Where Do Shiitake Mushrooms Come From?


The name “shiitake” means “a mushroom growing on a shii tree” (chestnut). Shiitake has been known for over a thousand years, and in the past, dishes made from these mushrooms were an integral part of the menu of the emperors of Japan and China, thanks to which Shiitake has another name — the imperial mushroom. Today, shiitake mushrooms are widely used in cooking, cosmetology and medicine.

Where do you find shiitake mushrooms? Under natural conditions, you can find shiitake mushrooms in Japan, Korea, China, and some Southeast Asia countries. Shiitake also grows wild in the mountainous regions of Indonesia and Taiwan. 

In their natural environment, Japanese shiitake is found in deciduous and mixed forests in Japan, Korea, northern China. These are typical saprotrophs living on dead tree trunks, especially preferring Castanopsis, Mongolian oak and Amur linden. Small groups of Shiitake appear after rains throughout the warm season.

Where do Shiitake Mushrooms Come From?

Where are shiitake mushrooms found? Under natural conditions, shiitake mushrooms are found in Southeast Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia) on stumps and fallen trunks of deciduous trees, especially Castanopsis spiky. 

Shiitake cultivation was first started in Japan about 2000 years ago. It was from there that it spread throughout the world. Currently, the annual world production of shiitake is about 500 thousand tons, of which at least 150 thousand tons are produced in Europe: in England, in France, in the Netherlands. Shiitake is also grown in the countries of North America — Canada, USA. But the main producer is still Japan, where this product is one of the most important export items.

According to archaeological finds, in China, the homeland of Shiitake, these mushrooms were used for food at the beginning of our era. During the reign of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese emperors took a decoction of shiitake to prolong youth and protect themselves from disease.

What trees do shiitake mushrooms grow on?  What kind of logs do shiitake mushrooms grow on? Shiitake mushrooms grow on chestnut, alder, birch, maple, poplar, liquidambar, hornbeam, ironwood, mulberry. Mushrooms appear in spring and bear fruit in groups all summer until late autumn.

Shiitake uses organic matter from dead plants to develop. It is widespread in southeast Asia, where it grows singly on dead wood of deciduous trees, especially often on Castanopsis cuspidata.

Do shiitake mushrooms grow wild? Shiitake grows wild on stumps and tree trunks. In the wild, shiitake is common in the Far East, China, Japan and other countries of Southeast Asia. The first mushrooms appear in the spring and continue to grow until the fall. Abundant fruiting is observed after rains.

Shiitake is the most popular edible mushroom in Chinese, Korean and Japanese cuisine. It is sold dried and soaked in water before use. These mushrooms are also eaten fresh since during the drying process, there is some change in the taste of the shiitake. Mushroom caps are used for food since the pulp in their legs is chewy. Shiitake is used in pickled, fried and boiled forms.

In Japan, various soups are made from these mushrooms, for example, with tofu, miso paste and egg noodles. In European restaurants, shiitake has become an indispensable product due to its caramel flavor and versatility.

Growing Shiitake

Are shiitake mushrooms hard to grow? Shiitake is easy to grow even outside the natural range since they are not picky about the conditions of their existence. Observing some nuances and imitating the natural habitat of shiitake, you can achieve excellent results in growing them at home. Shiitake bears fruit well from May to October.

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How long do shiitake mushrooms take to grow? Shiitake mushrooms appear every 2-3 weeks. Fruiting lasts 8-12 and even 16 weeks. Productivity for the fruiting period is 15-20% of the mass of the substrate.

What temperature do shiitake mushrooms grow? The optimum temperature at which shiitake mycelium grows is 25°C. Overheating of packages (blocks) is unacceptable: at 28-30°C and above, the shiitake mycelium weakened.

Both fresh and dried mushrooms are in great demand in Japan. Unlike other cultivated mushrooms, shiitake keeps well. At temperatures from 0°C to + 20°C and air humidity from 85 to 95%, shiitake mushrooms remain fresh for two to three weeks. Still, up to 80% of grown mushrooms are used in dried form.

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Shiitake is a saprophytic fungus, so its nutrition is based on organic matter from decaying wood. That is why this mushroom is quite often found on old stumps and dying trees. Asians have long praised the healing properties of shiitake, so it has been cultivated by them on tree stumps for thousands of years.

In appearance, this mushroom is a cap mushroom with a short thick stem. The cap can have a diameter of up to 20 centimeters, but in most cases, it is within 5-10 centimeters. This type of mushroom grows without the formation of articulated fruit bodies. The color of the mushroom cap at the initial stage of growth is dark brown, and the shape is spherical. But in the process of ripening, the cap becomes flat and takes on a lighter shade. Mushrooms have light flesh, which has a delicate taste, slightly reminiscent of the taste of porcini mushrooms.

Fruiting shiitake can last up to five years. In this case, the size of the stumps used for this purpose will play a role. During the warm season, shiitake can bear fruit several times. The maximum effect can be achieved in regions with a predominantly humid climate.

Eating shiitake is a long-standing tradition of the Chinese and Japanese people. These mushrooms have been grown for over a thousand years. And already in ancient China and Japan, it was known that shiitake is not only a food product but can also be used as a medicine for diseases of the upper respiratory tract, poor circulation, liver diseases, exhaustion and weakness, to increase vital energy. Shiitake was believed to prevent premature aging.

Today, the fruiting bodies of shiitake in Japan and China are used for the purpose of losing weight, lowering cholesterol levels in the blood, and in the treatment of impotence. Shiitake mycelium extract has protective properties during chemotherapy and reduces the number of pathologically altered cells that appear under the action of anticancer drugs. In 1969, the anticancer drug lentinan was isolated from shiitake.

The global production of shiitake mushrooms at the beginning of the 21st century reached 800 thousand tons per year.

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