Shiitake (Lentinula Edodes)

Also known as the shiitake mushroom, Lentinula edodes has been utilized as a medicinal food in Asian countries, particularly in Japan and China. The mushroom is believed to hold strong immunomodulatory properties. After the button mushroom, the shiitake mushroom is the world’s second most cultivated mushroom.

The famous edible mushroom from East Asia, particularly from Japan or China, is used for culinary purposes. Studies have been conducted on the mushroom and have found that it has positive health effects on humans. With the mushroom’s use dating back to the Ming Dynasty, it is no surprise that the shiitake mushroom continues to be popular today.

For years, shiitake used to be considered a forbidden or restricted plant in the United States, as the mushroom was confused with a Lentinula fungus strain that was destructive. In the 1970s, though, the U.S. Congress considered shiitake safe and welcomed it. Many countries thus started growing shiitake and now it can be cultivated with contemporary agricultural practices.

What does Lentinula edodes look like?

Lentinula edodes has a woody appearance. At emergence, the cap is dark brown and grows lighter with age. The shiitake mushrooms are colored dark brown and they are abundant in forests. Shiitake mushrooms grow well on elm and oak wood trees. They can also be sun-dried, thus preserving them. Dried and fresh varieties of the mushrooms are popular worldwide.

Where can Lentinula edodes be found?

Lentinula edodes (shiitake) is native to Asia, specifically in China and Japan. The etymology is Japanese, wherein ‘shii’ is the tree that normally carries the mushroom. ‘Take’ means the mushroom. While it is widely found in Japan and China, shiitake can easily adapt and grow anywhere. For instance, in the United States, people grow shiitake in converted chicken houses, simple greenhouses, and under tree shades.

In a natural environment, the mushroom spores are released during autumn and spring. They then prepare to sprout when the temperature and moisture are right. The mushroom can sometimes sprout in fives or sixes in one night.

Active Compounds

ShitakeNaturally, Lentinula edodes has many vital contributions to human health and nutrition. Among them are proteins composed by 18 various amino acids (including essential amino acids), carbohydrates, lipids (linoleic acid), minerals, fiber, B vitamins (1, 2, 3, and 12), ergosterol, vitamin C, and the D2 provitamin.

Some of shiitake’s active important compounds include:

  • Lentinan (antitumor, antiviral, hepatoprotective)
  • Mannoglucan (immunomodulation)
  • Lentinamicin (antimicrobial)
  • LEM, lenthionine, ethylacetate and chloroform extracts (antibacterial)
  • Lentin (antifungal)
  • Lentysine, lentinacin, eritadenine (hypolipidemic and cardiovascular)
  • Lectin (hemaglutinating)
  • Water extracts and methanol (antioxidant)

Benefits of Lentinula edodes

Aside from its culinary uses in providing flavor to many kinds of food, Lentinula edodes (shiitake) also possesses some health benefits, including:

  • Antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties
  • Immunomodulatory effects and antitumor activity
  • Antioxidant activity

Antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. A 2011 UCL Eastman Dental Institute in London study tested the mushroom’s antimicrobial effects on gingivitis, which involves gum inflammation due to microbial film buildup at the gingival margin. Shiitake mushroom’s effectiveness was compared to an active component of a mouthwash for gingivitis.

After treatment, the total bacteria numbers in the oral community were investigated. It was found the shiitake mushroom extract lowered the number of some pathogens without affecting the organisms linked to dental and oral health.

Immunomodulatory effects and antitumor activity. Shiitake can boost the immune system and fight various medical conditions by providing vital enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. A 2015 Journal of the American College of Nutrition study determined if the mushroom could improve the immune function of humans. The results suggested that consuming shiitake mushrooms improved gut immunity and improved cell effector function. Due to mushroom consumption, there was also a decrease in inflammation.

Shiitake mushrooms can also help fight cancer. The shiitake’s lentinan bioactive compound may help heal damage to chromosomes caused by anticancer therapies.

Antioxidant activity. Shiitake mushrooms have been found to have L-ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant. In research presented at an American Chemical Society meeting in 2005, it was found that mushrooms have high levels of the compound as compared to two other dietary sources – wheat germ and chicken liver.

Conclusion

Lentinula edodes (shiitake) is one of the world’s most popular mushrooms and is especially valued in various world cuisines. One of its most important compounds is lentinan, which activates immune effector cells. Plus, shiitake has antioxidant activities that are amplified with the treatment of heat. Moreover, shiitake polysaccharides can reduce LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and serum total cholesterol.

With its health benefits, shiitake mushrooms may just become more popular than ever.

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