Maitake Mushroom: Health Benefits, Nutrition, and Uses

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 22, 2022
3 min read

Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) has an earthy aroma and a wholesome taste. Rich in vitamin D, it helps everything from cancer support to bone health. Its distinctive shape has earned it the nickname “hen-of-the-woods.” It’s also known as sheep head and king of the mushrooms, with its most common name — maitake — meaning “dancing mushroom.”

Maitake has a circular cluster of wavy caps and grows in shelf-like formations at the base of hardwood and softwood trees. It tends to favor oaks. 

Resembling a fan-like hen tail, maitake has gray-brown caps and white-cream undersides containing one to three pores. It belongs to the polypore group of mushrooms with their large fruiting bodies. 

These attractive fungi have an earthy aroma, crunchy texture, and taste similar to hearty game meat. They grow up to three feet wide and can weigh as much as 50 pounds, although most maitake average about 10 pounds. Like other mushrooms, maitake offers beneficial compounds that can improve your health.

Maitake mushroom is rich in bioactive polysaccharides, especially D-fraction, MD-fraction, and SX-fraction. These protein polysaccharides have well-documented immune-protecting and antitumor properties.

In addition, maitake can provide health benefits such as:

Heart Health 

Beta glucan in maitake can help reduce your cholesterol, improving artery functionality and overall cardiovascular health to lower your risk for heart disease. The polysaccharides in maitake can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol without affecting your triglyceride or HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

Immune System Support

Along with supporting heart health, beta glucan can help improve your immune system. 

D-fraction in maitake mushroom has a strong effect on the immune system. It boosts production of lymphokines (protein mediators) and interleukins (secreted proteins) that improve your immune response. 

Cancer Support

Beta glucan may be especially helpful in targeting and destroying cancerous cells. Several studies show its ability to attack tumors for different types of cancer.

Other studies have shown enhanced abilities when D-fraction and MD-fraction are combined with vitamin C for cancer treatments.

Diabetes Management

Another beta glucan, SX-fraction, has been shown in clinical trials to lower blood glucose levels. It helps to activate insulin receptors, while reducing insulin resistance in diabetes management.

While all mushrooms contain ergosterol, a chemical that creates vitamin D, some varieties have higher amounts. Maitakes are wild-harvested, which can make them higher in natural vitamin D when exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D content varies by where the mushrooms grow, but it averages about 28 micrograms, or 1123 IU. This is about 200 percent of your daily recommended intake for this vitamin. Vitamin D is important for bone health because it helps you absorb calcium.

Maitake mushrooms are also a good source of:

  • Beta glucan
  • Niacin
  • Riboflavin
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium

Nutrients per Serving

A ½-cup serving of fresh maitake mushroom contains:

What to Watch Out For

Since maitake may alter your blood sugar levels, it's important to speak with your doctor about any diabetes treatment you may follow.

You can use maitake just like any other mushroom, but you might need to go to specialty grocers or order these fungi online. Make sure you purchase fresh maitake that doesn't show signs of rot or have bad odors. Rinse the mushrooms right before using them to keep them fresh for longer.

Here are some ways to use maitake mushrooms in recipes:

  • Make a maitake mushroom Alfredo pasta.
  • Make an Asian hot pot with maitake, soba noodles, cabbage, tofu, onions, and carrots.
  • Cook up some wild rice and toss in cooked maitake mushrooms.
  • Slice chicken breast, fill with prosciutto and maitake, and cook in the oven.