Maitake are one of the lesser known edible mushrooms. They can be found in health food stores and cooperatives, but they aren't always as available as portobella or shiitake mushrooms. Maitake are considered gourmet mushrooms, and tend to be more costly than other types. Today, they are not only used for cooking, but are used in tea or other drinks, and are even taken as an alternative medicinal supplement.
Maitake mushrooms derive their scientific name, Grifola frondosa, from the legendary myth of the Griffin in Greek mythology. The common name means "dancing mushroom". In ancient Japan, people who found this mushroom often danced because of the mushroom's high value. Traditionally, it has been used both in Japan and China as an immune system enhancer. They have been used for over 3000 years both medicinally and as a food source.
Maitake mushrooms have been found to regulate glucose, insulin and blood pressure in the body, according to Disabled-World.com. The mushrooms can also help with weight loss and to regulate liver lipids. Maitake mushrooms are high in amino acids, fiber, magnesium, niacin, potassium and vitamin B-2, C and D. Maitake mushrooms have been used in tonics, soups, teas and cooking in Asia for over 1,000 years to promote a long and healthy life, according to Cancer.org.
Maitake mushrooms are sometimes called "Dancing Mushrooms" or "Hen of the Woods". They grow throughout North America, Europe and Japan in more temperate areas. In China, maitake is known as "Keisho" medicinally. Japan has been the largest producer and consumer of Maitake mushrooms since 1981, according to Diet-and-Health.net. Wild maitake commonly grows in Northeastern Japan where the temperature, humidity and moisture is best for their growth.
In a study published in Volume 6 Issue 1 of the Alternative Medicine Review, it was found that maitake mushrooms could help to fight cancer. Maitake mushrooms could slow prostate, brain, liver, stomach and lung tumor growth, according to the study. The study also found that maitake mushrooms increased immunity defense against AIDs and infections. Maitake was found to have anti-diabetic activity in another study published in Volume 17 Issue 8 of the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin.
The most common maitake that used is the Grifola frondosa or shiromaitake. However, there are other species such as Grifola albicans or choreimaitake, Grifola gigantea, and the Grifola umbellata or tonbimaitake. The mushroom is made up of fruit bodies that overlap one another in clumps. According to the study in the Alternative Medicine Review, they commonly are found at the base of persimmons, elms, or oak trees. The texture and taste is described as being similar to that of a hen or chicken in the study.