Gourmet medicine…really? What does that mean? Well, my inspiration for the title of this article is very simple. Maitake mushrooms (grifola frondosa) are both a delicacy and a medicine. They are prized for their flavor and are served in many high end restaurants. But it is also popular in the form of a maitake mushroom extract, and has tremendous medicinal value that I will discuss in the following paragraphs. But first, a short history.
Maitake Mushroom History
Maitake is the Asian name for this healing mushroom. In the West, it is often referred to as sheep’s head or hen of the woods. After a quick look at this mushroom, the reason for these nicknames becomes obvious. The maitake mushroom was also referred to as the dancing mushroom. Some say that this is because the overlapping caps look like butterflies dancing. Others say that it is because when one was found, the forager danced for joy because they knew it could be exchanged for it’s weight in silver.
In ancient times, maitake foragers jealously guarded their harvesting grounds and would not reveal their locations to even their closest family members. This should be a clear indication as to the value placed on this amazing mushroom. And I should also point out that even today, hunting grounds are well guarded.
Like similar medicinal fungi such as cordyceps sinensis, the maitake mushroom was prized for several reasons. It’s most common use was as an immune booster and general health tonic. And many of these benefits are being proven today.
Modern Research on Maitake
The maitake mushroom has been shown to reduce hypertension (high blood pressure) in both humans and rats, as well as reducing bad (LDL) cholesterol levels. These dosages were all administered orally.
Liver health was also improved among rats that were given maitake extract. These rats were engineered to develop hepatitis, and the protective effects of maitake extract were significant.
Feeding maitake mushroom extract to genetically diabetic rats lowered blood glucose levels in the non glucose dependent rats.
Orally administered maitake extract was shown to significantly increase immunity in mice. It increased natural killer (NK) cell activity as well as interleukin-1. These effects have been shown in other studies to greatly increase anti-tumor and anti-cancer activity, and may be due to he presence of beta glucans in maitake.
The maitake mushroom has also shown anti-HIV activity when studied in vitro. This study has been difficult to replicate in an injectable solution. It has also been found that maitake may stimulate the immune response in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Maitake mushroom extract has shown positive results in patients with breast and colorectal cancers. It has been shown to decrease the severity of chemotherapy side effects as well as boosting anti-cancer activity. It has also been observed that AIDS patients have experienced many benefits from a maitake mushroom extract.
There have also been significant reductions in blood pressure (average 9.7%) in human patients during a six week study. These are similar to how cordyceps benefits cardiovascular function. No adverse effects were reported.
There was also a study conducted among 32 patients with chronic hepatitis B. the recovery rate was reported to be 57% in the control group, as compared to 72% in the maitake group.
It should be noted that the vast majority of studies quoted above contained no placebo group. Very few controlled studies have been done on the maitake mushroom, and in my opinion, this is a shame. But this is not to say that there is no evidence for the healing properties of the maitake mushroom.
Dosage and Side Effects
The recommended dosage for the maitake mushroom is 3-7 grams a day in the form of an extract, in tea, or cooked with food. No toxic levels for maitake have been found, and no side effects reported.
We’ve found some great information here, though some of it anecdotal. But this does not disturb me as the mainstream medical community always falls behind the holistic world. The good news is that we do no have to wait for indisputable proof. As a matter of fact, we can’t wait. Investing in our health is our responsibility and ours alone, nobody is going to do it for us.
Other Healing Mushrooms