Lentinus edodes, or Shiitake mushroom, is the most popular edible mushroom in Japan. Shiitake is the Japanese word for oak mushroom. Shiitake has been the foundation of traditional medicine in Asia for thousands of years. The mushroom is reputed to be a tonic, a stimulant, an aphrodisiac and an aid in the prevention of cerebral hemorrhagic strokes - and it is a non-timber forest product.
Recently it has been demonstrated that extracts of the mushroom can have health benefits that lower cholesterol levels and have anti-tumor, anti-viral, and immune stimulating effects. Research in Japan shows that the mushroom itself can lower blood pressure in those with hypertension.
The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that giving shiitake to two patients with probable pre AIDS improved the patients general conditions and improved their immune status. The report concluded that this agent may prove to be effective in the suppression of the AIDS condition.
Health issues aside, shiitake is becoming a popular food ingredient and sold in most large grocery stores in the United States. Internationally, Lentinous edodes has been a gourmet item for centuries.
According to one Shiitake cooking expert -
"The French describes shiitake mushrooms as "fragrant" mushrooms with distinct flavor and texture. Dried shiitakes have many more advantages over fresh. To name a few, they offer a natural smoky oak-flavor. Once reconstituted, dried shiitakes have the ability to absorb your cooking sauce and dramatically enhance the flavor of your favorite recipes. Adding shiitake mushrooms to your cooking will give an EPICUREAN FILLIP to any types of dish, soups, sauces, gravies, stews, stuffing and grilled."
Millions of acres of European and American forest owners could take advantage of the production of the shiitake mushroom. The usable portion of the tree, in this case, is a low valued hardwood log of small diameter (4-8 inches). Many, if not all, forests have an abundance of smaller trees that can be cut without harm to future wood values. These low value trees are potential spawning material for the mushroom.
Shiitake (shee-ta-kay) mushroom is a non-pathogenic fungus that can be grown on (but not limited to) low valued oak logs. Shiitake cultivation began in Japan centuries ago. Japan accounts for approximately 80 percent of the total production of the mushroom.
Experts at Ohio State University indicate that cultivation of shiitake is not difficult. You need to find an inoculum from a reputable supplier and they are easily found on the Internet. This inoculum is packaged in two mediums: sawdust and wood dowels.
Oaks have mistakenly been named the preferred species for production of shiitake mushrooms. Almost any small hardwood tree felled in the dormant season when the logs are moist are fine. These logs are cut to a 3 to 5 foot length and used as breeding material. They are spawned with a live fungus introduced into the log. Holes are drilled into the log and the fungus is placed into the hole and sealed by a hot wax or plastic plug.
Shiitake fruits only after the fungus has taken over the log. The logs are supported on a fence or prop during periods favorable for fruiting after complete colonization - which takes from 6 months to 2 years. This upright stacking facilitates harvesting the mushrooms and can be done right in the forest where the logs are collected.
When the mushrooms are formed, they can be snapped or cut off at the log surface. These mushrooms should be refrigerated and marketed immediately after harvest. One must remember that the process is labor intensive and a market should be found before investing in the effort. A video produced by the University of Kentucky and called "Growing and Marketing Shiitake Mushrooms on Natural Logs" presents a fair showing of a shiitake operation and does not sugar-coat what it takes to produce a harvestable mushroom.
There are shiitake mushroom growers associations and organizations in many states. The Internet has a wealth of mushroom information. The Mushroom Grower's Newsletter is an example of a great site that offers lots of information and a newsletter for growers. I have included some of the best links in this feature.
MykoWeb , a site devoted to mycology and mushrooms...
About Shiitake Mushrooms from The Shiitake Center ...
PRODUCING SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS: A GUIDE FOR SMALL-SCALE OUTDOOR CULTIVATION ON LOGS prepared by the University of North Carolina...