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Background & General Info

Maitake is the Japanese name for Grifola frondosa, an edible polypore fungus characterized by a huge fruiting body with overlapping caps. [1] Not only is maitake superb in culinary dishes because of its somewhat “chicken-like” taste and texture, but also it is correspondingly well-known as a medicinal mushroom that, for decades, has received accumulative scientific attention as a potent source of various pharmacologically active polysaccharide compounds. [1] It is commonly distributed in the northern temperate forests of Asia (China, northeastern Japan), Europe, and eastern North America, especially in the United States and Canada where this fungus is referred to as hen-of-the-wood, sheep head, and ram’s head. [1] At present, maitake is commercially cultivated rather than foraged from the wild and has become, in the past two decades, one of the most sought-after medicinal mushroom supplements with promising health-promoting potential. [1]


Maitake is usually found as a dense mass at the base of stumps and on the submerged, rotting roots of dead or dying trees such oaks, elms, and persimmons, with clumps normally weighing several pounds. The fruiting body can be as large as 100 centimeters and comprises several curled or spoon-shaped, grayish brown caps with wavy margins. The shape and color of maitake’s clusters somewhat resemble those of a hen’s tail feathers, hence its United States name, hen-of-the-wood. The stipe, or the stalk-like structure that supports the cap of maitake mushroom, appears milky white and branchy and turns tough upon maturity. [1]

History & Traditional Use

During the feudal period, maitake was worth its weight in silver, suggesting its value. [1] For centuries, it has been used as a healthy food source in China and Japan. [2] It was only in 1981 when maitake has started to be commercially cultivated in Japan and elsewhere, and before that, maitake was foraged.

General Herbal Uses

According to a number of scientific studies, standardized products and extracts of maitake, such as the MD-fraction and D-fraction, display a variety of beneficial medicinal effects, including antitumor, antidiabetic, lipid-lowering, antihyperlipoid, antihypertensive, and antihepatitis. [1][3] Together with whole maitake powder, D-fraction, MD-fraction, and other maitake extracts have been viewed to hold potential as immunomodulating agents and adjunct to cancer and HIV therapy. [1]

Constituents/Active Components

Preliminary mycochemical analysis carried out by Acharya et al. (2015) identified cardiac glycoside, flavonoid, phenol, saponin, and terpenoids in maitake. Phenols were quantitatively in greatest amounts in maitake methanol extract, followed by other major bioactive components such as flavonoids, ascorbic acid, β-carotene, and lycopene. Phenols were found in quantities of 8.57 ± 0.53 µg gallic acid equivalent/mg of extract, whereas total flavonoid content was determined to be 1.67 ± 0.26 µg quercetin equivalent/mg of extract. [4]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


Maitake contains a number of physiologically active polysaccharides with scientifically confirmed immunomodulating properties, particularly beta-glucans. Findings from the study of Vetvicka and Vetvickova (2014) indicated that oral administration of immunomodulating glucans from both maitake and shiitake mushrooms for a short term strongly elicits both cellular and humoral branches of immune reactions, hence stimulating the body’s defenses. [5] This mushroom has also been demonstrated to induce the secretion of cytokines from human peripheral blood mononuclear cells, especially tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interferon-gamma (IFN-γ), and interleukin-12 (IL-12). Maitake extracts from substrates fortified with olive oil press cakes had been shown to display substantial immunomodulating activity. [6]


Extracts from maitake contain several antioxidant compounds such as phenols, flavonoids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and α-tocopherol (vitamin E). Cold water extracts of maitake had been demonstrated by Yeh et al. (2011) to exhibit high reducing powers and chelating abilities on ferrous ions. Furthermore, ethanol extract of maitake had been established to display higher scavenging ability on DPPH radical than the hot water and cold water extracts, although the hot water extract of maitake showed high scavenging ability on superoxide anions. [7]


Extracts of maitake have been studied extensively for their promising application as adjuncts for chemotherapy, and experimental researches using animal models have afforded supporting evidence on the usefulness of maitake in cancer treatment. [6] Maitake D-fraction has been revealed to strongly prevent the growth and development of tumors in tumor-bearing mice by activating macrophages, T cells, and natural killer (NK) cells, thus improving the body’s immune system and increasing immunocompetence. When administered in conjunction with immunotherapy and chemotherapy, D-fraction had been proven to potentially reduce the size of lung, liver, and breast tumors in afflicted patients. [8] In a 2003 Japanese study, D-fraction, administered in the absence of anticancer drugs, had been found to delay the progress of metastasis, to diminish the expression of tumor markers, and to augment the activity of NK cells in all examined cancer patients. This indicated that maitake D-fraction principally blocks the progression of cancer via stimulation of NK activity. [8]

