History of the shiitake mushroom

The Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinus edodes) is an edible wood rotting fungus belonging to the family Tricholomataceae. It can grow successfully on a wide variety of hardwood tree species. The common name ‘shiitake’ is derived from the Japanese word for the hardwood host tree ‘shii’ and mushroom – ‘take’. In China it is called the ‘hsaing ku’ or fragrant mushroom and elsewhere is also known as the Black Forest Mushroom. The most prolific hardwood tree hosts are the Pasania sp. and Quercus cuspidata. The cultivation of shiitake in Japan is believed to date back over two thousand years. According to Zeitlmayer 1953, ‘Molisch and Mayr bought the shiitake fungus from East Asia where it is universally cultivated.’ The shiitake is currently the second most widely cultivated mushroom in the world, serving as both an edible mushroom and more recently for medicinal and health purposes.


In order to successfully produce shiitake mushrooms commercially there are a number of steps, which must be followed for an acceptable crop (Florida Agricultural Information Retrieval System, 1998):

production or acquisition of living shiitake inoculum and proper storage until use

proper selection, cutting and handling of acceptable hardwood host logs.

inoculating logs with shiitake spawn

laying the logs to favour fungal development

caring for the logs to maintain moisture content and to reduce the risks of contamination

harvesting and storage of the crop

Outside of commercial production, shiitake can be encouraged to grow in a more ‘natural’ environment.
The hardwood logs are soaked in water for a number of days and then pounded to soften the bark. Holes are then drilled at short distances apart and powdered infected wood placed in them. The logs are left in a shady part of the forest and the first crop of the fungus appears in about two years (Ramsbottom,1959).

Currently in Japan the cultivation of shiitake mushrooms is achieved through growing the mycelia of the shiitake spawn on wood fibre chips rather than logs. The chips are soaked through a distilled water process and the mushroom beds sterilised by steam before being inoculated with shiitake spawn. Due to the sensitive nature of the spawn, no pesticides, fungicides or chemicals are added, as they would destroy the mycelium or severely retard its development (Akinori,1998).

Medicinal uses

The shiitake mushroom contains components that have been shown to have many health and medicinal benefits. Major components of this mushroom include lentinan, eritadenine, interferon, anti-oxidants, amino acids, zinc, enzymes and chitin.

Lentinan is currently being used experimentally as an anti-cancer agent, stimulating the production of T lymphocytes and natural killer cells, important for the control of cancer and infections. Eritadenine has been shown to lower cholesterol levels in humans by 5-10% after the ingestion of shiitake mushrooms. Like eritadenine, chitin has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and accounts for 80% of the fibre contained in the shiitake mushroom. Shiitake mushrooms contain an interferon inducer, which has been shown to make cells resist viral infection (Breene, 1989). Zinc is an important component as it aids in skin, hair and nail repair and also improves plasma testosterone levels. Research at the Mushroom Institute in Japan by Dr. Kisaku Mori lists fifty enzymes in the shiitake such as pepsin and tripsin, which aid in digestion. Other enzymes contained in the shiitake such as asparaginase is used in the treatment of some childhood leukemia’s.

Culinary uses

Like any other edible mushroom, the shiitake is often best enjoyed after being cooked and in combination with other foods. Shiitake can be used in place of any other type of edible mushroom. The following recipe for shiitake mushroom risotto is not only delicious but also excellent nutritionally. The mushroom themselves contain iron, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, fibre, vitamins such as B1, B2, B6 and B12 and contain low amounts of fat (.5%) and sugar (4%).

Shiitake Mushroom Risotto


3 cups hot vegetable stock

1 cup chopped fresh shiitake mushrooms

Cooking oil spray

6 shallots (white part) finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 cup arborio rice

2 tbs. fresh parsley

Freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Add mushrooms to the stock. Spray a heavy-based saucepan with cooking oil spray and gently fry the shallots and garlic over medium heat. Add the rice and stir until well coated. Gradually add the hot stock a little at a time, omitting the mushrooms. The risotto should be stirred continuously until almost all of the liquid is absorbed then more stock can be added. Add the shiitake mushrooms towards the completion of the process (about 20 minutes), with the parsley and about 1 tablespoon of parmesan. Spoon into bowls and serve with cracked black pepper and more parmesan if desired.

Serves 4.

Associated site links

Shiitake Mushrooms Web Page



Aoyama, A. 1998. Shiitake Mushrooms: Cultivated by Wood Fibre-Chips. http://www.newcalifornia.com/dixie/shiitake.htm

Breene, W.M., 1989. Nutritional and Medicinal Value of Exotic Mushrooms: Shiitake Mushrooms.

Florida Agricultural Information Retrieval System. 1998.

Jones, K. 1991. Shiitake the Healing Mushroom. Healing Arts Press. USA.

Ramsbottom, J. 1959. Mushrooms and Toadstools: A Study of the Activities of Fungi. Collins. London. P 74.

Zeitlmayer, L. 1953. Wild Mushrooms: An Illustrated Handbook. Germany. P60.

©1998 The Australian National University

Author: Rachel Hayes

Comment and Feedback: p.buetel@anu.edu.au

Date last modified: 28-10-1998