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The "Dancing" Medicinal Maitake Mushroom

According to Japanese folklore, the famed gourmet and medicinal Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa), which translates to “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, got its name because people would dance in excitement at finding these highly prized mushrooms in the wild. 

And if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to feast on a meal of wild Matiake mushroom or learned about its powerful medicinal benefits, such a strong reaction to finding a wild “Hen of the Woods”, as it’s colloquially called, begins to make sense.

A delicious "choice edible" – meaning you’d choose to eat them, not just that they are edible – and medicinal mushroom, Maitake is a large, soft-fleshed, white rot saprotroph polypore that grows in temperate parts of North America, especially in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S., eastern Canada, northeastern Japan, and the temperate hardwood forests of China and Europe where it was first discovered. 

Though it is most often found in aged oak woodlands at the base of oak trees, where it causes butt rot, Maitake can be found at the base of any dead or dying deciduous hardwood tree like oak, elm, maple, blackgum, and beech. Its appearance is defined by overlapping, wavy caps 2 to 10 cm in diameter that share a common base and are dark gray-brown when young but lighten in color and can stain yellow with age. White pores dot its underside and release white spores.

Nutritionally, Maitake mushrooms are like most choice edible mushrooms: nutrient, antioxidant, and mineral rich and fat, sodium, and cholesterol free. Maitake are a great source of beta-d-glucans, vitamins B and C, copper, potassium, fiber, minerals, and amino acids.

But you’re here to meet Mr. Medicinal Maitake mushroom, right? 

Well, the star of the medicinal mushroom part of this show is a novel compound only found in Maitake mushrooms called Grifolan. A beta-glucan polysaccharide – fancy science speak for a specific type of complex sugar – Grifolan activates immune cells, such as macrophages, T-cells, and natural killer (NK) cells, which play crucial roles in the body’s defense against infections and diseases. One study found it lessened the growth of cancerous cells and increased the proliferation of NK cells in cancer patients, aiding in the destruction of cancer cells and virally infected cells (1). Another meta-analysis that looked at 24 separate studies investigating the anticancer effects of Grifolan found that it inhibited tumor growth, improved tumor remission rates and enhanced cell’s immune functions (3). That said, there are a lot of studies into the anticancer properties of other medicinal mushrooms too, most notably Reishi and Turkey Tail.

The most interesting, impressive and unique effect of the medicinal Maitake mushroom is its ability to moderate blood sugar levels (4), aid insulin production (6), and reduce cholesterol and blood pressure levels (8) (9). 

medicinal Maitake mushroom
A cluster of freshly grown and harvested Maitake mushrooms

In one study, Grifolan significantly reduced blood glucose levels in diabetic mice, suggesting potential benefits for human diabetes management (4). In another, Grifolan was found to inhibit the production of an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, thereby helping reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes (7). 

As for cholesterol and blood pressure, Grifolan helps lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and helps regulate blood pressure by promoting the relaxation of blood vessels. 

So, the next time you stumble onto a patch of brown or gray mushrooms at the base of a hardwood tree that looks like the tail of a hen, stop for a minute and as they say in the foraging world, “key it out!” If you’ve just happened upon the highly sought after, delicious, and medicinal Maitake mushroom, it’s time for a dance!!!!!

Still thirsting for more?

To learn about our current extraction processes, read our article Medicinal Mushroom Extractions: A Primer on Our Process, dive into our methods with our simplified How to Use a Soxhlet Extractor guide, and learn why we use a Soxhlet in our post Soxhlet Extractor: Why We Do What We Do.

Or, to learn more about why we prefer the dual extract methodology for our products, head on over to Medicinal Mushroom Dual Extracts: Why We Make Them and You Take Them.

And to learn more about the mushrooms in our other products, click on the name of the mushrooms below:

As with any dietary supplement, consult with your physician before incorporating Maitake mushrooms into your supplement regimen.


*Please note some of the links above will direct you to the abstract of the study. Many of these studies are behind a paywall. By using the website, you will be able to circumvent the paywall and read the entire study.
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