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

Sparassis crispa, commonly known as the cauliflower mushroom, is a distinctive species of saprophytic mushroom characterized by clumps of wavy, flattened, leafy or ribbonlike lobes arising from a thick rooting stem that attaches deeply into its substrate. This species is also known for its edibility and purported medicinal properties.

This mushroom species was originally described by the German mycologist Julius Schäffer in 1772 as Elvela ramosa and then again in 1781 by the Austrian botanist and Jesuit priest Franz Xaver Freiherr von Wulfen as Clavaria crispa. In 1821 this species was reclassified under the genus Sparassis by the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries in his publication of “Systema Mycologicum”. Since then, modern research into the morphological and molecular analysis of the specimens of Sparassis crispa from different corners of the world has shown that they are distinct from one another. As such, newer species such as the North American Sparassis americana and Sparassis radicata and the Asian Sparassis latifolia have been created, while Sparassis crispa is now a strictly European species. However, as most mycological sources are not up to date, this overview will discuss and describe Sparassis crispa in the broad sense unless otherwise specified.

The etymology of this species is straightforward. The generic name Sparassis comes from the Greek word meaning “to tear” referring to the irregular fronds of the mushroom’s fruiting body. While the epithet crispa references the waviness of the fronds and not their crispness.

Identification and Description

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 surfaces of the branches are smooth, whitish to creamy or yellowish, often becoming cinnamon in age or dry weather, sometimes with darker brown stains on the edges. Branches of younger specimens are brittle, while older specimens have tougher, pliant branches. 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.
Stalk: S. cripsa has a relatively short and stout stem that typically measures 5–13 cm in length and 2-5 cm in thickness, and is buried deep into the substrate (ground or wood). It is composed of dense and tough mycelial tissue, which supports the weight of the fruiting body and has a slightly rough texture due to the presence of tiny fibrils or fibers on its surface.
Spore print: yellow to yellow-orange.
Spores: 5-7 x 4-5 µm; elliptical, with big fat drops.; smooth; light yellow.
Odor: This species has a mild, fragrant spicy to sweet smell that is said to be characteristic but difficult to characterize. Some reports suggest that it smells like hazel or walnuts.
Edibility: This species is considered edible by all mycological sources and as a choice edible by some. Specimens should be young and fresh. Readers should be aware that these mushrooms are very difficult to clean as a lot of gunk and debris gets deposited between their wavy branches. As with all mushrooms they should be properly cooked by sautéing or boiling followed by baking or stewing prior to consumption. 
Habitat: S. cripsa is parasitic and grows solitarily on the roots or trunk bases of coniferous trees, most commonly Scots pine but also oak, spruce, cedar, larch, and others.
Range: The distribution of this species varies based on which mycological source you consult. If it is to be believed that Sparassis crispa is strictly a European species, then specimens of this species can be found in many temperate zone countries including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Other mycological sources that report Sparassis crispa as a North American species, limit its distribution to western North America.
Fruiting Season: The mushroom typically fruits in late summer to early winter, depending on the location and climate.


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


While Sparassis crispa has a unique and distinctive appearance, there are a few mushrooms that may be mistaken for it in the wild. Here is a list of a few species that may be confused for S. crispa:

  • Sparassis radicata – this species has very long and thick rooting stalks as well as thinner branches. Radicata is found on Douglas-firs and spruce trees in the Pacific Northwest and northern California.
  • Podoscypha aculeata -This species has very tough and leathery flesh. Its surface has a rugged and nearly corrugated texture. It is much rarer than S. Crispa. Furthermore, this is a North American species that is distributed from South Carolina to southern Missouri.
  • Sparassis spathulata – This species is very similar to Sparassis cripsa, and some mycological sources state that S. spathulata is the North American counterpart to European S. cripsa. The differentiating factor between these two is the erect and non-curly/non-way fronds of S. spathulata.
  • Grifola frondosa – this species is also very similar to S. cripsa, however, G. frondosa has pores on the undersides of its fronds and is grey-brown in color. This species is more closely associated with oak trees insures of spruce trees.

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Benefits & Medicinal Properties

Sparassis crispa has been traditionally used in Chinese and Japanese medicine for its various health benefits. Biomedical research into this purported medicinal mushroom has identified a variety of pharmacologically active compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, terpenoids, vitamins, steroids, alkaloids, and others. Research into them has revealed that these compounds possess various degrees of antibacterial, antifungal, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, antioxidant, antihypertensive, and anti-obesity activities.

Active Compound

Purported Properties

Indole, tryptamine, melatonin, gentisic acid, gallic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, o-cumaric acid, caffeic acid, protocatechuic acid, syryngic acid, and ergosterol

Antioxidant activity

Alkaliphilic esterase

used as a biocatalyst in the pharmaceutics, food, and chemical industries

Crude polysaccharides

Anticancer activity,

1,3-β-D glucan

Anticancer activity, used in cancer treatment

polysaccharide fractions of 1,3 β-glucan

Antitumor activity

the β-glucan fraction CA1

Anticancer activity

3 novel phthalides- hanabiratakelide A (1), B (2), and C (3)

Antiallergic against rhinitis

Sparoside A

Antiallergic against rhinitis


Wound healing capacity

Enhances increased production of adiponectin

Antidiabetic: regulates glucose levels and fatty acid breakdown

Xanthoangelol, 2 chalcones, and 4-hydroxyderricin

Anti-bacterial activity


Anti-fungal activity

Enhances NO production

Anti-hypertensive activity

Purported Medicinal Properties of Different Chemical compounds found in S. Cripsa adopted from Medicinal, Nutritional, and Nutraceutical Potential of Sparassis crispa: A Review

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.


Animal research has shown that S. cripsa is capable of regulating glucose and insulin levels, fatty acid breakdown, and can somewhat decrease levels of triglycerides and total cholesterol.

Improved wound healing activity

Immunomodulating activities of compounds found within this species can increase macrophage infiltration and collagen biosynthesis in wounds which enhances healing capacity.

Antihypertensive activity

Compounds found in S. crispa have been shown to increase the production of Nitric Oxide, a prominent vasodilatory compound that plays an important role in regulating blood pressure.

Sparassis crispa Cultivation

Cultivation of S. crispa is practiced in Europe, Asia, and North America. They can be cultivated by bag, log, or bottle using a variety of media. Different methodologies and recommendations are offered by authors for the best results for the artificial cultivation of S. cripsa. Some of these recommendations include:

  • Sawdust of Larix kaemferi trees is the best sawdust medium for this species.
  • If using bag cultivation, 300-315 grams of substrate material per bag are optimal for satisfying the nutritional requirements.
  • A slightly acidic pH (4-7), optimum temperature of 20–25 °C, atmospheric humidity of 90–95%, and substrate moisture content of 65% are the parameters of optimum mycelial growth.
  • Research has also shown that 24 hours of sawdust steam treatment decreases the cultivating period and increases productivity.
  • Cold sock can be used to “jump start” primordium formation.


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