What Are Maitake Mushrooms (Grifola frondosa-AKA Hen-of-the-Wood)?


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The Maitake mushroom (grifola frondosa) is a powerful fungus – also called hen-of-the-wood – that is native to North America, Asia, and Europe. These earthy-tasting mushrooms are often cooked and taken in supplement form to reap their wide-ranging medicinal properties.

Like many other mushrooms, the Maitake mushroom is rich in multi-purpose beta-glucans (and Maitake d fraction), essential vitamins, protein, minerals, and antioxidants. From its cholesterol-lowering effects to its ability to lower blood sugar levels and provide benefits for immune system health and those with breast cancer, Maitake mushrooms are frequently turned to for their “superfood” qualities.

In this guide, we’ll be exploring the notable health benefits of the Maitake mushroom, its nutritional qualities, how to obtain these mushrooms, and the forms you can consume them in. Then, stick around to the end as we answer some frequently asked questions about the popular mushroom and how you can take advantage of what many people call its healing properties.

What Is a Maitake Mushroom?

“Maitake mushroom” – which means dancing mushroom in Japanese – is an edible mushroom with notable “healing” properties. The stories say that its namesake “dancing” term comes from people dancing with happiness when they discovered it.

Now that it has become increasingly more popular in the United States over the past two decades, consumers are turning to it to promote long, healthy lives.

This kind of fungus is a perennial fungus, meaning it grows back on its own every year. The Maitake mushroom has been known to grow quite large – up to 100cm in some cases. In Japan, Maitake mushrooms can sometimes mature to a weight of nearly 100 lbs, even.

The mushroom is generally clustered and wavy with gray-brown caps with pores and a white, brancy-like stalk at the bottom.

Maitake (Grifola Frondosa) Mushroom Nutrition

These edible mushrooms are often seen as medicinal mushrooms due to the many benefits their rich nutrients provide. Whether you’re eating them in stir fry dishes or taking them as a supplement, you’re getting a healthy dose of the following nutrients:

  • Beta glucans
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin C
  • Fiber
  • Protein
  • Potassium
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)
  • Phosphorous
  • Amino acids

Maitake mushrooms are also rich in antioxidants and contain zero fat or cholesterol. They’re even low in sodium and overall calories, which gives them health benefits that we’ll explore later on.

When and Where to Find Maitake Mushrooms?

Maitake mushrooms are often found growing at the feet of Elm, Maple, and Oak trees throughout Asian and North American countries. However, it’s also sometimes found growing throughout Europe.

If you are a mushroom forager or simply a grocery store buyer of these mushrooms, you can most commonly find them in the months of fall or late summer.

What Is Maitake Mushroom Good For?

The Maitake mushroom offers a variety of advantages to consumers, the least of which is that it is a delicious mushroom to cook and incorporate into your meals. A lot of Japanese dishes, such as Maitake rice and stir fry, utilize this mushroom to add a healthy, delicious ingredient.

Aside from being a popularly eaten mushroom, it’s also a widely studied and researched fungus within the scientific community. This is primarily due to its clinical uses and makeup that includes polysaccharides, which scientists want to learn more about.

But what’s even better about the mushroom is that it has numerous health benefits from your heart to your blood sugar and immune cells. You can even consume this fungus as an extract and/or supplements, making it widely accessible to all.

Health Benefits of Maitake Mushrooms

Maitake mushrooms are rich in beta glucan – a kind of soluble fiber that has been studied for its potential to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure. These fibers are also notably good for blood sugar, gut, and immune health.

Heart Health Benefits

Individuals with high blood pressure may benefit from eating meals with maitake mushrooms since it has the ability to lower blood pressure. In addition, it does have some effect on lowering cholesterol, which is a large factor in the development of heart disease. And as a result, if you have high blood pressure and want a natural dietary change to treat it, you might turn to this kind of mushroom.

Maitake has an overall positive effect on artery function and health and does so without messing with your good cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol).

Immune Benefits

Furthermore, the Maitake D fraction (a Maitake mushroom polysaccharide found in the beta glucan) carries immune protecting benefits. It’s thought that eating Maitake mushrooms can improve one’s immune system response to colds and viruses because the d fraction increases lymphokine and interleukin production.

Blood Sugar Benefits

As previously mentioned, Maitake mushrooms are also good for blood sugar health. Again, this is due to the beta glucan content. In particular, the presence of the SX fraction is known to lower blood glucose levels and even reduce insulin resistance, which is why this food is sometimes recommended for diabetic individuals. It’s worth noting that this knowledge comes from studies and experiments conducted on experimental diabetic rats.

Anti-Cancer and Anti-Tumor Benefits

And finally, it’s important to note the possible anti-cancer properties and cancer treatment properties of the Maitake mushroom. Maitake mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, which are known to neutralize the effects of free radicals. However, these antioxidants aren’t necessarily useful in individuals who already have cancer.

Instead, people often turn to the mushroom glucans (specifically the d fraction in them) to help treat current breast cancer patients. This is mainly due to research suggesting that the D fraction can fight tumors or suppress tumor growth in tumor bearing mice treated with it.

Maitake Mushroom Supplements

Although most people assume that eating the grifola frondosa mushroom is the best way to reap its benefits, you can get many of those benefits when you take it in supplement form. In fact, it might be easier to get the right dose of Maitake nutrients with a supplement than it would be to prepare a Maitake meal.