A 2002 nonrandom case series described the efficacy of a combination of MD-fraction and whole maitake powder in dealing with stage II–IV cancers in 22- to 57-year-old patients. Striking improvement in symptoms and a regression in cancer development had been detected in 58.3% of liver cancer patients, 68.8% of breast cancer patients, and 62.5% of lung cancer patients, whereas a <10–20% improvement had been noted in leukemia, stomach cancer, and brain cancer patients. Moreover, the addition of maitake to chemotherapy improved the activities of immunocompetent cells by 1.2–1.4 times in comparison to chemotherapy alone. [3]

Beta-glucan, a bioactive polysaccharide from maitake mushroom, exerts cytotoxic and antitumor activities against prostatic cancer cells in vitro, inducing their apoptosis through oxidative stress. Treatment of human prostate cancer PC-3 cells with highly purified beta-glucan preparation at a concentration of 480 µg/mL led to death of almost all prostate cancer cells (>95%) within a day according to dose–response study. Oxidative membrane damage that resulted in apoptotic cell death had also been noted, as evidenced by the twofold increase in lipid peroxidation level and positive in situ hybridization staining of treated cells. [9]


In an early Japanese study, 9-week feeding of 5% mushroom powder comprising shiitake and maitake to spontaneously hypertensive rats, which are the animal models of essential or primary hypertension, resulted in a decrease in blood pressure. Rats fed with maitake presented a reduction in total cholesterol level and a decrease in very low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (a type of “bad” cholesterol). [10]


Maitake aids in enhancing lipid metabolism by suppressing the buildup of lipids both in the liver and in serum. In the study of Kubo and Nanba (1997), Sprague-Dawley rats were fed with high-cholesterol diet to induce hyperlipidemia and then dried maitake powder as treatment. This intervention resulted in significantly less (0.6-0.7 times lower) weights of extirpated liver and epididymal fat pads in experimental rats and decreased values of liver lipids, implying that maitake prevents the accumulation of lipids in the body and exerts anti-liver lipid activity. Cholesterol, triglyceride, and phospholipid levels in serum of maitake-fed rats were suppressed by 0.3–0.8 times compared to those consuming basic feed. [11]


The fruiting bodies of maitake own several constituents with antidiabetic property. Results of Talpur et al. (2002)’s study demonstrated that over three to six weeks of oral administration of water-soluble fraction acquired from maitake mushrooms considerably decreased the systolic blood pressure and fasting blood glucose of Zucker fatty rats, which are animal models of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes mellitus. In contrast, the whole maitake fraction also effectually lowered the systolic blood pressure of experimental rats but did not have a significant effect on fasting blood sugar under the conditions of this study. [12] In an earlier 1994 study by Kubo, Aoki, and Nanba, genetically diabetic mice orally consuming 1 gram of powdered fruit body of maitake were observed to have decreased blood glucose compared to control group. Ether ethanol-soluble fraction and hot water-soluble-50% ethanol float (X) fraction, which were obtained from maitake fruiting bodies, also exhibited blood glucose-lowering activity upon their oral administration. [13]

According to Hong, Xun, and Wutong (2007), alpha-glucan from maitake’s fruiting bodies possesses antidiabetic property, which might be linked to its effect on insulin receptors. Treatment with maitake alpha-glucan at a dose of 450 or 150 mg/kg on diabetic mice lowered their body weight and decreased their levels of fasting plasma glucose, glycosylated serum protein, serum insulin, triglycerides, cholesterol, free fatty acid, and malondialdehyde content in livers. Furthermore, the intervention significantly increased the content of hepatic glycogen and augmented the activity of liver superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase. [14]


Findings from a 2000 study published in Mycoscience journal suggested the positive impact of maitake D-fraction on the health status of patients diagnosed with HIV infection. In this long-term trial, CD4+ cell counts, viral load measure, symptoms of HIV infection, status of secondary disease, and sense of well-being of 35 HIV-infected respondents were monitored. From the 35 respondents, 85% stated an improved sense of well-being in terms of symptoms and HIV-associated secondary diseases, with viral load noted to have lowered in 10 patients and CD4+ cell counts increasing up to 1.4–1.8 times in 20 patients. [15]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

