This is a large mushroom that's native to North America, Europe, and Japan.
In Japan the name literally means "dancing mushroom."
It 's also referred to by the English name "hen of the woods" because of its substantial size and unique shape.
These mushrooms have been used as both food and medicine in Asian cultures for many centuries, and are described as having a rich, earthy taste.
Here in North America, fresh and dried they're available at some grocery stores and markets, and the extract D-fraction is sold as a dietary supplement.
The Health Benefits
As mentioned, these mushrooms have been used as medicine in Japan for centuries as they're traditionally believed to promote longevity.
Research on the mushroom's health benefits began in Japan in the 1980s and is now being pursued in the United States.
They contain a polysaccharide (many sugar molecules joined together to form one large molecule) called beta glucan.
Maitake D-fraction may help attack cancer cells and may help ease the many side effects of chemotherapy.
In fact, a 1997 study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science found that the D-fraction helped prevent the spread of breast cancer tumors in mice, and a June 2011 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that the D-fraction helped lead to the death of breast cancer cells.
The Feb/March 1996 Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients reported that "Maitake mushroom was found effective against leukemia and stomach and bone cancers," and that the D-fraction helped provide relief from the nausea and hair loss associated with chemotherapy.
More recently, a study published in Cancer, Immunology, Immunotherapy in October 2010 showed that these mushrooms inhibited colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society says, "more scientifically designed studies are needed to determine the potential usefulness in preventing or treating cancer."
Several trials involving humans are currently underway.
A 1995 study in the Annals of the New York Academy of Science found that again, the D-fraction boosted the immune systems of mice injected with liver cancer calls, and the 1997 study mentioned above found that this D-fraction enhanced immune function in mice implanted with breast cancer.
Further, a study published in the Summer 2004 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food found that the D-fraction activated immune cells and might help fight infection.
Blood Sugar Management
People with Type 2 diabetes may benefit from maitake mushrooms, which may help manage blood glucose levels and reduce insulin resistance.
A study published in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology showed that MT-alpha-glucan, another polysaccharide found in these mushrooms, decreased insulin levels and fasting blood glucose.
Since they may lower blood sugar levels, you should be careful about eating them if you're taking diabetes medications.
Many doctors in Japan use these mushrooms to lower blood pressure and blood lipids, two key risk factors in cardiovascular disease.
And, a study published in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry showed that maitake mushroom extract supplementation lowered cholesterol levels in the liver.
How to Choose Them Fresh at the Store
As with all mushrooms, look for ones that are firm (not soggy or wilted) and free from blemishes.
Don't buy mushrooms that smell yeasty.
They should have a tight cluster of ruffles, rather than looking loose or sparse.
They can range from brown to gray.
Buy whole mushrooms rather than pre-cut to extend their shelf life...and save some money.
At home, store them in a paper bag (not plastic) in the fridge.
1 oz of fresh mushrooms contain:
Carbohydrates: 2 g
Fat: 0 g
Protein: 1 g
Fiber: 1 g
Glycemic Index: Low
Gluten Free: Yes
How to Get More Maitake Mushrooms in Your Diet
Use maitakes wherever you would use any other mushroom, such as in omelets, pastas, salads, stir-fries, and pizzas.
Toss with olive oil and cook these large mushrooms on the grill.
Stir Fry Maitake Mushroom & Beef With Oyster Sauce
Makes: 4 Servings
8 oz. mushrooms
1 lb. top sirloin steak, sliced into strips
2 green onions, cut to desired size
1 small eggplant, chopped
2 - 3 leaves Chinese cabbage, sliced into 1 in. strips (or you could use Bok Choy)
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 - 4 Tbs. oyster sauce
1 red pepper, diced
1/4 - 1/2 c. low sodium soy sauce
1/4 - 1/2 c. white wine
1 - 2 Tbs. oil
1 - 4 tsp. cornstarch (optional)
1. Marinate the beef in a mixture of equal parts soy sauce and white wine for 5 to 6 minutes.
2. Gently break the mushrooms into bite sized pieces.
3. Heat oil in wok on high heat (peanut oil works best for a stir-fry because of the high heat but ou can use canola oil without any isues).
4. Add red pepper, green onion and eggplant to the wok and stir fry.
5. Add beef, Maitake Mushrooms, cabbage and oyster sauce to the mixture.
Stir well and cook until beef is cooked through.
6. If desired, add 1-4 tsp corn starch to thicken the sauce.
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