Functional Mushrooms: Shiitake, Maitake, and Agaricus Benefits, Research, and Uses

Functional Mushrooms: Shiitake, Maitake, and Agaricus Benefits, Research, and Uses

Functional mushrooms are one of the latest holistic health food trends, appearing in products from protein powders to coffee blends to energy bars. These anti-inflammatory, gut healing, and immune-boosting fungi are also available in their whole-fruiting body form in grocery stores and on restaurant menus across the country.

Here, we look at some of the top functional mushrooms, including Shiitake, Maitake, and Agaricus, exploring their traditional medicinal uses, modern benefits, and most bioavailable product types.

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What are Functional Mushrooms, and what are they good for?

Functional mushrooms are edible mushrooms that deliver therapeutic benefits. They don’t contain psilocybin, the compound responsible for magic mushrooms’ psychedelic effects. These edible and medicinal varieties are packed with antioxidants and nutrients that help strengthen the brain and body.  A few of their functions include: 

  • Regulating immune defense
  • Enhancing mental focus and energy
  • Improving skin and gut health
  • Relieving stress
  • Regulating sleep cycles.

Medicinal vs. Adaptogenic Functional Mushrooms

Functional mushrooms are medicinal, meaning they help prevent and stave off disease. Most are also adaptogenic; easing the stressors of daily life by modulating stress hormone production and helping maintain homeostasis. 

  • Medicinal qualities mean these mushrooms contain immune-boosting compounds, like beta-glucans, amino acids, and antioxidants. These can help prevent oxidative stress, nourish the gut microbiome, and protect cells from disease-causing damage. 
  • Adaptogenic qualities refer to the breadth of phytochemicals, including vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that help the body adapt to physical, chemical, and biological stressors like exercise, pollution, or anxiety. As a result, these mushrooms can improve cognitive function, strengthen the immune system, regulate nerve signals, balance hormones, and more.

Shiitake, Maitake, and Agaricus Mushrooms

Shiitake, Maitake, and Agaricus mushrooms deliver numerous adaptogenic and medicinal benefits. These mushrooms have been a staple in many cultures' diets and wellness routines for thousands of years. 

Shiitake / Lentinula edodes

Scientific name: Lentinula edodes

Common names: Sawtooth Oak mushroom, Black Forest mushroom, Black Mushroom, Golden Oak Mushroom, or Oakwood Mushroom

Originating from East Asia, the Shiitake mushroom is an edible fungus with a long history of use for treating conditions such as upper respiratory illnesses, inadequate blood flow, liver issues, fatigue, and frailty. Eastern medicine practitioners view Shiitake mushrooms as invigorating agents with anti-aging properties.

Physical Characteristics: 

Shiitake mushrooms have large, umbrella-shaped, dark brown or sometimes black caps with gills underneath and thin, tough, cream-colored stems.


Shiitake mushrooms have a rich, intense flavor described in culinary circles as “umami,” meaning savory and almost meat-like. They make an excellent substitute for meat in vegetarian recipes and are a staple ingredient in many Asian cuisines.

Primary active compounds:

  • Polysaccharides
  • Terpenoids
  • Sterols
  • Lipids 


Traditional Chinese medicine and other cultures have celebrated the healing power of shiitake mushrooms for thousands of years. Nutritionally, shiitake mushrooms are cholesterol-free, fat-free, low in sodium, and a good source of fiber. They’re also high in vitamins and minerals and contain many of the same amino acids as meat.

1. Fights cancer and inflammation: Shiitakes boast polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids. Studies suggest that many of these bioactive compounds protect against cancer and inflammation while boosting immunity and lowering cholesterol. 

These mushrooms are also high in antioxidants, which help prevent cell damage. Researchers believe there might be a link between shiitake mushroom consumption and a reduced incidence of prostate cancer.

2. Promotes healthy bones: Dried shiitake mushrooms contain a sizable percentage of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B5, selenium, zinc, folate, and more. Shiitake mushrooms are also a great source of Vitamin D (Ergocalciferol) for strong bones. Reports say placing these mushrooms in direct sunlight for a day or two can boost their vitamin D content by as much as 460 times

3. Promotes heart health: Shiitake mushrooms contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which helps reduce cholesterol and promote a healthy heart.

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Maitake / Grifola frondosa

Scientific name: Grifola frondosa

Common names: Hen of the Woods, Sheep's Head, Ram's Head, The Signorina Mushroom, Dancing Mushroom

In Japanese, Maitake translates to "dancing mushroom," a name inspired by the jubilant reactions of individuals who have experienced its remarkable curative qualities. Recognized as a potent medicinal variety, Maitake mushrooms are valuable agents for regulating elevated and diminished blood pressure while enhancing immune system performance.

Physical Characteristics: 

Maitake mushrooms, also known as “hen of the woods,” grow in large clusters of flattened brown caps with white edges that curve like spoons, resembling the ruffled feathers of a sitting hen. 


Maitake mushrooms have a strong, earthy, peppery flavor that tastes best when cooked. 

Primary active compounds:

  • Polysaccharides
  • Beta-glucans
  • Heteroglycans
  • D-fraction, MD-fraction, and SX-fraction
  • Sterols and phenolic compounds.


