Sparassis crispa (Cauliflower Fungus): Health Benefits & Medicinal Uses


Clavaria crispa Wulfen
Clavaria crispa (Scop.) Sacc.
Manina crispa Scop.
Masseola crispa (Wulfen) Kuntze
Sparassis radicata Weir
Sparassis ramosa Schaeff. ex Schroet.

Common names

Cauliflower mushroom
Hen of the Woods
Ruffle mushroom
Brain fungus
White fungus


Fruiting body:  5-20 cm tall, 6-30 mm across, although it can be even bigger, and sometimes reach a weight of 6 kg. Its overall shape is irregularly spherical or elliptical, with a thick, fleshy base from which leafy branches grow and develop. The branches are partially fused, both sides are covered by hymenium. The edges of the wavy or curled lobed leaves are toothed. At first they are whitish, later yellowish and when old they become orange-yellow to yellowish-brown. The base of the stipe is almost black.
Flesh: waxy, flexible, white, with a pleasant smell, tastes nutty, according to some references.
Spore print: yellow to yellow-orange.
Spores: 5-7 x 4-5 µm; elliptical; smooth; light yellow.
Habitat: grows from August to October in coniferous woods, usually close to the roots of pine trees. Widespread in northern temperate zones worldwide.

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Medicinal properties

β-glucans, antitumor activities, and immune stimulation

Polysaccharide fractions have been prepared from cultured Sparassis crispa by repeated extraction with successive treatments of hot water, cold alkali, hot alkali, and then further fractionation using ethanol precipitation. Various types of chemical analysis show that the polysaccharides obtained in this way are 6-branched 1,3-β-glucans, with one branch in approximately every third main chain unit. The β-glucan preparation from S. crispa (‘SCG’) not only shows antitumor activity to the solid form of Sarcoma 180 in mice, but also enhances the hematopoietic response (Ohno et al., 2000). This enhanced response is due at least partially to an increased ratio of natural killer cells and γΔ T cells in the liver, spleen and peritoneal cavity. Further, mice fed SCG had reduced CD4+ and CD8+ cells in the thymus, and enhanced IL-6 production, highlighting the possible importance of cytokine IL-6 for SCG’s anti-tumor effects (Harada et al., 2002a).  These researchers also showed that SCG works synergistically with soy isoflavone aglycones, a class of compounds touted as possible cancer-preventing agents (Harada et al., 2005). When both compounds were taken together orally, they synergistically increased the number of white blood cells and spleen weight. The increased spleen weight was at least partially due to an increased number of monocytes and granulocytes.

To investigate its effect on cytokine production, SCG was tested in vitro with human blood (Nameda et al., 2003). In this study, SCG was shown to activate human leukocytes, with the following specific effects:

  • dose-dependent enhancement of IL-8 synthesis
  • enhancement of IL-8 synthesis in both PBMC and PMN cultures
  • heat-labile induction of IL-8 synthesis in the culture using plasma
  • causing the dose- and kinetics-dependent release of complement fragment C5a
  • induction of anti-SCG natural antibody in human plasma

SCG was also found to induce interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) and interleukin-12 p70 production in mice (Harada et al., 2002b), as well as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) (Harada et al., 2004). Cell to cell contact and soluble factors are important for cytokine induction by SCG (Harada et al., 2006a). These authors specifically suggest that increased levels of GM-CSF and dectin-1 (a β-glucan receptor) expression are crucial elements of this induction (Harada et al., 2006b).

Another Japanese study (Hasegawa et al., 2004) showed that cancerous mice (sarcoma 180) fed S. crispa for 5 weeks had reduced tumor sizes and prolonged survival times. The authors suggest that Th1 cells are activated, shifting the immunological balance to Th1-mediated immunity.

Other anti-tumor compounds/anti-angiogenic effects

Apparently, β-glucans are not the only compounds with antitumor activity in S. crispa. Yamamoto et al. (2007) checked out the β-glucan free low-molecular weight fraction from a hot-water extract of fruitbodies. Feeding these low-molecular compounds to mice had the multiple effects of suppressing tumor growth, increasing IFN-γ production, and reducing the growth of new blood vessels that usually accompanies tumor growth (angiogenesis).  It is suggested that the low-molecular weight compounds enhance the Th1-response in tumor bearing mice (Yamamoto et al., 2007).

Antifungal compounds

Sparassis crispa produced three antifungal compounds in submerged culture, including the previously known sparassol (methyl-2-hydroxy-4-methoxy-6-methylbenzoate). (Side note: sparassol earns a mention in the silly-sounding molecule webpage!) The other two compounds, ScI and ScII, had greater antifungal activity than sparassol against Cladosporium cucumerinum, and were characterized structurally as methyl-2,4-dihydroxy-6-methylbenzoate (methyl orsellinate) and an incompletely determined methyl-dihydroxy-methoxy-methylbenzoate, respectively (Woodward et al., 1993).

