The shiitake mushroom is native to Japan, China, and other East Asian countries, where it naturally grows on fallen trees in the forest: hence the common name, “black forest mushroom.” Deliberate cultivation of shiitake, both for food and medicine, is of ancient origin.

During the Ming Dynasty period (1368-1644), shiitake developed a reputation as a “tonic,” a substance said to increase energy, prevent disease, aid convalescence from illness, and slow bodily deterioration caused by aging. It was also used more specifically to treat respiratory illnesses, liver diseases, and intestinal infestation with worms.

The soft fleshy cap (“fruiting body”) is the part used medicinally.