Archaeological evidence indicates that Shiitake has been under cultivation for at least a thousand years, the first written account being recorded in 1209 CE from southern Japan. The mushroom plays an integral role in the food culture of East Asia and is produced in enormous quantities there. It is becoming more popular in the US, both in the culinary and health food communities, but also as a source of low-input passive income on small farms.
Up until just a couple decades ago when the technique for the artificial cultivation of shiitakes on blocks of sterilized sawdust was developed, nearly all of the cultivation was done in a naturalistic manner; by inoculating hardwood logs and leaving them to the elements. Since then, the techniques have been perfected and dozens of designer strains have been developed, shortening the time from inoculation to the first harvest from nearly a year to as little as 30 days. However, log cultivation is still very popular as it requires very little work or specialized knowledge and has a high rate of success.
In addition to their distinct aroma and savory umami punch, Shiitakes are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are high in protein, fiber and a number of essential vitamins and minerals. Several compounds found in shiitakes have shown promise for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as being prophylactic against many types of cancer.
The easiest method for cultivation is the most ancient. Inoculation of oak logs with colonized plug spawn will produce mushrooms in about a year, with subsequent flushes occurring regularly over a period of four to five years thereafter.
To buy Shiitake spawn, go here.
For a simple Shiitake grow kit for your kitchen counter, go here.