Friday, March 16, 2012

Shiitake Mushrooms

The Shiitake is one of the world's favorite mushrooms.

Common Name: Shiitake Mushroom
Other Names: Chinese forest mushroom, Golden oak mushroom, Oriental black mushroom, Emperors Mushroom
Scientific Name: Lentinula edodes (previously known as Tricholomopsis edodes)
Family: Marasmiaceae  (Basidiomycete fungi with white spores)

Given the right conditions, Shiitake can be quite prolific.

Description: Fruiting body with a golden, brown, to almost black, slightly convex cap with a range in diameter of 2-4 inches. The flesh is aromatic, thick, and "meaty".

Mushroom Niche: Decomposer
Natural Culture Medium: Logs

  • A native to eastern China, Japan, and Korea and raised there for over 1,000 years, although it has been used for food and medicine since prehistoric times.
  • Shiitake mushrooms have only been available in the U.S. since 1940.

  • The name Shiitake comes from the Japanese shii take meaning “shii mushroom”… Shii is a Japanese tree (Castanopsis cuspidata) related to the oak and beech.
  • About 160,000 metric tons are produced in Japan each year (over $2 billon worth)

Dried Shiitake are great to cook and store for at least a year.

General "Mushroom" Vocabulary
  • Mushroom - spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus
  • Fruiting-body - what is commonly called a "mushroom"... the spore-bearing reproductive structure of a fungus
  • Hyphae - vegetative part of the fungus... will develop a fruiting body to reproduce
  • Mycelium (mycelia is plural) - a mass of hyphae is
  • Spawn - material that contains actively growing hyphae of the fungus. Spawn can be used to inoculate the desired culture substrate (logs, branches, stumps, sawdust, etc.) for people to produce a crop of fruiting bodies/mushrooms
  • Stipe - the stem/stalk of the fruiting body/mushroom
  • Pileus - the cap or cap-like structure on top of the stem that supports the spore bearing surface
  • Lamella - the gills (aka ribs) on the undersurface of some fruiting bodies/mushrooms
  • Pores - spongy material with "holes" in it on the undersurface of some fruiting bodies/mushrooms... some mushrooms have these instead of gills

Shiitake love oak wood.

Primary Uses:
  • Fresh eating (in small amounts)
  • Cooked (steamed, fried, sautéed, simmered, etc.)
  • Dried
  • Tea
  • Pickled

Secondary Uses:
  • Decomposition of “waste” wood 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) in diameter which is typically to small for lumber use
  • Medicinal - Animal studies have shown some positive results regarding the antitumor, cholesterol-lowering, and virus-inhibiting effects of several active compounds in shiitake mushrooms. There have been limited studies in humans. I am very interested in this research!

Harvesting: Usually two flushes per year in Spring and Fall. Harvest daily, in the afternoon, by twisting or cutting the base. Look for mushrooms that are firm, plump, clean, and with caps opened 60-75%. Those that are wrinkled, have wet slimy spots, or evidence of pest infestation should be discarded after soaking in water for at least 24 hrs (to break any possible pest life cycle).

Storage: The best way to store loose shiitake mushrooms is to keep them in the refrigerator in a loosely closed paper bag. They will keep fresh at room temperature for just under a week, and in the refrigerator for just under 3 weeks (ideally). Dried mushrooms should be stored in a tightly sealed container in either the refrigerator or freezer where they will stay fresh for six months to one year... although I have bags of dried Shiitake that are still good after many years in storage.

Logs are probably the easiest substrate on which to grow Shiitake.

