By Kohei Ishihara
• The third most consumed mushroom in the world
• Grows on dead hardwood trees, such as Oak and Maple
• Recent studies confirm what the Chinese and Japanese have known for over 2,000 years – its medicinal power to fight cancer, viruses, and cholesterol, while boosting the immune system.
Growing up with a Japanese father, Shiitake mushrooms have always been a staple in my house. They were always dried, kept in a plastic bag, and stored in a kitchen cabinet. In fact, I don’t think I had ever seen a fresh Shiitake mushroom until I began to grow them myself. The funny thing is that my father – in all his childhood years growing up in Tokyo – doesn’t remember seeing a fresh one either.
Japanese, like us Americans, have been uprooted from their land and distanced from their food. Industrialized commercialism, advertising, and packaging – all taken to heightened extremes – has made food appear magically, in perfect form, individually wrapped, and finished with a glossy plastic emblazoned with calligraphic Kanji.
A few years ago my father convinced me to go see an acupuncturist to help me kick a cold that just wouldn’t go away. The acupuncturist prescribed me a tincture of concentrated Shiitake mushroom. When I came home my father, who had also paid for my treatment, looked at me with such surprise. “Huh?! I could have cured you myself!” I went along with the joke and told him that I also got an expensive tincture of Miso.
All jokes aside, studies suggest that Shiitake may slow tumor growth (due to the compound called Lentinan); lowers cholesterol (due to the compound call Eritadenine); and lab studies confirm it also destroys the Hepatitis B and HIV virus. The polysaccharides in Shiitake, called Beta-glucans, stimulate the immune system overall, activating cells and proteins, such a macrophages, to rid the body of toxic or chemically foreign compounds. And yes, while we may have a bag of Shiitake in our cabinet, one would have to eat an equivalent of 10 – 20 mushrooms per day to get the same medicinal benefit as squirting just two tiny eye drops of Shiitake tincture into your mouth, once in the morning and once in the evening.
Aside from their medicinal qualities, the mushrooms are also delicious and extremely nutritious – with generous amounts of vitamin B2, vitamin B6, and vitamin D2. I always just ate them because of how they feel when you bite into their thick, dense, fleshy cap. The meat-like and earth-like umami flavor always seems to complete that hot bowl of Miso soup, or the chewy finish to a hot pot of Sukiyaki. I cultivate and eat Shiitake mushrooms because they taste so good and are an easy addition to soups and meals for a nutritional boost.
I’ve been passionately studying and cultivating mushrooms for the past year and I invite you to come explore the Shiitake with me. If you are interested in learning more about Shiitake mushroom cultivation, please see my class schedule here.
Details:Shiitake Mushroom Log Cultivation – a hands-on workshop where you will make and walk away with your own shiitake mushroom log. We will have a brief discussion on the role of mushrooms in our world, as well as the biology and life cycle of mushrooms.
Where: Freedom Food Farm – 471 Leonard Street, Raynham MA 01756
Kohei Ishihara envisions networks of transformative people, organizations, and social movements that are empowered by a deep connection to land, community, and food. Kohei earned a degree in Ethnic Studies from Brown University and helped build a youth activist organization in Providence, RI. Kohei is currently enrolled in a Sustainable Food and Farming certificate program at UMASS Amherst and serves as the CSA Coordinator for Freedom Food Farm.