Shiitake mushroom, elixir of life

The Shiitake (Lentinus Edodes) is a variety of mushrooms native to the Far East.

The Shiitake (Lentinus Edodes) is an edible mushroom native to the Far East which was consumed in Ancient China even before the spread of rice cultivation. It was also one of the main ingredients of Japanese cuisine for centuries. Its name is composed by the Japanese words Shii (oak tree) and Take (mushroom), because it is grown on the dead logs of these trees. For some time it is cultivated even in Europe, but it is more easily available dry in organic shops.


It might seem only an exotic variety of mushrooms, but actually the Shiitake has special extra-nutritional qualities as well as a great flavour and a moderate calorie count due to its amount of protein (296 kcal/1238 kJ per 100 g of dry product). No coincidence that it is part of the East’s culinary tradition, which has always associated flavour with healing properties: during the Ming Dynasty this mushroom was called elixir of life.


But which are the medicinal properties of the Shiitake? Although many cultures attribute to mushrooms magical (especially psychotropic and hallucinogenic) powers, the Shiitake has long been studied at universities worldwide because some of its components have proven effective in treating some cancers (leukemia and breast cancer), in reducing cholesterol levels in the blood, in stimulating the immune system and in tackling viruses. Some of its phyto-extracts, moreover, are employed in cosmetics for the production of anti-ageing creams.


As Nico Valerio reported in his book “L’alimentazione naturale” (Oscar Mondadori), eating 90 grams of these mushrooms daily for a week helps lower cholesterol levels by 12% in healthy people and neutralize the damage caused by massive intake of saturated fat.


In short, its many benefits make us hope that the Shiitake culture spreads in Europe too.

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