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Shiitake - the "king of medicinal mushrooms

September 6, 2021
Dr. Dorothee Bös et al.

Many of us know the shiitake as an edible mushroom from Asian dishes or from the greengrocer around the corner. It tastes excellently spicy and is also exceedingly healthy. In East Asia, for this reason, it has been a widely recognized medicinal and vital mushroom for centuries and is even called the “king of medicinal mushrooms” there.

It is used to alleviate a wide variety of ailments such as circulatory disorders, elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure and even cancer. Learn here about the healing substances contained in shiitake and the successes achieved by alternative and complementary medicine with its use.

History and mycology

What is shiitake?

Shiitake mushroom is one of the first vital mushrooms that found its way to the Western world. Although it has made a name for itself primarily as an edible mushroom, it is also used in alternative medicine as an effective tonic. In addition, medical research is interested in its antibacterial, antiviral and anticancer effects. In Pubmed, a database for scientific articles, it can be clearly seen that in recent years more and more studies are being conducted on individual ingredients of shiitake, but also on the use of the entire mushroom in certain clinical pictures. All over the world, shiitake is available in many kitchens as a popular ingredient for daily cooking. People appreciate it for its spicy aroma, which is mainly characterized by the flavor umami. The origin of this special note is the natural glutamate in the vital mushroom. That is why shiitake is an integral part of the well-known and popular miso soup, which for the Japanese is something like daily bread or a healthy substitute for meat.

Discovery and cultivation

It is unclear exactly when shiitake found its way to humans. However, experts are sure that this wonderful medicinal mushroom was used in eastern Asia about 2,000 years ago. Even then it was known that it can restore health as well as maintain it in the long term. The first records of the shiitake medicinal mushroom, its effects and dosage are found in writings from the time of the Ming Dynasty, which began in the 14th century. However, there is a legend circulating in China that refers to the discovery of shiitake around 1,100 AD. In this story, Wu Sang Kang discovers the shiitake mushroom on one of his explorations through the forests of southwestern China. For some reason, he chops up the dead tree trunk where the shiitake is growing. On his next foray, he finds that the mushroom had grown much faster on the shattered wood and had formed many more fruiting bodies than neighboring mushrooms on intact logs. Thus, he already discovered an effective method for cultivating shiitake at that time. In Germany, mushrooms of the shiitake species were first cultivated in 1909. But it was to take another sixty years before it became known as an edible mushroom. Today, after the mushroom, it is the most cultivated mushroom on earth. However, far too few people know about its health-promoting effect. Only in East Asian countries is it widely established as a time-honored remedy. From medical treatments, such as cancer therapy, shiitake capsules there is no longer imaginable without. In other parts of the world, its many beneficial properties are only now slowly gaining recognition.

Where do shiitake mushrooms grow?

The shiitake has its home in the deciduous forests of Japan, China and Korea. There it grows primarily on the dead hardwood of deciduous trees. His favorite is the so-called “mock chestnut”. Photograph of shiitake mushrooms growing in nature on a mossy tree trunk.However, the adaptable medicinal mushroom has now also gained a foothold in other parts of the world in isolated cases. Biologists believe that it has escaped from breeding facilities in some places, allowing it to establish new habitats. In Europe and North America, for example, it feels particularly at home on the wood of the oak. But it also thrives on the trunks of beech, maple, chestnut and walnut trees.

A little naming lore

The Latin name for the shiitake mushroom is “Lentinula edodes”. Especially in the Asian region, people also call him “king of medicinal mushrooms”. In the second section of this article, you will learn why this is so and what wonderful powers the shiitake unfolds in our body. The origin of the name Shiitake is in Japanese. “Shii” here refers to the shii tree, the mock chestnut mentioned above. It also commonly bears the name Pasania tree. “Take” means nothing other than “mushroom”. So, in summary, we can translate shiitake as “mushroom that grows on the pasania tree”. The Chinese also know it under the name “Shiang Gu”. In German it means approximately “fragrant mushroom”.

