Common name: Maitake
Other names: Hen of the woods, ram’s head, sheep’s head, hui shu hua
Latin name: Grifola frondosa
Affinity: Whole body, nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system
Actions: Chinese tonic, immunomodulator
Diseases: Cancer(2), high blood pressure(3), digestive upset(3), anxiety(3), hemorrhoids(3), autoimmune disorders(3)
Parts used: Whole fungus


Characteristics: A medicinal and culinary mushroom that grows on or around oak trees and is native to Japan, but also grows in Europe and North American (Jones et al., 1998). In the wild it can grow up to 20 inches across. The name grifola in latin refers to griffin, a mystical half eagle half lion beast. The common name maitake, is broken down in Japanese to mean ‘mai’ or ‘dancing nymph’ and ‘take’ or ‘mushroom’. It is one of the finest meaty tasting mushrooms known with a nutty or smoky flavour.

History: Long before modern cultivation techniques maitake was hunted deep in the forests of Akita Prefecture in Japan, at the time of year, ‘when the early fall winds start blowing across the valleys and mountains’ (Jones et al., 1998). Maitake hunters were very protective of their hunting areas and 10kg of maitake was said to be worth ‘an island of treasure’. The medicinal use of maitake can be traced back to one of the very earliest Chinese medical texts, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing from the Han dynasty (206BC-220AD). In this text the traditional use of maitake was to improve the spleen, treat stomach ailments and hemorrhoids, and calm the nerves. These traditional uses are quite similar the Reishi mushroom or ‘lingzhi’ found 13 centuries later in the Ben Cao Gang Mu.

Current applications: Maitake is recognised for its anti-cancer activity by modern day herbalists (Powell, 2015). It is also recognised as an immune modulator and similar to other medicinal mushrooms it can be applied in immune deficiency conditions such as cancer or hyper active immune conditions, such as allergies and autoimmune conditions (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). Maitake may be useful for patients with hyperlipedemia, insulin resistence, mild hypertension, and hepatitis B alongside other relevant herbs.

Science: Maitake, like other medicinal mushrooms, contains several compounds that have anti-oxidant activity (Yeh et al., 2011). An extract from maitake called the D-extract has been found to exhibit anti-tumour activity in models (Hishida et al., 1988). Another study suggests this may be due to the ability of the D-extract to stimulate the immune system and noted activation of macrophages, T cells, and NK cells (Kodama et al., 2003). There are also some very preliminary human clinical studies using maitake. For example, one small study investigated whether maitake could inhibit tumour progression in cancer patients, they presented data which implies it can and this may be related to increased NK cell activity (Kodama et al., 2003). Taken together, these studies suggest that maitake has potential for cancer treatment.

Safety: Maitake is safe, even for the young, old, pregnant, or breastfeeding.

Dosage: Dose of the D fraction is 35-150mg/day and is used in combination with 3-6g/day of maitake extract for cancer treatment (Powell, 2015).

Scientific Summary

Research on models

Anti-oxidant activity: A study found extracts of the maitake mushroom to have anti-oxidant activity (Yeh et al., 2011). They concluded total phenols, flavonoids, ascorbic acid, and α-tocopherol are the major antioxidant components.

Anti-tumour activity: One study used an extract from the fruiting bodies of maitake containing a polysaccharide called the D-fraction and found it had anti-tumour activity in an in vivo model (Hishida et al., 1988). They tested the extract on immune cells and found it enhanced antigen-specific cytotoxicity which may be related to the anti-tumour effect.

Immune modulating activity: A combination of ashwagandha and maitake extracts were found to exhibit a synergistic effect using ex vivo and in vivo models that stimulated phagocytic immune cells (Vetvicka, 2011).

Another study (Kodama et al., 2003) found the maitake D-fraction stimulates natural killer cell related immunity using in vivo and ex vivo models. They hypothesised administration of the D-fraction may help to prevent infection.

Research on humans

Cancer: A pilot study was conducted (n = 10, no control group) on cancer patients, the data is suggestive that maitake treatment may inhibit tumour growth via a NK cell related mechanism (Kodama et al., 2003). More studies are required.


Hishida, Ikuko, Hiroaki Nanba, and Hisatora Kuroda. “Antitumor activity exhibited by orally administered extract from fruit body of Grifola frondosa (maitake).” Chemical and pharmaceutical bulletin 36.5 (1988): 1819-1827.

Jones, Kenneth. “Maitake: a potent medicinal food.” Alternative and Complementary Therapies 4.6 (1998): 420-429.

Kodama, Noriko, Kiyoshi Komuta, and Hiroaki Nanba. “Effect of Maitake (Grifola frondosa) D-Fraction on the activation of NK cells in cancer patients.” Journal of medicinal food 6.4 (2003): 371-377

Kodama, Noriko, Tadahiro Kakuno, and Hiroaki Nanba. “Stimulation of the natural immune system in normal mice by polysaccharide from maitake mushroom.” Mycoscience 44.3 (2003): 257-261.

Kodama, Noriko, Tadahiro Kakuno, and Hiroaki Nanba. “Stimulation of the natural immune system in normal mice by polysaccharide from maitake mushroom.” Mycoscience 44.3 (2003): 257-261.

Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.

Powell, Martin. Medicinal Mushrooms-A Clinical Guide. Mycology Press, 2015.

Vetvicka, Vaclav, and Jana Vetvickova. “Immune enhancing effects of WB365, a novel combination of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) extracts.” North American journal of medical sciences 3.7 (2011): 320.

Yeh, Jan-Ying, et al. “Antioxidant properties and antioxidant compounds of various extracts from the edible basidiomycete Grifola frondosa (Maitake).” Molecules 16.4 (2011): 3197-3211.