“Maitake” means dancing mushroom in Japanese, named after people who danced with happiness from its incredible healing properties. Maitake mushrooms feature intense adaptogenic properties, making them helpful in treating high or low blood pressure and for boosting immune function.

1. Fights cancer: Research indicates maitake mushrooms can fight the growth and reproduction of cancerous cells and suppress tumor growth. A 2013 study demonstrates that maitake mushrooms could help prevent and treat breast cancer.

2. Improves Cholesterol: A 2013 study found that maitake mushrooms as a freeze-dried fruiting body powder lowered cholesterol levels in mice and increased fatty acids that provide energy. The results suggest maitake mushrooms could help keep arteries healthy by altering the expression of lipid-metabolizing genes in the liver.

3. Fights Type 2 diabetes: A 2015 animal study showed that maitake mushrooms in the form of fermented mycelia & submerged culture broth positively affect glucose levels, pointing to a potential Type 2 Diabetes treatment in humans.

Agaricus / Agaricus blazei

Scientific name: Agaricus blazei

Common names: Field Mushroom, Meadow Mushroom

Agaricus constitutes a family of fungi that includes both edible and toxic varieties. Agaricus blazei, closely related to the ubiquitous button mushroom or Agaricus bisporus, offers numerous health advantages. It fortifies the immune system and mitigates both physiological and psychological stress. These widely-consumed mushrooms have been shown to combat Type 2 Diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels, and gastrointestinal issues, as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular and skeletal ailments.

Physical Characteristics: 

Agaricus mushrooms are medium to large with white or brown caps, sometimes with a hint of yellow or red. 


Agaricus mushroom varieties appear in the supermarket as “white button mushrooms,” “cremini mushrooms,” and “portabella mushrooms.” They feature earthy, hay, soybean, potato, and woody aromas; flavors that are great for cooking. Some varieties have higher flavor intensities that even taste like dark meat.

Primary Active Compounds:

  • Ergosterol
  • Ergothioneine
  • Flavonoids
  • Beta-glucans
  • Chitin


Agaricus mushrooms have many health benefits, helping to boost the immune system and ease physical and emotional stress. These popular mushrooms can fight Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, and digestive problems while preventing heart and bone diseases as well. 

1. Fights Type 2 Diabetes: Research indicates that agaricus mushrooms contain active compounds that might improve the body's use of insulin and decrease insulin resistance in people with Type 2 Diabetes. 

2. Eases chemotherapy side effects: Agaricus mushrooms can ease stress and strengthen the immune system. Developing research suggests that taking agaricus mushroom extract might reduce some side effects of chemotherapy, including weakness and loss of appetite.

What are the most bioavailable product types?

Mushroom cells contain chitin, a rigid and challenging-to-digest material. As a result, they rank low in bioavailability, or how much of their nutrients the body absorbs. 

The most bioavailable way to obtain essential nutrients in shiitake, maitake, and agaricus mushrooms is to cook them, which breaks down the chitin material, making it easier for the body to process. Mushroom extracts in tinctures, teas, powders, and capsules are also highly bioavailable consumption methods. 

  • Whole foods: Shiitake, maitake, and agaricus mushrooms, especially crimini and portobello, have earthy, umami flavors that lend themselves well to cooking in fresh and dried forms. These mushrooms are popular in recipes to stir-fry, grill, bake, sautée, and stuff.
  • Tea involves soaking the dried & ground-up mushroom material in a liquid extract solvent, such as water, which releases nutritional compounds locked within their cells. Extraction exponentially increases bioavailability and yields concentrated blends bursting with adaptogenic compounds. 
  • Powders: Bulk powders are cost-effective and easy to add to recipes, such as teas, soups, smoothies, and even pizza and desserts. A teaspoon of powders made with mushroom extracts can provide a daily serving of therapeutic benefits. 
  • Capsules: Premeasured supplement capsules can provide an easy, compact, single recommended daily serving of functional mushrooms. For instance, Maitake D-fraction is an extract of the mushroom sold in capsule and extract form popular for its immune-boosting effects. 
  • Tinctures: Functional mushrooms in the form of a tincture can serve as a potent consumption method depending on the function that you intend for it to serve in your body. Now, keep in mind that not all tinctures are created equally, as some are more concentrated than others due to the mixed-use of aqueous alcohol tincture blends by some manufacturers versus other tincture blends that concentrate the oils that are extracted using alcohol; these concentrated oils are then infused into vegetable glycerin as a carrier for the mushroom terpenoids. Additionally, the body processes tincture formulas faster than capsules and powders because they are absorbed by the mucous membranes in the mouth rather than being digested by the gut.

Bottom Line

Shiitake, Maitake, and Agaricus mushrooms have long-standing reputations for their value in the kitchen and a wide array of therapeutic properties. Medicinal and adaptogenic mushrooms like these are entirely non-psychedelic and are packed with antioxidants and nutrients. They can potentially decrease cholesterol, boost immune system health, fight cancer and Type 2 Diabetes, improve skin, and more. 

Submit your medicinal and adaptogenic mushroom blends to ACS Laboratory for precision safety and purity testing

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