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Umami The “Fifth” Taste And The Magical Maitake Mushroom

In Europe and the United States, this mushroom (Grifola frondosa) is commonly called “hen of the woods,” since its frond-like growths resemble the feathers of a fluffed chicken. Maitake is the name I prefer, in a bow to the Japanese who pioneered its cultivation. Maitake mushrooms are known in Japan as “the dancing mushroom.” According to a Japanese legend, a group of Buddhist nuns and woodcutters met on a mountain trail, where they discovered a fruiting of maitake mushrooms emerging from the forest floor. Rejoicing at their discovery of this delicious mushroom, they danced to celebrate. In Italy, this species is known as signorina, or “the unmarried woman.” Today these two common names, bestowed long ago on the opposite sides of the planet, seem especially deserving and perhaps foretelling recent research findings.

Maitake Mushroom Demonstrated Anticancer Effects In Laboratory Studies

Maitake is a mushroom that traditionally has been used in Japan and China as part of the diet and to treat diabetes and hypertension. Like other medicinal mushrooms, maitake contains a complex sugar called beta-glucan. In laboratory and human studies, maitake extract was able to stimulate various cells and factors in the immune system. Studies in animals show that it slows the growth of certain tumors and lowers blood sugar levels. More studies are being conducted to determine if maitake has the same effects in humans.

Maitake Mushroom Salad Recipe For A Healthy Summer

Native to northeastern Japan, these fungi owe their healing powers to a large molecule called beta-glucan (or beta-glycan) contained inside the mushroom. A Japanese study performed in 2010 administered beta-glucan from the mushroom along with paclitaxel, a chemotherapy drug, to mice with cancerous cells. Compared with those mice that did not receive the treatment, researchers discovered that the mice given the beta-glucan had an increase in immunity and that the cancer growth was inhibited. Previous studies were not performed on people, but this year scientists are conducting a clinical trial on the effects beta-glucans (combined with other cancer-fighting drugs) have on the human immune system.

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