Shiitake Mushrooms: Full of Surprises

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Shiitake mushrooms grow on trees and logs in nature and have four sexes. Orientals consider some shiitakes aphrodIsiacs. Shiitake logs thrive in thunderstorms, so some growers create fake storms to make their logs produce more. Shiitakes are social and don't like crabby people. In Japan, with the world's highest survivability rate for cancer, shiitake and reishi mushrooms form the official first line of treatment.

Shiitakes grow naturally on tree limbs and logs and have four sexes. All four have to get together inside the log to produce the high-protein, low-fat mushrooms that are the second best-selling mushroom in the world.

“The cells meet and mingle when conditions are just right – warm days under soft, shady light and cool, rainy nights,” according to “Mushroom Lady” Sondra Detreau Williams of Lost Creek Mushroom Farm. With good spring rains, a bare log can be covered with mushrooms in a single night. “It’s no wonder Oriental mushroom lovers consider some types of shiitakes an aphrodisiac.”

Shiitakes don’t grow wild in the US, but shiitake farms have mushroomed across the country and several companies sell grow-your-own shiitake mushroom kits, both on sterilized sawdust and on natural, hardwood logs.

In nature, according to Williams, thunderstorms, lightning, and high winds start the logs fruiting. The wind tears a branch off the tree and it crashes to the ground. Night falls, the temperature drops, and soon mushrooms burst through the bark, the color of roasted chestnuts with delicate white stars bordering the cap.

“Some log-growers try to copy Nature," Williams said. "They create fake thunderstorms by banging on sheet metal and set off electrical currents over the logs."

“I talked to two growers who take the opposite approach and play music for their logs. One maintains that the logs like Mozart and the other said they prefer the Beatles,” Williams said.

The Mushroom Lady doesn’t know whether those strategies make any difference. "Our logs get along just fine without any of that." But she does believe that shiitakes are social creatures.

"They have behaviors and preferences. They seem to grow well around mellow people and they definitely don’t like crabby people. We sell grow-your-own shiitake kits and sometimes the logs just won’t fruit. Impatient, ill-tempered customers have returned their logs and the logs were so happy to get away that they fruited in the box before they even got back to the farm.”

On the serious side, shiitakes have an impressive record for promoting health, lowering cholesterol and fighting disease.

In Japan, with the world's highest rate of survivability from all types of cancer, shiitakes, combined with reishi mushrooms, constitute the official first treatment for cancer because they have potent compounds that stimulate the immune system and kill tumors.

“Research on the medicinal properties of shiitakes is just beginning to receive serious attention in the US,” Williams said. “I think we’ll see some significant changes in our treatment approach as our research supports what other cultures have known and applied for many years.”

For information about using and growing shiitakes, visit or call 1-800-792-0053 for a free brochure. Free recipes are available with a stamped, self-addressed envelope sent to Shiitake Recipes, Lost Creek Mushroom Farm, POB 520, Perkins, OK 74059-0520.


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Sandra Williams
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