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Shiitake can be recognized by its light to dark brown cap, which sometimes tends towards red. Particularly striking are the many delicate white flakes that dot the hat. In the young shiitake, the edge of the cap is slightly rolled inward. The stem usually attaches to the center of the cap, sometimes slightly to the side. It is white to light brown in color and can grow bolt upright or slightly curved. The lamellae of the shiitake are smooth to rough. As they age, they change color from white to yellow to reddish brown.

Weiße Anführungszeichen in dunkelblauem Kreis
Mr. M. from S., 45 years

"I have been suffering from a lipometabolic disorder for 27 years. Even when I was 18, I was told about my blood lipid levels: LDL and triglycerides too high, HDL too low. I can hardly tell you how many medications I have taken since then to regulate my cholesterol levels. Because I suffered from the side effects, I had to keep switching to another preparation. By chance, I learned about the shiitake mushroom from an acquaintance with similar problems. After two months of taking the shiitake capsules, my blood lipid levels improved significantly."


Micro and macronutrients

Like all edible and medicinal mushrooms, shiitake is rich in valuable ingredients that nourish our body and keep it healthy. Just one look at the macronutrients shows that shiitake is an extremely healthy food. For example, it contains less than 2% fat, only around 12% carbohydrates, but up to 13% protein and around 5% fiber. The exact composition depends strongly on the exact breeding conditions. Regarding the protein content, it is important to know that all essential amino acids are present in the shiitake mushroom. Their composition is very similar to that in milk or meat. In addition, the protein from the vital mushroom is very easy to digest. Especially for vegetarians and vegans, it is therefore a valuable source of protein. In terms of minerals and vitamins, shiitake brings a rich assortment to the table. Among other things, it contains …
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • IronWord Vitamin D written in the sand with a sun over it
  • Phosphorus
  • abundant magnesium
  • Copper
  • Calcium
  • B vitamins: 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6
  • Provitamin D
Copper is especially important for blood, connective tissue and nerves. About 100 g of cooked shiitake already cover the average daily requirement of an adult. In the case of calcium, as well as provitamin D, the amount contained in shiitake is highly dependent on sun exposure. The content can increase even after harvesting, for example, when the mushroom is dried in the sun. The many B vitamins give us more freshness and vitality. Vitamin B5, also called pantothenic acid, is involved in various metabolic processes and the regeneration of nerves. On the other hand, vitamin B6 is important for the utilization of protein. Shiitake contains more vitamin B6 on average than most meats, further increasing its appeal to vegetarians.

Ingredients with a health-promoting effect

The shiitake effect on the human organism is based on various ingredients. One of the most important is the polysaccharide lentinan. This substance keeps proving to be an interesting anti-cancer agent in various medical studies. The sulfur compound lenthionine, lentin, lentysine, lentinamycin A and B have antibiotic and fungicidal properties. In addition, according to experience, shiitake has a lowering effect on blood lipid levels. Eritadenine is primarily responsible for this. This is a derivative from the purine base adenine. The already mentioned provitamin D is also called ergosterol in technical language. The benefits of this substance can hardly be overestimated, for example, it is the precursor of vitamin D, but also has cytotoxic and antimicrobial properties, for example, against candida albicans. Regarding vitamin D – many people in Europe have a vitamin D deficiency especially in the winter months, but increasingly even in the summer months. As a result, the immune system suffers and those affected are more susceptible to acute as well as chronic diseases. Therefore, you should regularly have the mirror checked!

Shiitake: indications and effects

Ingredients with a health-promoting effect

3-dimensional Yin-Yang symbol in black white on white backgroundIn Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), shiitake is known as a tonic. It strengthens the body and helps restore lost strength. It is said that it regulates the life energy Qi as well as balances Yin and Yang. Its traditional areas of application are primarily liver diseases, vascular constriction (arteriosclerosis), immune deficiencies , eye diseases, gout and acute infections. Shiitake effect is good to use both preventively and therapeutically. In the section that follows, we will discuss the main health problems for which shiitake can provide relief. It is certainly not an exhaustive list. Many areas of impact are still being researched. For example, there is preliminary evidence that the shiitake mushroom promotes oral health and fights tooth decay.