Cultivation Substrate: Grows on many Broadleaf/Deciduous Trees – log, branch, stump, or sawdust. The following list are woods on which Shiitake reportedly grows:
  • Oak (preferred)
  • Alder
  • Ash
  • Aspen
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Chestnut
  • Cottonwood
  • Eucalyptus
  • Hickory
  • Ironwood/Hornbeam
  • Pecan
  • Poplar
  • Sweetgum (preferred)
  • Willow

Preparing the Culture Medium: Logs are ideally harvested from live, healthy trees in winter when there are a lot of stored carbohydrates. Diameter 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) and length 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters), although length is really based on what can be easily handled. Bark is left intact. Inoculation of the logs should take place 2-4 weeks after cutting to allow enough time for the natural anti-fungals to break down but not enough time for other fungi to start colonization.

Hammering the spawn plugs into place.

Spawn Details:
It is recommended that at least two strains of spawn be used to provide the best chance of success. Consider one that is tolerant of cold weather and one tolerant of warm weather.

Spawn Available:

  • Hardwood Plugs – dowels inoculated with mushroom spawn that are hammered in holes (typically 5/16 inch diameter, about an inch deep, and about 2 inches apart) drilled in logs, branches, or stumps
  • Sawdust Spawn – sawdust inoculated with mushroom spawn that is placed into holes or notches cut in branches or logs; can be sprinkled on piles of sawdust (substrate) but may need a ratio as high as 3:1 (by volume, substrate:spawn) to minimize competition from other fungi

This is a common staking method for Shiitake logs.

Incubation of Logs:
Stack logs close together for the first two months. This helps conserve moisture. If the logs become too dry, then constant watering or soaking for 48 hrs is needed. Allow for good air circulation between the logs. Providing shade (50-75% depending on local conditions) will help keep the moisture balance correct.

Shiitake ready for harvest!

Fruiting Temperature: 50-80 F (10-27 C)
Moisture: Sustained moisture required for fruiting (wood moisture content of 35-45%). Bark should be dry but the wood underneath should be moist.
Induction of Fruiting: Typically 2 weeks after a natural rainfall; may be induced by soaking logs in cool water for 1-3 days... check with the supplier of the strain you are using for more details.

Life Span:
Time to Begin Fruiting: 6 months to 2 years
Years to Maximum Fruiting: 1-2 years
Years of Useful Life: Varies on the density of the wood (oak is very dense), the thickness of the log, and the conditions in which the mushroom substrate is kept, but 6+ years is not uncommon

Shiitake on the left and Oysters on the right... growing in my bathroom...
Yeah, my wife wasn't real crazy about this! :)


Nutritional Information
Mushrooms - Shiitake
5.00 oz-wt, raw
141.75 grams
48.19 calories
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin B3
5.50 mg
vitamin B5
2.13 mg
vitamin B2
0.31 mg
very good
0.33 mg
very good
158.76 mg
very good
3.54 g
very good
430.91 mg
very good
8.08 mcg
very good
0.20 mg
very good
1.46 mg
very good
vitamin D
28.35 IU
28.35 mg
3.18 g

  • Approximately 1 in 50 people will develop “Shiitake Dermatitis”, an itchy rash that develops within 48 hrs of eating raw or undercooked shitake mushrooms. The rash lasts about 10 days and is caused by the long-chain carbohydrate molecule “lentinan” which is destroyed by heat.
  • If you have gout or kidney disease, you may want to avoid eating a lot of mushrooms since they contain concentrated levels of purines.


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  3. I'm one of the 1 in 50 people that gets a nasty rash and reaction to shiitaki mushrooms.... It is miserable and usually takes 48 hours after ingestion to show up. So if you get a mysterious rash suddenly, this could be the culprit.

  4. any suggestions on the a good variety of oak to grow?

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  6. Sir, how much degree it require to grow mycelium in culture tubes.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.


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  10. Very informative post!!

    Each and every detail is precisely described. A few months ago, bought shiitake mushroom logs from Agrinoon (Fujian) for my small business and it went well. It was a little bit tough for me initially to grow this type of mushroom but at last, we know hard work pays off well. After understanding your content and description, I’m totally inspired. I will definitely try ahead. I have not got such an informative blog anywhere related to shiitake mushroom log.


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