Maitake is a mushroom found growing wild in Japan and in
forests in the eastern part of North America, where it grows on dying or
already dead hardwood trees. The word maitake means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese; the mushroom was given this name because people were supposed to have
danced for joy when they found it. It is also called “hen-in-the woods” some can reach the size of beach balls and larger. Because maitake comes from the Polypores group, it produces a bunch of leaf-like clumps that are intertwined. During Japan’s feudal era, maitake was used as currency; the daimyo, or provincial nobles, would exchange maitake for its weight in silver from the shogun, the military ruler of Japan. Although the Chinese and Japanese have used maitake in cooking and healing for centuries, it is only in the last 20 years that studies have been conducted concerning its functions. Maitake’s main functions are activating the immune system and acting as an anti-tumor agent. Maitake is known as an adaptogen and tonic, and as such it aids healthy people to keep their levels of blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight normal. The beta glucan in maitake is a cell-surface carbohydrate. This means beta glucan aids cell communication in specific circumstances. As a polysaccharide, this glucan activates the white blood cells, called macrophages, which in turn devour microorganisms that produce disease, as well as tumors.