Mushrooms come in many sizes and shapes, with some of the more popular varieties being the puffball, morel, oyster, button and the delicious sandwich-sized portobello. Commonly found on pizzas and in salads, mushrooms have taken up residence in many dishes savored across many lands. As tasty and nutritious as the best of the rest of them, the shiitake mushroom heals as well as nurtures. Indeed, this amazing fungus has been used for medicinal purposes in Asia for 6,000 years. In that length of time shiitake has become celebrated as the Far East’s symbol of longevity.
What does it do?
In addition to protein and fiber, shiitake mushrooms provide a rich source of selenium, iron (important news for vegetarians) and potassium. D-Eritadenine is a compound found in shiitake that reduces blood cholesterol levels while supporting cardiovascular wellness. This highly revered plant also boosts the immune system with its lofty level of lentinan, believed to slow or even stop tumor growth. Wheat germ—formerly listed as the highest source of L-ergothioneine (a potent cancer-preventing antioxidant)—has been benched by shiitake, the new heavyweight champ. Studies currently have their sights set on the hope that shiitake mushrooms may someday prevent rheumatoid arthritis. Because all mushrooms possess ergosterol, shiitake is capable of producing vitamin D2 upon being exposed to sunlight. Shiitake may also prove beneficial in the fight against the HIV scourge.
About the herb
Native to East Asia, shiitake gets its name from a pair of Japanese words meaning tree (shii) and mushroom (take). Commercially grown shiitake mushrooms are raised on short logs that have been injected with mushroom spores. This simple, soil-free method of agriculture has allowed the production of shiitake to take hold across the globe. Russia has joined shiitake’s traditional homelands of China, Japan and Korea as a leading producer of this highly esteemed healing mushroom.
Given the chewy texture of most mushrooms, this class of foods is considered the “meat of the vegetable world.” As such, shiitake provides a bridge for those health enthusiasts and weight watchers who seek to adopt a plant-based diet.