Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)
Long-valued for their culinary and medicinal properties, specialty mushrooms have been enjoyed locally and in small quantities by Native American and ethnic populations, and widely used for centuries by Asian cultures. The shiitake mushroom (pronounced she-ta-key) is one of several marketed specialty mushrooms including oyster, enoki, wine cap, maitake, and pompom. Behind the common button and oyster mushrooms, the shiitake mushroom is the third most widely produced mushroom in the world and American production of shiitake has increased faster than any other specialty mushroom. The shiitake is a large, umbrella-shaped mushroom that is dark brown and is prized both for its culinary and medicinal properties. Proven medicinal benefits include antiviral, antifungal, and anti-tumor effects. For example, the consumption of shiitake mushrooms significantly lower blood cholesterol levels and is reported to lower high blood pressure in laboratory animals. Shiitake contains all eight essential amino acids in better proportions than soy beans, meat, milk, or eggs as well as a good blend of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, B12, C, D and Niacin. In addition, shiitake mushrooms are a popular source of protein in Japan, and are a major diet staple in China, and other parts of the Pacific Rim.