Various supplements utilize whole maitake mushroom powder, including those that consist of 100% Maitake and supplements that provide other nutrients. In addition, brands such as Om, Nootropics Depot, and WholeSun Wellness offer natural, powdered supplements of the fruit body so that you can optimize the Maitake nutrients.

In order to make Maitake supplements, many companies utilize maitake extract to create Maitake powder. Plant extracts like this are when the raw plant is extracted and separated without essentially changing the plant, usually done using a solvent of some kind.

Some studies suggest that Maitake extract induces ovulation in polycystic ovary syndrome patients. This is important because PCOS is known to create hormonal disruptions that affect menstrual cycles and mess with the ovulation process. Maitake mushroom extract could be beneficial in inducing ovulation, which is necessary for conception, for individuals with PCOS who want to become pregnant. Further, the extract could be beneficial for menstrual cycle regulation for individuals who struggle to ovulate regularly.

Risks of Maitake Mushroom Consumption

You should always get a medical advice diagnosis regarding blood pressure, blood sugar, and other maladies before turning to the edible mushroom grifola frondosa to treat discomfort and illness.

You may meet another potenital risk when consuming grifola frondosa mushrooms if you’re taking it in the form of an extract or powder supplement. Therefore, you should always find Maitake products that are pure, clinically tested for harmful substances, free of fillers, and free of unnatural additives and flavors.

It’s especially important to buy from a company that is transparent about their manufacturing practices, sustainable, and clear about all ingredients on their labels. Without getting a quality product, you run the risk of having an adverse reaction or consuming harmful ingredients that contaminate the Maitake in the production process.

Risks for Diabetics

Although diabetic individuals may benefit from the blood glucose regulating properties of Maitake, there are always risks when you consume things that affect your insulin. In particular, you should always monitor your blood sugar closely if you’re taking Maitake mushroom to treat diabetes or blood glucose levels.

Furthermore, individuals who are taking diabetes medications already should definitely ask a doctor before using Maitake mushrooms.

Risks for Cancer Patients

Cancer research conducted on mice and rats has suggested that the mushroom can slow tumor growth, but you should ask a doctor before eating this food if you have cancer. In addition, because the Maitake mushroom contains antioxidants, it could have adverse effects on tumor growth in individuals who already have cancer.

Even though antioxidants are often thought of as cancer prevention agents, your doctor can better assess whether foods rich in antioxidants will actually be beneficial to your body.

Blood Thinning Risks

You should keep in mind that eating Maitake mushrooms could increase the blood thinning effects of warfarin if taken simultaneously. It can also increase blood thinning too much if you have recently undergone surgery or are taking other antihypertensive drugs. This could increase your risk of bleeding, which is why you should always consult a doctor before turning to the mushroom for health improvements.

Furthermore, if you have hypotension – meaning you have low blood pressure levels – your doctor will probably advise against taking Maitake supplements or eating mushrooms. This is because it have an adverse effect of actually lowering blood pressure more than it should be.

Risk of Allergic Reaction and Digestive Issues

If you have a known allergy to other kinds of mushrooms, you may be at risk of developing an allergic reaction when eating grifola frondosa. Although allergies to this mushroom are fairly rare, they can happen in certain individuals. Also, keep in mind that if you have gastrointestinal sensitivities or a digestive disorder, you may not tolerate the mushroom well.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Maitake Mushroom a Drug?

Taking Maitake mushroom or consuming Maitake extract is not the same as taking a drug. However, the fungus is known to have medicinal properties because of the way it can affect blood sugar levels, slow tumor growth, and lower your blood pressure.

Can You Eat All of a Maitake Mushroom?

When you obtain young grifola frondosa mushrooms, they will be tender enough that you can eat the entirety of the mushroom, from the leaves to the bodies. But when you buy or harvest a fully-grown Maitake mushroom, you probably won’t want to eat more than the top portion, as the stem and bottom of the mushrooms become tough and hard to chew.

What Does Maitake D Fraction Mean?

Maitake D fraction refers to the bioactive extract D fraction in the mushroom. It is a proteoglucan (also known as a protein-bound polysaccharide) that we commonly refer to as β-glucan. Maitake D fraction is one of the main sources of the numerous benefits that Maitake mushrooms provide to consumers.

Is Maitake Mushroom Anti-Inflammatory?

Among the many benefits of consuming grifola frondosa mushrooms, they are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. The isolates in this mushroom have been studied, and the results suggest that they share anti-inflammatory properties with drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin. This is why some people use Maitake supplements to help with inflammation.

How Do You Cook a Dancing Mushroom?

Although you can safely eat raw Maitake mushrooms, many people prefer to cook and prepare this fungus to make it more palatable. These mushrooms work best when paired with savory ingredients and flavors, and they can be seared, fried, sauteed, grilled, roasted, and even added to soups like soba. With young grifola frondosa mushrooms, make sure to cook the heads thoroughly.

Final Thoughts

Maitake (grifola frondosa) mushrooms are highly beneficial to heart, blood sugar, and immune health. They’re native to North American, Asia, and Europe, and they most commonly grow at the feet of Elm, Oak, and Maple trees, spanning up to 100 cm. Consuming these earthy, brown edible mushrooms is a great, natural way to improve your health and reap the benefits of the beta glucans, vitamins, and minerals that they contain.

They’ve even been studied for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which make them a suitable supplement for some individuals with breast cancer. You can easily cook this mushroom in a variety of ways or even eat it raw when it’s still young and tender. If you think you might benefit from the nutrients in the Maitake mushroom, then you might consider trying it out in supplement (extract) form or incorporate it into your meals.