Shiitake mushrooms are edible and delicious. They can be used fresh or dried, are native to East Asia and are known to have been cultivated for at least 1000-2000 years. Today we know you can grow these wonderful mushrooms at home on an oak wood log.
You can grow Shiitake mushrooms in a grow bag (saw dust usually) or on oak logs. If treated correctly and placed in the right environment, it is said that logs can last for up to 5 years and fruit 3 times a year. It takes a year or so before they start fruiting, but it is worth the wait if you have a shady spot in your garden. The ideal temperature for them is somewhere around 8 to 23 degrees Celsius.
Cut the logs during the winter and inoculate them in the spring. Remember the bark should be in tact. Make sure the logs are stored in a shady spot (no direct sunlight), under some trees or between ferns, even under some garden sheet covering or behind a shed. You can place several logs on-top of each other to create a structure that will not take up too much space and you can place them partially in the soil so that there is enough moisture.
How to Plant
Purchase pre-made dowels (wooden plugs) from an online shop that already has the mycelium (the white stuff) growing on it, or buy you own plugs, spores etc. and make your own. Drill a hole about as big as the dowel and insert the dowel, hammer it down till it is level with the surface and seal with a little bit of heated wax. Repeat this for each hole, make about 12 to 18 per log, depending on the size, at least every 30 cm.
How to Water
The logs should never dry out completely, but it they are on top of the ground or some are, then it should be fine. During the winter you can cover it with some leaves, a cover or even snow is fine. During the harvest time you can shock the logs every 8 weeks to encourage fruiting (water and bump them against the ground), and you can keep the logs moist if you live in a drier area (if no rain, hose the logs down once every other week).
Oak logs with shiitake mushrooms growing on them make an excellent feature in a garden. Place them under trees, between trees or fill some lost space in the garden that is nice and shady. In general mushrooms make fantastic companion plants, usually oyster or white mushrooms are the best. Mushrooms that grow on the roots of plants help them take up additional nutrients.
How to Propagate
Shiitake mushrooms can be grown from spores (buying or collecting) or by cloning the mushrooms, by simply taking bits and placing it on the substrate. Remember that you should work as clean as possible to avoid contamination, sterilise what you can. After a couple of weeks you will start seeing the mycelium (white network growth).
How to Harvest
Usually in Autumn in South Africa, but I have seen them at other times (around 18-20 degrees Celcius is good). To encourage fruiting you can wet the logs and give it a good bump against the ground (shocking it), once every 8 weeks only. Harvest mushrooms when they are open, well rounded with open gills underneath. Pick them by gently twisting base or cutting them off, take care not to harm the mycelium.
Only the fruiting bodies of the mushrooms are eaten. They can be used fresh or dried and is always cooked.
In general you can use the mushrooms as you would brown mushrooms, for example they make an excellent sauce that can go with fish, chicken, pork, lamb or beef.
You can use them in stir fry, soup, pickle them, make pate, add it to stews, sauces, in an omelette, thai soup or curry, with pasta, inside potato gratin, risotto and allot of vegetarian dishes.
Shiitake mushrooms are best used as an addition to your diet. Shiitake is used medicinally for diseases involving depressed immune function (including AIDS), cancer, environmental allergies, fungal infection, frequent flu and colds, bronchial inflammation, heart disease, hyperlipidemia (including high blood cholesterol), hypertension, infectious disease, diabetes, hepatitis and regulating urinary inconsistancies (14).
Shiitake mushrooms is known as a medicinal mushroom due to its long history of medicinal use, mostly in Asia. Shiitake mushrooms are a good source of Dietary Fiber, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Zinc and Manganese, and a very good source of Pantothenic Acid, Copper and Selenium (9).
Possibly anti-bacterial, immune system boosting, and anti-viral.
In general mushrooms are very healthy to eat because of their Vitamin D content. You can also let them sundry for a day or so, apparently this adds extra vitamin D that stays in the mushrooms for at least 6 months according to a few sources.
There are some studies that show mushrooms, and specifically Shiitake mushrooms can boost the body’s immune system. Shiitake mushrooms are researched for their anticancer properties (14).