The Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is arguably one of the most interesting mushrooms, and not solely in its appearance. It also has fascinating nutritional properties, an abundance of medicinal potential, and an enticing history.
This shaggy mushroom belongs to the tooth fungus group, a genus known for their tooth-like or spine-like fruiting bodies. Lion’s Mane grows on hardwood trees, paying special favor to the American beech, in temperate forests throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s known affectionately by many names: Monkey’s Head, Bearded Tooth, Satyr’s Beard, Bearded Hedgehog, and Pom-Pom Mushroom. In recent years, this highly regarded mushroom has become quite trendy, and for good reason. It has a lot to offer us in terms of benefits. But it’s not just another hip food fad – this popular mushroom has ancient roots and has been revered for centuries as a medicinal ally.
Once known as the “Mountain Priest”, Lion’s Mane has been a part of Asian culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine long before it was introduced to the west. Historically, it was reserved for royalty and cherished for its cognitive power by Buddhist monks.
It’s hard to miss the characteristic long white teeth of the Lion’s Mane mushroom. It tends to grow in a single clump of dangling spines. Although there are several look-alikes, they’re all in the same genus and safe to eat. Lion’s Mane has no toxic look-alikes, so it’s a great mushroom for beginning foragers.
In the wild, they fruit in late summer and early fall throughout Europe and North America. They can be found on dead and dying hardwood trees and lack some of the typical traits of a mushroom, with no stalk or cap. When young, the spines are pure white, but the mushroom fades to yellowish and then brown as it ages.
History & Uses
Lion’s Mane has been used as an overall tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for years. According to TCM, it’s nutritious for all five internal organs – liver, spleen, lung, heart, and kidney. Hou Tou Gu, as they refer to it in China, was historically used to fortify the spleen, nourish the gut, and even fight cancer. The mushroom is also hailed to combat the deficiency of Qi, or “life force”.
Buddhist monks were known to use powdered Lion’s Mane to increase brain focus in meditation. In Japan, locals call it Yamabushitake after a sect of Buddhist monks, a word that means “those who sleep in the mountains”. It’s said that the Yamabushi mountain monks wear a garment around their necks with long strands of fur to resemble the Lion’s Mane mushroom.
Mostly known as a wild foraged mushroom, the cultivation of Hericium was first reported in China in 1988. It is now widely grown indoors on substrate such as hardwood sawdust as interest in its health benefits has exploded.
Health, Nutrition, and Benefits of Lion’s Mane
Hericium is high in protein and Vitamin D. In fact, mushrooms are the only source of produce that provide Vitamin D. It also contains a decent amount of potassium (about 6% per serving) and iron (2%).
In recent years, Lion’s Mane has finally received more attention from scientists, making star appearances in studies on brain health and immune support. It’s full of antioxidants and antibacterial compounds that may help digestive issues and promote healthy cell growth.
Lion’s Mane has historically been used to treat infections, diabetes (it helps lower blood sugar), and heal wounds. The mushroom is rich in polysaccharides, most notably beta-glucan, which have demonstrated antitumor activity and immune system support in studies.
Lion’s Mane is perhaps most popular for its use as a nootropic, or brain enhancer. It is currently being studied for its potential to treat Alzheimer’s Disease and other issues that affect cognitive function and the nervous system. One study found that subjects with mild cognitive impairment who took Hericium powder daily for four months showed significant increases in their brain function.
It produces two families of compounds: erinacines and the hericenones. These compounds are important for nerve growth factor (NGF), aiding in learning and memory. Hericium has the amazing ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier, stimulating the growth of neurons and protective cells. This means it can improve overall mental performance.
The popular medicinal mushroom is widely touted to help with concentration and focus and may improve memory. This robust cognitive enhancer can also help with mood and mental health. Many people who consume it regularly find it to be a great ally for stress support.
New studies are showing that Lion’s Mane may be a great alternative treatment for anxiety and depression. It works to support nerves in the hippocampus rather than affecting our neurotransmitters like conventional antidepressants do.
How To Grow & Harvest
For detailed information on how to grow Lion’s Mane Mushrooms, check out our existing documents.
When growing mushrooms at home, you’ll know they’re ready to harvest when they’re large (up to fist-sized!) and their spines are distinct and elongated.
If you’re harvesting in the wild, choose the freshest mushrooms you can find. They should be mostly white – if they’re brown or have a pinkish hue, they may have aged too far to taste pleasant.
Cut at the base with a sharp knife. Leave a little bit of the fruiting body behind to allow for better spawning of the next round. Stash your find in a net bag and be gentle with them; they bruise easily. Keep in mind that they’re prone to bruising green. This may look strange, but it’s perfectly normal, and they’re still fine to eat.
What Does Lion’s Mane Taste Like?
The flavor of Lion’s Mane is somewhat seafood-like, with a taste similar to lobster or crab. They’re sweet, rich, and a bit savory. These mushrooms have a great meaty and stringy texture, making them even more reminiscent of crab.
How to Cook Lion's Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane are very absorbent, so avoid washing or soaking them with water when you’re prepping them. Instead, clean them with a dry brush, gently brushing away any dirt or debris. If your mushrooms are very wet, you may want to wring them out and lay them on a towel to dry before cooking with them.
Because they have such a unique flavor, we recommend keeping it simple when you cook with them. The mushroom can be easily torn apart by hand into bite-sized pieces. It’s best to start them off with a dry sauté, allowing them to release their liquid completely before adding your fat of choice along with any seasonings. We like to add some fresh minced garlic and a little sea salt.
Their dense texture makes them great for deep frying, roasting, and sautéing. Freshly harvested mushrooms will keep in a paper bag in the refrigerator for about a week.
If you’re not able to use your mushrooms right away or have found an abundance (lucky you!), there are a couple of ways to preserve them.
Because of their high water content, it’s best to sauté Lion’s Mane before freezing them. Simply cook them as you would for any dish (as described above) and let cool completely. Then, throw them into a freezer bag labeled with the date and freeze until ready to use. If you have a vacuum sealer, packaging your mushrooms in vacuum-sealed bags will help protect their flavor better and prevent them from developing freezer burn. You can toss mushrooms straight from the freezer into a hot skillet or pot of soup, no thawing necessary!
Clean your mushrooms, if necessary, with a dry brush. Tear apart into bite-sized pieces (remember, they’ll shrink during the drying process). Lay on sheets in a single layer and place in your dehydrator. Dry at 110 – 125 degrees for several hours, until no moisture remains and mushrooms are leathery. Time will vary greatly depending on how wet your mushrooms are and what size they are. Rotate your trays partway through for even drying. Once dry, store mushrooms in sealed containers for up to one year.