Shiitakes are native to eastern Asia, especially Japan, China, and Korea.
They are beginning to naturalize in the western United States,
and have been observed very rarely in the northeastern US.
The cultivated ones shown here are courtesy of the Fat Moon Farm in Westford, Massachusetts.
The Japanese name shiitake (椎茸) is composed of shii (椎 shī, “Castanopsis”), for the tree
Castanopsis cuspidata whose logs on which it is often cultivated, and
take (茸, “mushroom”).
Identification: Shittakes have dark brown or black caps at first,
but they lighten with age. The cap often has white specs.
Gills under the cap do not attach to the stipe (stem). The stem is
fibrous, bruising a brownish color. The spore print is white.
In addition to shii (a member of the birch family),
shiitake may appear on oak, sweetgum, poplar, cottonwood, eucalyptus, alder, ironwood, beech, birch, willow, and other hardwoods.
Warning: shiitakes can be confused with Galerina marginata,Armillaria mellea (edible, but not
safe if growing on certain trees), Kuehneromyces mutabilis (edible but unsafe because it looks like G. marginata),
and some types of Amanitas. If you find it in North America, it is very unlikely to be a shiitake.
Edibility: Shiitakes are cultivated extensively in Asia and the Americas, second
only to button mushrooms. They are a highly nutritious mushroom rich in protein, vitamins and minerals.
They can be sautéed in oil or butter, stir-fried, baked, grilled, or marinated. They are added to stews, soups, or
casseroles. Precook shiitakes before adding them to salads, vegetable dishes, or omelettes.
The stems are fibrous and should be removed. When these mushrooms are exposed to sunlight during
growth, they produce a lot of vitamin D, a bonus.
Medical: Shiitakes contain lentinan, which is very promising in reducing
tumors in some
types of cancer by stimulating the immune system,
though more studies are needed to work out more of the details. They have a host of other potential health
benefits, though once again, more research is needed. Warning: a few people are allergic to the raw
mushrooms, so it is best to handle them sparingly at first until you are sure you are not among them.
Roughly 75 people in North America are poisoned each year by mushrooms, often from eating a poisonous species that resembles an edible species. Though deaths are rare, there is no cure short of a liver transplant for severe poisoning. Don't eat any mushroom unless you are absolutely certain of its identity! Please don't trust the identifications on this site. We aren't mushroom experts and we haven't focused on safely identifying edible species.
Lentinus edodes (Berk.)Singer(1941)
Cortinellus edodes (Berk.)S.Ito&S.Imai(1938)
Lentinus shiitake (J.Schröt.)Singer(1936)
Tricholoma shiitake (J.Schröt.)Lloyd(1918)
Lentinus mellianus Lohwag(1918)
Cortinellus shiitake (J.Schröt.)Henn.(1899)
Mastoleucomyces edodes (Berk.)Kuntze(1891)
Lentinus tonkinensis Pat.(1890)
Lepiota shiitake (J.Schröt.)Nobuj.Tanaka(1889)
Armillaria edodes (Berk.)Sacc.(1887)
Collybia shiitake J.Schröt.(1886)
Agaricus edodes Berk.(1878)
Lentinula edodes description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.