Ingredients with a health-promoting effect

Excessively high blood lipid levels are a central issue in our society. They are increasingly common and are a predictor of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other common ailments. Unlike many other cholesterol remedies, the effect of shiitake does not involve the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Rather, it addresses the causes, such as oxidative stress or inflammation, and ensures accelerated degradation as well as removal of cholesterol from the body. The observed effects show that taking shiitake capsules decreases total cholesterol as well as LDL cholesterol in the blood. At the same time, however, the HDL level rises slightly. This further potentiates the lipid-regulating effect of the shiitake mushroom. In fact, HDL promotes the removal of cholesterol from tissues and macrophages. At the same time, it brings with it certain enzymes that can break down lipids that have already been oxidized. In eritadenine, scientists see another crucial substance behind all these processes. It quite centrally determines the positive shiitake medicinal mushroom effect on human fat metabolism. Thus, eritadenin interferes with phospholipid metabolism in the liver. As a result, blood lipid levels, especially serum cholesterol, regulate downward. In addition, eritadenin accelerates the excretion of cholesterol. It stimulates its removal from the vessels as well as its degradation in the liver. In addition, eritadenin inhibits the formation of homocysteine, which damages blood vessels, and has a slight ACE-inhibiting and thus blood pressure-lowering effect. Some sufferers have had experiences with shiitake that indicate support of the intestinal flora. In addition, studies have shown that the ratio of different bacteria in the intestine after regular consumption of shiitake is much more favorable than before. In a study on rats, this healthier gut flora was associated with an increase in HDL and a decrease in LDL and total cholesterol in the blood. As the central digestive organ, the intestine is partly responsible for which substances we absorb and which we excrete. Adult subjects who regularly ate small amounts of shiitake had improved immune and inflammatory levels within a few weeks.

Circulatory disorders, arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure

The shiitake effect on blood lipid levels is directly related to its soothing effect on circulatory disorders and arteriosclerosis. When the level of HDL in the blood is in a favorable ratio to LDL, 3-D illustration of a human heart with a clogged bloodstream against a blue backgroundthe body breaks down plaques and oxidized cholesterol that have been deposited in the vessels. The waste products are eventually directed to the liver and excreted. This immediately reduces the risk of vasoconstriction. The consequences are a constant blood pressure and a lower probability of cardiovascular diseases. Shiitake medicinal mushroom has an effect that experts describe as anti-inflammatory. Often there are many small inflammations on the vessel walls that lead to the deposition of foam cells and eventually to occlusion. Since shiitake already prevents inflammation with its action, it reduces the risk of vasoconstriction. Hand in hand with this go the antioxidant effects of shiitake. The amino acid ergothioneine in particular is said to not only protect the nervous system from oxidative stress, but also prevent the oxidation of blood lipids. This further reduces the risk of arteriosclerosis. But that is still not all. Eritadenin from the medicinal mushroom can even prevent platelets from sticking together. This reduces the risk of circulatory disorders and thrombosis. In addition, healers have had experiences with shiitake that indicate a soothing effect on headaches, migraines, and tinnitus. They see the reason for this in the regulation of vascular tension by the shiitake mushroom and its beneficial effect on the liver. The ingredient tyrosinase, which has a general lowering effect on blood pressure, may also be involved, and shiitake has traditionally been used to treat low blood pressure.

Immune system

As a medicinal mushroom, shiitake has an effect on the immune system that is very valuable for us humans. In particular, the lentinan contained in shiitake, other polysaccharides, but also the lenthionine activate various immune mechanisms and thus support the body’s own defenses. 3-D illustration of a man symbolically holding off viruses and bacilli with his handLentinan promotes the formation of sIgA, killer cells, T-helper cells, macrophages and other immune cells. It also increases the number of leukocytes in the blood. For example, the shiitake mushroom helps the immune system fight various viral diseases such as influenza, measles, herpes and HIV. In AIDS patients, studies also show a general immune-boosting effect. Taking shiitake capsules also inhibits the spread of parasites, bacteria and fungi such as Candida Albicans. Recent studies indicate that lentinan may even mitigate disease progression in Covid 19 patients. It arguably prevents cytokine storms that bring acute lung problems and even death. In addition to lentinan, other polysaccharides and ergosterol support the immune system quite significantly. In addition, experts say that shiitake has an effect that regulates the spread of pathogens. That is why fewer harmful bacteria settle in the intestine when taking shiitake. Pathogens that are already present spread much more slowly. In addition, the shiitake mushroom promotes the release of endogenous messenger substances that act against viruses as well as tumor cells. In a recognized scientific study, researchers observed over several weeks how the body reacts to the intake of five or ten grams of shiitake daily (equivalent to about 1-2 grams of mushroom powder). They were able to observe both increased production and activity of cells of the immune system, as well as increased synthesis of certain immunoglobulins (slgA). In addition, there were lower levels of inflammation (CRP) and a change in cytokine patterns. These last two findings suggest that the inflammatory processes in the body must have decreased.


