Shiitake, or Lentinula edodes, is a type of mushroom that has been farmed in China since the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). It can be used in many dishes and is especially popular when making soups. Shiitake mushrooms have also been used in East Asian medicine for over 2000 years. This shiitake mushroom is prized for its medicinal properties as well as its culinary uses. In China, shiitake mushrooms are known as “Lao Gan” (老幹) and the fresh fungus is used in dishes such as stir-fried vegetables or soups. It can also be ground up into a powder and ingested by mixing it with hot water.
The active chemicals found naturally occurring in this type of mushroom include polysaccharides, proteins, phenolic compounds, steroids and triterpenoids. Shiitake mushrooms have been studied extensively due to their food use and various pharmaceutical properties . Since they contain many bioactive compounds that act on the immune system, anticancer effects have also been recently studied . Lentinanis a polysaccharide that is contained in the body of shiitake mushrooms. It has been extensively studied for its antitumor activity, particularly on gastric carcinoma .
Some studies have also shown that shiitake mushrooms can reduce blood pressure and act as antioxidants . Many other “medicinal” properties of Lentinan – including inhibition of HIV replication , stimulation of neutrophils, treatment of leukemia , anti-ulcer activity , hepatoprotective effects etc. – are currently being investigated . Shiitake mushroom extract has also been used to treat influenza infections in mice with some success.
However, many essential nutrients found in regular food sources can be hard to find in shiitake mushrooms if youcan eat them at all. For example, shiitake mushrooms are the only known plant source of Vitamin D because it is synthesized by exposure to ultraviolet light . It can provide 10% – 49% of your daily calcium requirement. However, dietary calcium deficiency has been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease , diabetes mellitus , rheumatoid arthritis and various cancers . So while you might get more benefit from eating shiitake mushrooms than not eating them at all, if possible you should try to receive most of your nutrients from food sources rather than supplements.
Maximum dosage of shiitake mushroom extract in general is 100 mg per day. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication, consult a physicianbefore taking shiitake mushroom extract.
The shiitake mushroom is a well-known culinary fungus native to East Asia, which has recently seen increased interest in the west for both its culinary properties and potential medicinal effects. Shiitake are now cultivated commercially on logs, sawdust or straw substrate.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can cause photooxidative damage to cells by generating reactive oxygen species (ROS). To protect themselves against UV damage, fungi produce several secondary metabolites including melanins. Melanin-producing fungi are attractive models for studying mechanisms of DNA protection, because many of their melanin precursors originate from amino acid metabolism. The repartitioning of carbon flux towards the production of melanin precursors protects DNA againstUV damage.
Despite its common use in cooking, the cancer chemotherapeutic activity of shiitake is one of their least studied properties. The aim of this study was to investigate whether Lentinus edodes extracts (LE) can induce apoptosis and inhibit proliferation in human lung carcinoma cells A549.Lentinus edodes extract showed cytotoxic activity on the A549 cells. The presence of water-soluble chromophores in LE was confirmed by UV spectroscopy, which exhibited a maximum absorption at 310 nm.
In conclusion, this study demonstrates that Lentinus edodes extracts can inhibit cell growth and promote apoptosis in human lung carcinoma cells through a ROS-dependent mechanism. 
Recently there has been some research done on mushrooms and their properties. This article goes over how it is believed that example, “lentinus edodes” increases the body’s protection to UV radiation while also going into more detail on what exactly melanin is and how it relates to cancer prevention within fungi. 
The anti-tumor effect of lentinan on murine sarcoma-180 solid tumor growth was examined using male ICR mice. Lentinan at doses ranging from 0.25 to 1 mg per mouse injected daily for 15 days after inoculation with tumor cells significantly inhibited the actual weight increase of tumors by 19% to 85% as compared with that of saline treated control group (p lessthan 0.01). The life span of mice was significantly prolonged by the treatment (p less than 0.05), and tumor incidence in control group reached 100% on day 28 after inoculation, whereas that of the treated groups with lentinan at doses of 0.5 and 1 mg/mouse were 50% and 30%, respectively (p less than 0.001). Histological study showed that lentinan also inhibited infiltration of tumor cells to spleen and liver by 42% to 63%. These results indicate that lentinan markedly inhibits murine sarcoma-180 solid tumor growth through a host-mediated mechanism mediated by immunopotentiating effect. 
HOW TO GROW SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS
By the end of this article you will have read about my experiences with Shiitake cultivation, be able to buy your own cultures, know how to grow them at home and be ready for transplanting into logs. You may also decide that growing Shiitake is not for you or that it is too much work. If so, you can always buy fresh by mail order!
TRANSPLANTING YOUR CULTURE INTO THE LOGS:
A Home-made mini greenhouse made up of a jar which has its bottom cut off and two tea cups taped together helps tokeep the humidity high during the 2-3 weeks it takes for this mushroom to start appearing.
Once you have started your culture growing, leave it be! Do not try to speed up the process by putting it in a heated place or covering it with an old t-shirt. It will grow at its own pace. The first sign of growth may take several days to appear but after that, watch carefully because things happen quickly.
