating maitake mushrooms or consuming concentrated supplements. However, if you have diabetes or low blood pressure, speak to your GP before consuming maitake mushroom supplements, as they may have a negative effect on your blood sugar levels or blood pressure.\nYou should also avoid consuming these mushrooms for two weeks either side of any planned surgery or if you have a bleeding disorder or a condition that affects your blood clotting ability.\nTheir safety hasn’t yet been ascertained in pregnant or breastfeeding women.\nHow much maitake mushroom should I take? \n\nMaitake mushrooms have a strong, earthy flavour that some say resembles that of game meat. They can be bought fresh and then chopped, sautéed and eaten like any other mushroom or added to cooking. They’re also ideal as a meat substitute in various vegetarian or vegan savoury dishes.\nIn order to reap the health benefits of these mushrooms, many people choose to consume them in a more concentrated form, as a supplement.\n\nThe organic Maitake mushroom capsules from Mushrooms 4 Life are certified organic and are free from artificial preservatives, pesticides and other environmental toxins and unnecessary fillers or binders. They’re also gluten, dairy, soy and lactose free and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.\nAs with any food supplement, it may take up to three months of continuous use to notice any health benefits. The suggested intake of the Mushrooms 4 Life supplements is two capsules one to three times a day, but check the packaging of any brand you may buy to ensure you’re taking the right amount.\nTaking maitake mushroom supplements such as these may help to support your immune system, protecting you from certain infections and diseases and can help to regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.\nJoin us to get updates and special deals monthly:\n\n \n\n
Hannah de Gruchy
Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.