Anti-HIV activity

S. crispa was one of several mushroom species whose hot-water extract inhibited HIV-1 reverse transcriptase over 50% at a concentration of 1 mg/mL (Wang et al., 2007).

Antimicrobial activity

A dichloromethane extract proved to be antibacterial towards Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli, and molluscicidal towards Biomphalaria glabrata (Keller et al., 2002).

Kawagishi and colleagues recently (2007) isolated a novel bioactive compound, as well as a compound known previously to exist in Antrodia camphorata. Both compounds inhibited melanin synthesis by melanoma (skin cancer) cells, and both also inhibbited the growth of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.


Mushroom Exper


Harada T, Kawaminami H, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Cell to cell contact through ICAM-1-LFA-1 and TNF-α synergistically contributes to GM-CSF and subsequent cytokine synthesis in DBA/2 mice induced by 1,3-β-D-Glucan SCG.
J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2006a 26(4):235-47.

Harada T, Kawaminami H, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Mechanism of enhanced hematopoietic response by soluble β-glucan SCG in cyclophosphamide-treated mice.
Microbiol Immunol. 2006b 50(9):687-700.

Harada T, Masuda S, Arii M, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Soy isoflavone aglycone modulates a hematopoietic response in combination with soluble β-glucan: SCG.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2005 28(12):2342-5.

Harada T, Miura N, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Effect of SCG, 1,3-β-D-glucan from Sparassis crispa on the hematopoietic response in cyclophosphamide induced leukopenic mice.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2002a 25(7):931-9.

Harada T, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
IFN-γ induction by SCG, 1,3-β-D-glucan from Sparassis crispa, in DBA/2 mice in vitro.
J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2002b 22(12):1227-39.

Harada T, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) regulates cytokine induction by 1,3-β-D-glucan SCG in DBA/2 mice in vitro.
J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2004 24(8):478-89.

Harada T, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Antibody to soluble 1,3/1,6-β-D-glucan, SCG in sera of naive DBA/2 mice.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2003 26(8):1225-8.

Harada T, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Nakajima M, Yadomae T, Ohno N.
Highly expressed dectin-1 on bone marrow-derived dendritic cells regulates the sensitivity to β-glucan in DBA/2 mice.
J Interferon Cytokine Res. 2008 28(8):477-86.

Hasegawa A, Yamada M, Dombo M, Fukushima R, Matsuura N, Sugitachi A.
[Sparassis crispa as biological response modifier].
Gan To Kagaku Ryoho. 2004 31(11):1761-3.

Kawagishi H, Hayashi K, Tokuyama S, Hashimoto N, Kimura T, Dombo M.
Novel bioactive compound from the Sparassis crispa mushroom.
Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2007 71(7):1804-6.

Keller C, Maillard M, Keller J, Hostettmann K.
Screening of European fungi for antibacterial, antifungal, larvicidal, molluscicidal, antioxidant and free-radical scavenging activities and subsequent isolation of bioactive compounds.
Pharmaceutical Biology. 2002 40(7):518-25.

Nameda S, Harada T, Miura NN, Adachi Y, Yadomae T, Nakajima M, Ohno N.
Enhanced cytokine synthesis of leukocytes by a β-glucan preparation, SCG, extracted from a medicinal mushroom, Sparassis crispa.
Immunopharm Immunotoxicol. 2003 25(3):321-35.

Ohno N, Miura NN, Nakajima M, Yadomae T.
Antitumor 1,3-β-glucan from cultured fruit body of Sparassis crispa.
Biol Pharm Bull. 2000 23(7):866-72.

Politi M, Silipo A, Siciliano T, Tebano M, Flamini G, Braca A, Jimenez-Barbero J.
Current analytical methods to study plant water extracts: the example of two mushrooms species, Inonotus hispidus and Sparassis crispa.
Phytochem Anal. 2007 18(1):33-41.

Siepmann R.
Longevity of decay fungi, Polyporus schweinitzii Fr and Sparassis crispa (Wulf in Jacq) Ex Fr in stumps of Scots Pine.
Euro J Forest Pathol. 1977 7(4):249-51.

Wang J, Wang HX, Ng TB.
A peptide with HIV-1 reverse transcriptase inhibitory activity from the medicinal mushroom Russula paludosa.
Peptides. 2007 28(3):560-5.

Woodward S, Sultan HY, Barrett DK, Pearce RB.
2 New antifungal metabolites produced by Sparassis crispa in culture and in decayed trees.
J Gen Microbiol. 1993 139:153-9.

Yamamoto K, Nishikawa Y, Kimura T, Dombo M, Matsuura N, Sugitachi A.
Antitumor activities of low molecular weight fraction derived from the cultured fruit body of Sparassis crispa in tumor-bearing mice.
J Jap Soc Food Sci Technol-Nippon Shokuhin Kagaku Kogaku Kaishi. 2007 54(9):419-23.

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