Edible mushrooms such as shiitake may have important salutary effects on health or even in treating disease. A mushroom characteristically contains many different bioactive compounds with diverse biological activity, and the content and bioactivity of these compounds depend on how the mushroom is prepared and consumed. It is estimated that approximately 50% of the annual 5 million metric tons of cultivated edible mushrooms contain functional "nutraceutical" or medicinal properties. In order of decreasing cultivated tonnage, Lentinus (shiitake), Pleurotus (oyster), Auricularia (mu-er), Flammulina (enokitake), Tremella (yin-er), Hericium, and Grifola (maitake) mushrooms have various degrees of immunomodulatory, lipid-lowering, antitumor, and other beneficial or therapeutic health effects without any significant toxicity. Although the data for this functional food class are not as strong as those for other functional foods such as cruciferous vegetables, because of their potential usefulness in preventing or treating serious health conditions such as cancer, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and hypercholesterolemia, functional mushrooms deserve further serious investigation. Additionally, there is a need for epidemiological evidence of the role of this functional food class.