In principle, mushrooms such as shiitake are valuable supports in oncological treatments. All vital mushrooms are rich in beta-glucans (polysaccharides), tocopherols, phenols, etc., which have antioxidant effects in the body. In addition, the body’s own enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase are activated. Medical 3D illustration of a cancer cellThese antioxidants and enzymes are important for the organism to detoxify, prevent damage to cell DNA and prevent inflammation. Studies showed that taking shiitake capsules supports the effect of radiation and antibody therapy. In addition, taking shiitake decreases the risk of developing metastases. In this context, we would like to take a closer look at one ingredient: lentinan. Basically, a strong immune system is a good protection against cancer cells. For this reason, lentinan, with its immune-enhancing effect, has long been approved in Japan as a cancer drug in injection form. In fact, it is now the eighth most commonly used anticancer drug. The lentinan stimulates the immune cells and ensures that they can locate and destroy the cancer cells more easily. In addition to its function as a support for the immune system, lentinan has both a preventive and a direct inhibitory effect on tumor growth: while malignant cells block the synthesis of TH1 cytokines, lentinan activates TH1 cells and macrophages. This causes IL-2 to be released, which inhibits the tumor’s growth. This mechanism is particularly interesting for cancer patients who are still waiting for conventional medical treatment. But it is also a good support during therapy. A scientific study concluded that mice given Lentinan are less likely to develop cancer than other mice not given Lentinan. Another study looked at people who were receiving chemotherapy for their stomach cancer. Although the cancer was no longer curable at this stage, the administration of Lentinan significantly increased life expectancy. Similar findings now exist for breast, prostate and colorectal cancer. These are interesting findings, but much more exciting is the question: does only lentinan do this or also shiitake powder? The answer is yes. In one experiment, mice were fed powdered shiitake mushroom and a carcinogen was administered to these mice and a control group. 100% of the mice without shiitake powder developed bladder cancer – only half in the shiitake powder group. For example, the shiitake powder increased the activity of macrophages and killer cells. The research of lentinan and all the other ingredients is highly interesting to explain the numerous mechanisms of action of shiitake.

Arthritis, gout and rheumatism

Diseases of the musculoskeletal system such as gout and rheumatism are closely linked to changes or metabolic disorders. Arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system turns against parts of the joint, causing inflammation, swelling and limited mobility. Shot of man massaging his aching handPeople with such joint diseases have had experiences with the shiitake, which speak for a therapeutic mode of action. Thus they report under the income of the welfare mushroom of an improved mobility as well as diminishing pain. Overall, a strengthening of all joints is observed in people who take shiitake capsules. Here, shiitake can well complement a plant-based and thus alkaline and anti-inflammatory diet. One of the reasons for this is the lowering of uric acid levels. Relatively high uric acid levels can lead to the formation of uric acid crystals. These lead to inflammation in the joints. This is the classic problem with gout, for example. Since shiitake has a lowering effect on uric acid levels when taken regularly, the risk of joint pain is reduced.


In TCM, the shiitake mushroom is known as a protector of the liver. Its ingredients have a positive influence on the central detoxification organ of our body in many ways. In general, an improvement in liver function is observed with the use of shiitake capsules. This is due to various exonerating factors:
  1. Shiitake accelerates the breakdown of cholesterol in the liver.
  2. Eritadenin from shiitake influences phospholipid metabolism in the liver. As a result, blood lipid levels decrease, especially serum cholesterol.
  3. In the vital mushroom, the so-called thioproline is also formed during drying. It binds a substance that can put a lot of stress on the liver, namely nitrite.
Medical 3D illustration of human body in blue tones, liver is highlighted in colorHowever, shiitake not only supports the normal functioning of the liver. It also builds a kind of protective shield around the liver cells through its polyphenols. This makes them more resistant and less susceptible to disease. Studies have also found a therapeutic effect in pre-existing liver disease. Thus, shiitake increases the production of antibodies in hepatitis B. If toxic hepatitis is present, the regulating influence of lentinan on SGPT and GPT levels provides relief. In acute or fulminant liver failure, conventional medicine performs a transplant.