Consumption of maitake mushroom and its preparations in recommended amounts (doses up to 2.25 grams daily) is generally viewed as safe. [16] Little is reliably known regarding the effects of maitake during pregnancy and lactation, so several medical practitioners advise extreme caution on its use. A case of occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis as a result of inhalation of maitake spores had been reported by Tanaka et al. (2004). A 49-year-old woman manifested respiratory symptoms after 3 months of working on a mushroom farm and was treated with oral prednisolone therapy and eventually with beclomethasone dipropionate dissolved in hydrofluoroalkane-134a. [17] Furthermore, the intake of maitake mushroom can lower glucose levels in the blood and thus might compound the hypoglycemic effects of other herbs, drugs, and supplements during their concurrent use, leading to an increased risk of hypoglycemia in some patients. [16]


[1] M. Mayell, "Maitake extracts and their therapeutic potential," Alternative Medicine Review, vol. 6, no. 1, p. 48–60, 2001.

[2] J. Lee, B. Park, Y. Ko, et al., "Grifola frondosa (maitake mushroom) water extract inhibits vascular endothelial growth factor-induced angiogenesis through inhibition of reactive oxygen species and extracellular signal-regulated kinase phosphorylation," Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 11, no. 4, p. 643–651, 2008.

[3] N. Kodama, K. Komuta and H. Nanba, "Can maitake MD-fraction aid cancer patients?," Alternative Medicine Review, vol. 7, no. 3, p. 236–239, 2002.

[4] K. Acharya, I. Bera, S. Khatua and M. Rai, "Pharmacognostic standardization of Grifola frondosa: a well-studied medicinal mushroom," Der Pharmacia Lettre, vol. 7, no. 7, p. 72–78, 2015.

[5] V. Vetvicka and J. Vetvickova, "Immune-enhancing effects of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) extracts," Annals of Translational Medicine, vol. 2, no. 2, p. 14, 2014.

[6] M. Svagelj, M. Berovic, A. Gregori, B. Wraber, S. Simcic and B. Boh, "Immunomodulating activities of cultivated maitake medicinal mushroom Grifola frondosa (Dicks.: Fr.) S.F. Gray (higher Basidiomycetes) on peripheral blood mononuclear cells," International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, vol. 14, no. 4, p. 377–383, 2012.

[7] J.-Y. Yeh, L.-H. Hsieh, K.-T. Wu and C.-F. Tsai, "Antioxidant properties and antioxidant compounds of various extracts from the edible basidiomycete Grifola frondosa (maitake)," Molecules, vol. 16, no. 4, p. 3197–3211, 2011.

[8] N. Kodama, K. Komuta and H. Nanba, "Effect of maitake (Grifola frondosa) D-fraction on the activation of NK cells in cancer patients," Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 371–377, 2003.

[9] S. Fullerton, A. Samadi, D. Tortorelis, et al., "Induction of apoptosis in human prostatic cancer cells with beta-glucan (Maitake mushroom polysaccharide)," Molecular Urology, vol. 4, no. 1, p. 7–13, 2000.

[10] Y. Kabir, M. Yamaguchi and S. Kimura, "Effect of shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms on blood pressure and plasma lipids of spontaneously hypertensive rats," Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo), vol. 33, no. 5, p. 341–346, 1987.

[11] K. Kubo and H. Nanba, "Anti-hyperliposis effect of maitake fruit body (Grifola frondosa). I.," Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, vol. 20, no. 7, p. 781–785, 1997.

[12] N. Talpur, B. Echard, A. Dadgar, et al., "Effects of Maitake mushroom fractions on blood pressure of Zucker fatty rats," Research Communications in Molecular Pathology and Pharmacology, vol. 112, no. 1–4, p. 68–82, 2002.

[13] K. Kubo, H. Aoki and H. Nanba, "Anti-diabetic activity present in the fruit body of Grifola frondosa (Maitake). I.," Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, vol. 17, no. 8, p. 1106–1110, 1994.

[14] L. Hong, M. Xun and W. Wutong, "Anti-diabetic effect of an alpha-glucan from fruit body of maitake (Grifola frondosa) on KK-Ay mice," Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, vol. 59, no. 4, p. 575–582, 2007.

[15] H. Nanba, N. Kodama, D. Schar and D. Turner, "Effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) glucan in HIV-infected patients," Mycoscience, vol. 41, no. 4, p. 293–295, 2000.

[16] M. Horneber, "Maitake (Grifola frondosa): Is it safe?," Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Cancer, 8 February 2017.

[17] H. Tanaka, K. Tsunematsu and e. al., "Successful treatment of hypersensitivity pneumonitis caused by Grifola frondosa (maitake) mushroom using a hfa-bdp extra-fine aerosol," Internal Medicine, vol. 43, no. 8, p. 737–740, 2004.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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