Maitake (botanical name Grifola frondosa) is an exceptionally outsized mushroom that is found growing deep in the mountains in north-eastern Japan. In effect, maitake is a perennially growing fungus that frequently grows at the same location for several years consecutively. The term ‘maitake’ when literally translated from Japanese into English denotes a ‘dancing mushroom’. Going by herbal legends, the mushroom was named so, as people in ancient times found that maitake could be exchanged for its weight in silver making it possible to organize their dancing celebrations. Maitake can be identified by means of the small and overlying tongue or fan-shaped cups of this mushroom. Usually, these cups are merged together at the bottom of tree stumps or on the roots of the trees. It is only lately that the Japanese farmers have been able to accomplish the task of producing superior quality organic maitake mushrooms and this has made this herbal product available more extensively.
The herb Grifola frondosa actually emerges from sclerotium, an underground structure that has the appearance similar to that of a tube and is approximately of the size of a potato. The fruiting body of this mushroom is often as long as 100 cm and is actually a cluster of numerous caps having a grayish-brown hue. The fruiting body is usually coiled or has the shape of a spoon having crimped margins and is about 2 cm to 7 cm in width. Underneath, each cap bears about one to three pores every millimeter and the tubes are seldom deeper than 3 mm. The mushroom has a milky-white stalk which has a divided structure and turns sturdy as the mushroom becomes mature.
Maitake may even grow in excess of 50 pounds or 20 kilograms in Japan; as a result, this enormous mushroom has earned the name of ‘King of Mushrooms’. In fact, Grifola frondosa is among the key culinary mushrooms in Japan, the other mushrooms being shimeji, shiitake and enoki. These mushrooms are used to prepare an assortment of delicious dishes and frequently they are the major ingredient in nabemono or are cooked in foil along with butter.
Herbalists have categorized maitake the same as an adaptogen – an herb that assists the body to get used to stress and resist infection. In fact, maitake as well as the extracts obtained from this giant mushroom have demonstrated that they have the aptitude to perk up the immune system as well as develop immune reserves to a considerable degree. In addition, maitake also encloses several polysaccharides that have proved to be effective in combating the formation as well as the development of tumours. Other studies have discovered that maitake possesses potent liver-protecting attributes and has the aptitude to lower blood pressure as well as the blood–glucose levels.
Maitake offers several specific health benefits and is known to be effective in curing a number of health conditions. Some of these are discussed in brief below.
First and foremost, maitake has proved to be effective in combating cancer. In laboratory examinations, it has been shown that the powdered form of maitake augmented the actions of three different types of immune cells – macrophages, T cells and natural killer (NK) cells – by 140 per cent, 160 per cent and 186 per cent, respectively. It assisted in reducing the formation of tumours by about 86 per cent in mice, which were administered maitake in comparison to the mice in a controlled group. Meanwhile, a Chinese clinical study has proved that treatment with maitake lessens the rate of return of bladder cancer following surgery from 65 per cent to 33 per cent. Scientists have discovered that when maitake is blended with the regular chemotherapy medicine mitomycin (Mutamacyin), it helps to slow down the growth of breast cancer cells, even when the tumours are well formed, and also puts off the spread of these cells to the liver.
An anti-cancer compound present in maitake, which is available commercially in the form of maitake D-fraction, has demonstrated optimistic results in studies undertaken by American researchers on colorectal cancer and breast cancer. In addition, the Chinese physicians have also reported encouraging consequences in as many as 63 patients, who have been enduring liver, lung or stomach cancer, or leukemia.
Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved the clinical trials of a maitake extract on subjects having advanced prostate and breast cancer. In effect, the FDA has left out the normal first-stage toxicity study and directly went to a phase-two study on humans. There are strong hints that maitake also helps to lessen pain, nausea, hair loss as well as different other side effects that are generally related to chemotherapy.
Several researches have demonstrated that an extract obtained from maitake eliminates the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and augments the actions of T cells in the immune system. In addition, a sulfated form of maitake extract helps to check HIV-induced obliteration of T cells to the extent of 97 per cent in vitro (outside the body). It may be mentioned that two American physicians have employed maitake to treat Kaposi’s sarcoma, a type of cancer that currently affects basically people who are enduring AIDS. In addition, maitake extracts prevent the ordinary cells from transforming to fat-storage cells under laboratory conditions. Therefore, these extracts obtained from maitake may possibly also assist in checking the build up of fatty deposits beneath the skin, which may take place owing to treatment with supposed AIDS cocktails.
Maitake has the aptitude to invigorate the performance of the immune system as well as combat infections. In addition, this mushroom also supplies the body with dietary support by augmenting the micronutrients (nutrients that are required in very small amounts) absorption capabilities of the body by means of the intestine. This is particularly accurate for copper, and enhancing the absorption of copper also augments the absorption of zinc – a nutrient that is usually not available readily to the bodies of patients suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.
It has been established that maitake is most effectual when it is employed in the form of maitake D-fraction. This form of maitake is commercially available in forms of tablets and capsules enclosing the entire fruit body of this giant mushroom, which contains high amounts of polysaccharides. In addition, a liquid maitake product having a greater concentration of polysaccharides is also available commercially. You may also purchase maitake fresh or dried up for using it in different foods or preparing tea. It is important to note that this herb ought to be employed only in the form of a complementary treatment for chronic health conditions, for instance, cancer and HIV/ AIDS. Always bear in mind that maitake or its extracts should never be used or considered to be substitutes for any standard therapies.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
Maitake mushrooms are indigenous to the north-eastern region of Japan as well as the eastern region of North America. Palatable maitake are basically cultivated for cooking and also for all-inclusive oriental medicine.
Maitake is a feebly parasite that survives on hardwoods, particularly oaks, and sometimes on conifers. It is also a saprophyte surviving on decomposed wood and often results in the rotting of the white butt. This mushroom bears fruits in large clusters of rosettes close to the tree bases. Usually, maitake grows for several years in succession at the same place.
Chemical analysis of maitake has revealed that the mushroom is rich in mineral content. For instance, maitake encloses sufficient amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium. In addition, this mushroom also contains a variety of vitamins, including vitamin B2, vitamin D2 and vitamin B3 (niacin), amino acids and fibers. In the late 1980s, scientists identified one active constituent in maitake that helps to enhance the performance of the immune system. This active element is a protein-bound beta-glucan.
Maitake mushrooms may be consumed in various forms, for instance, as dietary products, tea, tablets, and capsules. As the body of maitake encloses additional polysaccharides compared to mycelium, it is suggested that the fruit body of the mushroom be used in the form of a supplementation and for general consumption. You may take three to seven grams of unadulterated maitake every day.
Side effects and cautions
People having multiple sclerosis (MS) have been employing maitake mushrooms with a view to augment the production of a family of the immune system chemicals known as interferons. It may be noted that some of these interferons have proved to alleviate multiple sclerosis. Nevertheless, one type of interferon invigorated by maitake and known as gamma-interferon, is able to encourage the annihilation of the nerve tissues and, hence, people enduring multiple sclerosis ought to keep away from maitake till this herbal medication has been tested more meticulously.