As soon as you see something like tiny pins (the beginnings of baby mushrooms) through the black plastic sheeting which covers your culture jar, move that into another mini greenhouse made from two tea cups taped together and tape around any gaps with masking tape to keep humidity inside high (above 90%). This willbe the only time you need to check your culture and increase humidity around it, during this short period of pin formation. After that just leave it undisturbed in a corner and try not to disturb its environment too much.
*Note: Do not attempt to transplant the entire mycelium block from one container into another because you will damage it. Just tear off pieces of plastic with mycelium inside and use these for each new jar/container you transplant your culture into, following the rest of this article
Make an incubator by putting two tall jars together so they form a pyramid (bottom or larger jar on bottom), then cut or fold out (hinge) both sides of one jar (smaller/upper) downwardsto make a triangle which will sit inside the other jar (larger/lower). Make the triangle sides as even as possible. Tape together with masking tape to make them extra sturdy and leave one side open.
Next, fill bottom/largest jar about half full of potting soil (or simply use newspaper or damp vermiculite in its place), water it well, let drain for an hour or so, then pour it out again (I use a large strainer held over a bucket to make this easier). Put your culture in the center of this topmost jar and put both jars together. Check that there is still space around your culture before putting on the final piece of tape which seals off the open end of the uppermostjar.
Put a small piece of broken lid or plastic door/window screening over the hole in the top jar to keep flies and other bad things from getting inside. Put this somewhere out of direct sunlight but not too cool, as it needs to stay above room temperature (20C-23C) for as long as thereis no sign of growth within your culture. For those living at higher altitudes where temperatures are lower, that may mean keeping it on a heating pad during colder months or an old electric blanket turned to medium heat (~50 watts) Covered with a couple layers of towel works well if you don’t have a heating pad available. A small space heater placed nearby will do if outside temps are too cold for any growth.
By this time your culture should start showing tiny, white dots through the plastic which you will be able to see from the outside. These are the beginnings of baby Shiitake mushrooms forming. If you have a hygrometer (humidity guage), it will read 90-100% humidity or high if not. Within a few days these dots will enlarge and turn into brownish bumps, then shiny black caps within 1-2 weeks if conditions stay ideal for them. At that point it is ready to transplant into logs somewhere away from direct sun in a cool place(50-55F) out of rain/snow where they can grow undisturbed until spring when I like to move them all indoors at least temporarily dueto weather.
Another method I use is to pour some boiling water over the culture then cover with tinfoil or plastic sheeting (with several tiny pin holes) and fasten loosely around the uppermost jar with a rubber band, leaving one side open for humidity to escape from. If possible, put this in a cool basement or under a porch where it will be out of direct light but not too cold. It should stay well above freezing which fluctuates depending on temperature outside during winter months. By springtime, your mycelium will have pretty much taken over any section of whatever container you place it inside and can simply be broken off in pieces and transplanted into logs wherever there is a good source of fresh air and trees nearby.
Shiitake mushrooms build immunity
Shiitake is well-known for its immune system benefits, which can be attributed to the presence of lentinan in shiitake . It has also been shown to increase the white blood cell count in animal studies. This means it could potentially stimulate immunity by increasing leucocytes (white blood cells) – so it helps your body fight infections better! Animal studies have further demonstrated that lentinan may help slow or stop tumour growth. 2
Shiitake improves cardiovascular health
Lentinan, a polysaccharide found abundantly in shiitake , has been shown to inhibit LDL oxidation and platelet aggregation, which are early steps towards atherosclerosis. Shiitake is a high-fibre food that can also lower blood cholesterol, 5 thus helping to prevent heart disease .
Shiitake prevents cancer
Lentinan has been proven effective as an adjunct treatment for some cancers such as gastric cancer, rectal cancer and breast cancer as well as some leukemias . It not only inhibits tumour growth but also enhances the immune system to more effectively attack the tumours. 3 Studies have further shown lentinan to have anti-angiogenic properties, which means it stops the formation of new blood vessels needed by a growing tumour to stay alive.
Shiitake helps burn fat
Shiitakeis a good source of protein, fibre and complex carbohydrates. It also contains high levels of iron, which is needed to transport oxygen in the blood for energy use by cells. All these contribute to weight loss when combined with regular physical exercise .
Shiitake can help prevent diabetes
Like most other mushrooms, shiitake is low in calories yet provides plenty of nutrients. The dietary fibre in shiitake helps regulate blood sugar level so that diabetics can benefit from this fungus as well .
Shiitake may ease menopausal symptoms
Because of its phytoestrogenic properties , shiitake is able to mimic the effects of oestrogen naturally produced by women’sbodies . This is why it can help women going through menopause who have low levels of oestrogen.
Shiitake improves liver functions
Shiitake has been shown to enhance liver function by increasing the amount of antioxidants in the blood and stimulating enzymes that promote detoxification. Thus, it helps cleanse the body and reduces the risk of cancer at the same time! 4
Shiitake can boost immunity
Shiitake contains lentinan – a polysaccharide that enhances immune response when taken orally. Studies show that taking shiitake extract daily could significantly improve quality of life for patients with high-risk breast cancer . Lentinan also boosts the production of antibodies andinterferon in the immune system, which helps it fight infections well. 2
A great recipe to include shiitake mushrooms in your diet is this creamy risotto . It’s low in calories but high in nutrients!