Lions mane, or Hericium erinaceus, is one of the most interesting functional mushrooms and that’s not just because of its wild appearance. This hairy looking fungus has an abundance of nutritional value and benefits, which explains why it's been adored throughout history since its discovery.
Lion’s mane belongs to the “tooth fungus” mushroom group, which are mushrooms that are characterised by their spine or tooth-like fruiting bodies. Their physical characteristics would be hard to miss if spotted in the wilderness. When young, lion's mane is light pale yellow, even white. As it ages, it deepens in color and can turn dark yellow, or even brown. However, the most interesting aspect of this fungus is their shaggy bodies, which quite literally (and unsurprisingly) resembles a lion’s mane!
Luckily for all the foragers out there, lion’s mane is an ideal beginner mushroom to hunt. Although they have look-alikes, none of them are poisonous. Not only are they safe to eat, but they’re actually incredibly beneficial to a balanced diet and our mental and physical health!
Like many functional mushrooms that are just being “discovered” by western culture, lion’s mane has a rich and dense history. Over 2,000 years ago, Buddhist Shaolin monks in Japan used lion’s mane in powder form during their meditation practices to improve focus and enhance brain function.
Lion's mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Referred to as Hou Tou Gu in China, this fungus has been known to aid the spleen, liver, lungs, kidneys and the heart. During the 1950s, traditional Chinese medicine became a standard practice under the communist and nationalist rule of Mao Zedong. Functional mushrooms, like lion’s mane, reishi, and chaga, are now commonplace in modern medicine in China.
How and Where Do They Grow Today?
If you’re wandering around the wilderness in the United States or Canada during the late summer to fall seasons, keep an eye out for lion’s mane growing on dead hardwood trees, such as walnut, beech, maple, birch and black walnut. Across the globe, lion’s mane can be found in the deciduous forests of Europe, North America and Asia, particularly in Japan and China.
For hundreds of years, it was deemed almost impossible to artificially cultivate lion’s mane due to its reliance on complicated and symbiotic relationships in nature. However, in 1988, China figured out a way to cultivate the fungi using artificial logs.
What Do They Taste Like?
Lion’s mane can be eaten raw, cooked or dried. It has been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese cooking for centuries.
Many people describe the flavor as reminiscent of seafood, however much milder and with earthy undertones. Its texture is also said to be similar to seafood, like crab or lobster, because it's meaty, delicate, stringy and slightly chewy. Because of this, many vegans use lion’s mane as a shellfish substitute in recipes, such as “crab cakes”.
One way to reap the benefits of lion’s mane is plain and simple: eat it! Although this doesn’t deliver the same level of micronutrient concentration, it does supply your body with a healthy dose of potassium and iron.
When steeped in hot water to make a tea, you’re also getting some of the nutritional benefits, however similar to eating it, the micronutrient concentration isn’t as dense as some other options.
Mushroom extract powders and capsules, which are made through a multi-step and complex process that ultimately breaks down mushrooms to draw out the micronutrients, are one of the best ways to feel the benefits. Many powders are combined with other mushroom extracts, vitamins or minerals to give you a one-stop daily dose of nutrition.
Lion’s mane health benefits are abundant. They contain bioactive substances that have been shown to help many facets of our bodies, but particularly our heart, brain and gut.
While studying Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have found that lion’s mane extract has been linked to reducing the chances of memory loss, as well as promoting nerve growth in the brain. This is because of two special compounds found in the fungus, hericenones and erinacines, which are known to increase the growth of brain cells.
Like many other functional mushrooms, lion’s mane has made waves in the mental health world, specifically for anxiety and depression. Clinical studies done on mice with chronic inflammation have shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which ultimately reduced mild forms of anxiety and depression. Although more studies need to be done on humans, the results of these trials are promising.
On top of these exciting health benefits, lion’s mane is being linked to curing cancer. Due to its unique set of compounds, scientists are starting to believe that lion’s mane mushrooms have cancer fighting abilities. Studies have shown that they may be able to kill cancer cells, as well as stop the spread of cancer once it’s detected.
Want to Try Lion’s Mane?
Lion’s mane can help increase focus and brain activity, which is why adding it to your daily routine may help you stay alert (and even help you kick that caffeine habit). At Alchemi Mushrooms, we create organic mushroom supplements to help you get closer to the magic and nutritious world of mushrooms.
Our Clear Mind daily capsule supports cognitive function, focus, mental clarity, and mood with ingredients like lion’s mane, gingko, bacopa, and rhodiola. Try any of our products and get closer to nature's true medicine.