The shiitake mushroom, a tasty, meaty-flavored fungus that grows on the trunks of dead trees, has long been a staple of Chinese cuisine. And in both China and Japan, shiitake mushrooms have been used for hundreds of years as cancer-fighting agents. Today Chinese herbalists also use the mushroom as a medicine to lower blood cholesterol. The fungus contains cortinelin, a strong antibacterial agent that kills many disease-causing germs. A sulfide component of shiitake mushrooms also has antibiotic properties. Moreover these mushrooms contain a polysaccharide complex called lentinan, which studies indicate may be effective in stimulating the immune system. Herbalists think that this chemical may eventually prove useful in shrinking cancerous tumors; they base this hope on the fact that lentinan has slowed the growth of malignancies in several animal studies.
Taken internally for:
Over the counter:
Available in dried form in Asian food markets, and in capsules at health food stores.
Tea: A handful of dried shiitakes covered with boiling water and soaked 10 to 30 minutes; the liquid strained and tea consumed. Mushrooms used in cooking.
Food: After mushrooms soaked in boiling water, one mushroom a day consumed (many recipes are available) to maintain good health. Chinese medicine practitioners recommend eating two to four ounces of shiitake mushrooms two or three times a week for general health benefits.