Maitake: Grifola frondosa
Commonly known as Hen of the Woods, this large, majestic looking polypore is a gastronomic treat. In the wild, Maitake can be found at the base of older oak trees and can weigh as much as 50 lbs! This mushroom has a leafy, layered look with a central base stem from which overlapping, petal-shaped caps emerge. Maitakes have a chewy texture and deep, rich flavors with notes of garlic and apricot. They are excellent grilled whole or sautéed sliced or added to stews and soups. The Japanese refer to it as the “Dancing Mushroom” because it is said that Buddhist nuns stumbled upon them on a mountain trail and danced for joy at their discovery!
In Japan the Maitake is prized for its medicinal benefits, and is rumored to have been exchanged for its weight in silver in earlier times. One of its most exciting attributes, as shown in recent studies, appears to be its ability to regulate glucose levels which is so important for those with type 2 diabetes. Maitakes are also thought to have characteristics that support the immune system and restrict the proliferation of blood cells that feed tumors. Additionally, its mycelium contains molecules that can activate immune responses that kill and consume lung and breast cancer cells. Although these studies show promising results for cancer patients, much more research is needed for it to be conclusive.