The Benefits of Maitake for Blood Sugar Management and Your Immune System
Also known as hen-of-the-woods, maitake translates to “dancing mushroom” in Japanese. Maitake mushroom may help support blood sugar management, immune function, and digestion, which makes me dance for joy.
Maitake’s Many Names
Maitake is a Japanese word — “take” means “mushroom” in Japanese and “mai” can mean “dancing.” Hence, the dancing mushroom. It is said that the Samurai, the stoic Japanese warriors, would start dancing for joy if they ever came across this mushroom. I feel the same way.
It’s scientific name is Grifola frondosa and you may hear it also called hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head, or sheep’s head. If you find maitake in the wild you’ll see that the clusterlike form resembles the feathers of a fluffed chicken. Now it is different from “chicken of the woods” but the two are lookalikes, and luckily both edible. I’ve heard it sometimes called King of Mushrooms, but that title will always be held by chaga in my mind.
Nutrients in Maitake Mushrooms
One cup of diced maitake mushrooms has 2 grams of fiber and only 22 calories[*]. It is an excellent source of niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin D[*]. It has antioxidant properties, polysaccharides, and beta glucans.
Vitamin D in Maitake Mushrooms
Most mushrooms contain some amount of ergosterol. This is a precursor to vitamin D that can be converted in the human body. Mushrooms are one of the only foods that contain ergosterol naturally[*].
When mushrooms are exposed to UV light, they naturally convert ergosterol into vitamin D2. The length and amount of UV light greatly affects the final amount of D2. For example, the amount of D2 in maitake mushrooms can increase by 560 times[*]!
This conversion has been shown in chanterelle, crimini, enoki, maitake, morels, oyster mushrooms, portobello, shiitake, and white button. Wild-harvested mushrooms have higher levels of vitamin D2 than those in farms[*].
Maitake Mushrooms for Blood Sugar Management
This pale gray mushroom is not just a delicious addition to your stir fries. Historically, maitake has been used as a tonic and adaptogen[*]. Traditional Japanese and Chinese use focused on blood sugar levels (glucose levels), so that’s the first place Western science is digging into[*].
Preliminary research suggests that these polysaccharides (complex carbs) in maitake actually support blood sugar management. It may contain an alpha glucosidase inhibitory activities that would help to block the absorption of carbohydrates[*].
Animal studies with high doses on diabetic rats and mice are very promising about the potential for maitake and blood sugar support[*][*]. I can’t wait to see as more scientific evidence supports these traditional uses of maitake.
Maitake Mushrooms for Immune Support
Maitake mushrooms may also help your immune system. Not only do they have antioxidant properties that help to keep you well, but the beta-d-glucan polysaccharides have potential immunostimulating activity[*].
If you are looking for maitake mushrooms for a specific health condition, I recommend speaking with your healthcare practitioner.
Maitake in Four Sigmatic Products
You’ll find maitake in two Four Sigmatic products:
- 10 Mushroom Blend (160mg maitake mushroom extract): A perfect 10 of functional mushrooms and can be added to everything from soups to smoothies.
- Matcha Latte with Maitake & Moringa (500mg organic maitake mushroom extract): A smooth coffee shop favorite with 0 grams of sugar to fight hanger.
The maitake extract fruit body we use is free from fillers and carriers.
Cooking With Maitake Mushroom
Maitake mushroom is my favorite edible mushroom for culinary purposes. It’s always a toss up between maitake or lion’s mane for what is the tastiest functional mushroom. It is easy to add to stir fries and soups. It contains l-glutamate, the amino acid responsible for that elusive umami taste. If you close your eyes you might think it tastes like eggplant.
Maitake mushrooms grow on oak, maple, and elm trees in the United States, Canada, Japan, and China. If you are foraging for your own maitake mushrooms in North America, be sure to keep my tips for foraging close to hand.
You can find maitake in most specialty grocery stores and Asian grocery stores. It can be eaten fresh or dried.
My book, “Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health,” has easy recipes for Maca-Mushroom Buns, Maitake Muffins, Stuffed Bell Peppers, and Maitake Ginger Chews.If you want to find more maitake recipes or share your maitake foraging successes, be sure to join our ‘Shroom Club on Facebook.