Shiitake mushrooms are a delectable fungus native to East Asia. They’ve been cultivated for centuries – the earliest written record is from China in 1209. The first book about their cultivation came from Japan in 1796. Until 1982, the Japanese variety of shiitakes could only be farmed in traditional places using ancient methods. Farmers cut down shii trees with axes and placed them next to already-inoculated logs. In the 80s, methods for spore recovery were discovered and commercial production began. Now, shiitakes contribute approximately 25% of the total annual production of mushrooms worldwide.
Known to be a delicious addition to many Asian-style dishes, shiitakes are also a nutritional powerhouse. They are rich in vitamin B, which is responsible for assisting many of the body’s key chemical reactions. In particular, they have high levels of riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, choline, and folate – the last being very important for reducing infant mortality from neural tube disorder. Additionally, they have high concentrations of key minerals including copper, zinc, manganese, and selenium. They are also recognized as one of the best non-animal sources of iron! For those of us in northern countries, shiitakes are a great source of vitamin D, something we often miss out on during the long, dark winter months. Beyond their known nutritional benefits, recent research has suggested that shiitakes may help prevent cardiovascular disease (specifically atherosclerosis). There has also been research on their potential benefits for the immune system.
If that’s not enough to make you want more shiitakes in your life, they also happen to be one of the most sustainable foods in your diet. While most commercial production happens in non-natural settings, it is completely possible to grow these mushrooms in your own backyard using forest farming techniques. Sustainably harvested hardwood logs can be prepared and tended without the use of pesticides, fertilizer, or other chemicals in a completely natural, outdoor environment. Forest farming techniques can also be adapted so that logs can thrive in urban settings as well, adding a natural element to an otherwise bleak environment. As of yet, forest farming is not required technique for organic certification, which is why it’s best to grow your own.
Still wary of growing your own mushrooms? Consider the simple benefits of gardening and working outdoors! The act of tending your mushrooms alone could keep you happier, calmer, and smarter – notwithstanding the incredible nutritional benefits of the mushrooms themselves.
In partnership with Backyard Mushrooms, we can show you how to grow your own shiitake mushrooms simply and naturally in your own backyard! Learn more about our upcoming Shiitake Mushroom Workshop on May 14th, and make sure to register soon to guarantee your spot.
Check out this video about inoculating logs from Backyard Mushrooms to get you started: