Latin name: Lentinula edodes
Common name: oak mushroom
Common and traditional uses: Immune health, antioxidant support, skin health, liver support*
Habitat: Native to East Asia (China, Japan and the Korean peninsula), but they are found in North America and other temperate climates. They can even be farmed on logs in your backyard!
Fun fact: Have you ever spotted a Shiitake with white cracks in it? It’s not a sign of spoilage but of prestige. That’s likely a “flower mushroom,” the most sought-after and flavorful variety of Shiitake.
Even those who are relatively new to the world of fungi have usually heard of Shiitake mushrooms. Fresh and dried versions of these tender, flavorful mushrooms are readily available in supermarkets year-round. They add a rich, umami-dense flavor to any dish, with a satisfying chewiness.
But did you know that these mushrooms also have a long history of use in herbalism? And that’s just the beginning. Read on to learn seven super things about Shiitake mushrooms.
1. Look for them on dying logs.
When you’re on the hunt for Shiitake in the woods, look down, not up. Shiitake are saprotrophs, so they feast upon dead and decaying trees. They are partial to oaks and other broadleaf trees. When you’re starting to learn to ID Shiitake, start by looking for oak leaves. They could be a clue to help you gather the information you need to be 100% certain. (If you’re new, follow these foraging tips.)
2. A pair of second place finishes!
Shiitake comes in second in two big “contests” against other mushrooms. They are the second most-consumed mushroom on the planet after the button varieties (including white buttons, cremini and portobellos). And they’re also the second most-studied mushroom after Turkey Tail.
3. Farming them is a recent development
Shiitake have been used for culinary and health purposes for thousands of years in China and Japan, but they are relatively new to the US, commercially speaking. The first American Shiitake “farms” popped up in the 1980s. You might be able to find locally cultivated Shiitake at your favorite neighborhood farmers’ market.
4. Never eat them raw!
Mushrooms should always be cooked — especially Shiitake! Eating them raw can cause skin irritation that leads to a rash similar to dermatitis, according to the North American Mycological Association. (They can also cause GI upset when eaten raw.) Shiitakes’ rich flavor is enhanced by cooking, so your taste buds will also be happier if you cook them.
5. They offer immune support*
Both historically and today, Shiitake are a mushroom used to support the immune system.* Shiitake mushroom supplements are common — you can find this mushroom in tinctures, drops, gummies, powders, capsules and more. Find Shiitake in our Gratitude and Chill Mushroom Drops.
6. They’re a vegan source of Vitamin D (sometimes!)
Did you know that the vitamin D content of certain mushrooms (including Shiitake) increases when they are exposed to sunlight? While most food sources of vitamin D come from animals, mushrooms uniquely produce this essential nutrient when exposed to UV rays — either from the sun or a UV lamp. How cool is that?!
But take note: Always talk to your health-care provider before taking a supplement. Please note that it’s hard to accurately measure the vitamin D levels in mushrooms outside of a lab setting, so DIY experiments might not yield the same outcomes.
7. Don’t waste the stems!
This final super fact is also a way to reduce food waste. Shiitake stems are woody and fibrous — not a texture most people enjoy eating. Give your jaw a break, but don’t throw them away or compost them quite yet. You can split the stems in half then simmer in soups or broths. (Remove them as you would a bay leaf before eating.) Or shred and dry them in a dehydrator or your oven set to the lowest temperature. Once dried, grind into a powder for homemade mushroom stock or an umami boost for any cooked dish.