Buy and take shiitake

At this point, we have collected some more information for you, which deals quite practically with the purchase of high-quality shiitake preparations and their intake. It is important to know that you can take health-promoting mushrooms such as shiitake both for an acute condition and for preventive reasons.

Where can I get shiitake mushrooms?

In answering this question, it all depends on whether you are looking for fresh shiitake to cook with or are looking for high quality shiitake capsules to take daily.

You can now easily get the fresh shiitake in the vegetable section of most major supermarkets. Two hands hold a large portion of fresh shiitake mushrooms to the cameraThe greengrocer at the weekly market also has it on sale. Often, in addition to the fresh mushrooms, you can find dried specimens. These have a better shelf life and you need to soak them in water before preparing them. Basically, when used in the kitchen, it should be noted that heating destroys some valuable ingredients. Thus, shiitake can enrich your diet due to its spicy taste, but does not unfold its full health-boosting powers like a gently prepared preparation.

When buying fresh mushrooms like shiitake, make sure they look juicy and plump. However, spots, cracks, or some scales on the cap are perfectly fine with shiitake. They do not indicate reduced quality. Loosely wrapped in paper, the edible and vital mushroom keeps up to a week in the refrigerator. However, if you are looking for the positive effects on health described here, you should resort to shiitake powder in capsules. Only here you will actually find all the ingredients that will do your body good in the way described above.

What should I look out for in shiitake capsules?

When choosing a producer, make sure that the cultivation is done according to organic guidelines. Chemicals or even poisons have no place in the cultivation of mushrooms. Since mushrooms take in all the substances that are harmful to the environment, they would end up with you, the consumer. A rustic wooden shovel with finely ground mushroom powder on white backgroundThe strictest in this regard are the German organic guidelines. Therefore, we recommend buying shiitake from a German grower who is skilled in the gentle production of mushroom powder. This also includes drying at below 40° Celsius. Some of the high-quality ingredients cannot withstand higher temperatures. Otherwise, the dried and ground into powder shiitake mushroom also contains all the flavors, nutrients and active ingredients as the fresh mushroom. The exact composition of the substances depends strongly on the cultivation methods. For example, as a breeding ground can be used quite classically the hardwood of deciduous trees. However, shiitake usually grows on sawdust, rice bran, or similar growing media in a greenhouse with constant humidity and temperature.

How do I take shiitake?

With medicinal mushrooms, the exact dosage generally depends greatly on the problem at hand. The individual physical constitution must also be taken into account. In some cases, the combination with other vital mushrooms such as Reishi or Cordyceps can make sense. Since no general statements can be made here, please feel free to contact our competent consultants, who will work out an optimal dosage with you.

For mushroom powders there are many suppliers

You will find trustworthy suppliers with controlled organic cultivation in Germany, but unfortunately also less recommendable importers of cheap goods. Read what is important when buying.


We will gladly take time for you. In our free consultation we answer individually and personally all your health questions under:

Every person is unique!

Our experienced team will be happy to advise you in detail and free of charge on all matters relating to your health.

Scientific studies / sources

  • Sugiyama K., Akachi T., Yamakawa A.: “Hypocholesterolemic action of eritadenine is mediated by a modification of hepatic phospholipid metabolism in rats.”; The Journal of Nutrition, Vol. 125 (8); 2134-44.
  • Jianzhe Y., Mao X.: “Icons of Medicinal Fungi from China”; CRC Press; 1989.
  • Hobbs, C.: “Medicinal Mushrooms”, Botanica Press, 1995.
  • Prof. Dr. med. Ivo Bianchi: “Modern Mycotherapy”; Hinckel Druck, 2008
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