Lion’s Mane is a mouth-watering edible mushroom that has quickly been popularized for its ability to improve brain functioning. Emerging research is suggesting that Lion’s Mane can improve your mood, enhance your memory, and even protect you from Alzheimer’s and dementia. Who doesn’t want that? Not to mention traditional uses dating back centuries suggest it can be greatly beneficial for digestive health.
It’s also delicious. It provides a unique culinary experience, with unexplored flavors and textures often compared to lobster. While there may be merit in the comparison, the truth is Lion’s Mane is completely unique to the tastebuds. This also makes it an exciting ingredient for any home cook, no matter the expertise. This is why long before Lion’s Mane was praised as a medicinal mushroom, it was praised by foragers and gourmet chefs!
Natural history and ecology of Lion’s Mane mushroom
Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is a wood-rotting mushroom that is native to forests in temperate climates across the world. Lion’s Mane is classified as a “decomposer” because it obtains its energy and nutrients by decomposing woody materials. Ecologically this plays an important role in the nutrient cycling process where “locked up” nutrients in the wood become bioavailable to plants and other organisms.
Lion’s Mane is also cultivated commercially with similar methods used for Oyster mushrooms and Enoki. Unlike Oyster Mushrooms, Lion’s Mane is a bit pickier about its substrate and will not grow on straw or other agricultural byproducts. Most cultivators today grow Lion’s Mane on supplemented hardwood sawdust.
In the wild, Lion’s Mane grows directly from mature trunks or large branches of various hardwood trees. This includes Oak, Beech, Maple, and Sycamore just to name a few. While fallen branches and trunks are the most common habitats, Lion’s Mane can also grow directly from perfectly healthy trees. In the latter case, the fungal mycelium is only decomposing the internal dead tissues of the trunks while leaving healthy tissues intact.
What does Lion’s Mane look like?
Lion’s Mane does not have a stem, cap, or any of the features you usually associate with a mushroom. It is a beautifully unique mushroom that is often best described by its less popular common name “the pom-pom mushroom”.
It’s a white and spherical mushroom with thousands of white icicle-like teeth 1-2” in length. These hang freely from the body like small white tassels. In young specimens, these teeth are undeveloped giving the mushroom a smoother, spherical surface. As they age the teeth extend to 1-2” or more in length. At this point, Lion’s Mane is at its peak for harvesting! After this, it may begin gaining a yellow appearance, begin to acquire a bitter taste, or become oversaturated/soggy from excessive rain.
Distribution Of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s Mane is naturally distributed in temperate forests across the world. While it’s most known from countries in the northern hemisphere, it has also been reported in South America and Australia.
In the United States, its greatest distribution occurs in the western states (CA, OR, WA, AL) and forested regions east of the great plains. While Lion’s Mane is largely absent from arid or desert-like climates, it does occur to some extent in the mountainous sky islands of these regions.
When can you forage for Lion’s Mane mushroom?
Lion’s Mane is most commonly found in the fall mushroom season but can be found almost any time of the year when conditions are right. Their fruiting is typically triggered during periods of rainfall and moisture that arrives after a period of dryness.
Throughout most of its range, Lion’s Mane is often the most prolific in late September and October. In the Rocky Mountains and Southwestern Sky Islands, Lion’s Mane is commonly found during the summer months of July and August.
Taxonomy of Lion’s Mane mushrooms
Lion’s Mane is in the genus Hericium which currently contains around 12 species. It is in the family Hericiaceae in the order Russulales. Believe it or not, it is a distant relative of the ectomycorrhizal mushrooms in the genus Russula which form relatively normal “stem and cap” mushrooms.
Close relatives of Lion’s Mane
While Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is the most famous mushroom of its kind, it has many lesser-known close relatives. These species look similar, taste similar, and share ecological niches. Even experienced mushroom foragers find it challenging to distinguish between some of these species. While most studies regarding medicinal properties have been restricted to the true Lion’s Mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) it is thought that these relatives likely have similar active compounds.
Currently, there are about a dozen species known to science in the genus Hericium. Most of these are briefly discussed below.
|Scientific Name||Common Name||Description|
|Hericium americanum||Bear’s Head Tooth||This is a species unique to North America reported from the West Coast and east of the Great Plains.|
|Hericium coralloides||Coral Tooth Fungus||Cosmopolitan distribution and recognized for its heavily branched structure when compared to other species.|
|Hericium abietis||Bear’s Head||This species is only known from mountainous regions of the western United States. It grows with true Fir (Abies) and is the only Hericium species that specialize to grow on conifers.|
|Hericium cirrhatum||Tiered Tooth Fungus||This is a European species with a unique appearance. It’s shape is more “bracket-like” instead of the spherical shape common in other Hericium. May occur in North America.|
|Hericium flagellum||Fir Coral||Previously known as Hericium alpestre. This is a European species primarily known from eastern Europe. It has a similar structure as Hericium corraloides.|
|Hericium clathroides||Spine Face||Rare and only known from Europe. Similar branching structure as H. corraloides.|
|Hericium bharengense||A species described in 2011 from subtropical to temperate forests in the West district of Sikkim, India.|
|Hericium botryoides||Species described from Japan.|
|Hericium novae-zealandiae||Pekepeke-Kiore||Endemic to New Zealand recognized by its unique pink hue.|
|Hericium rajchenbergii||Extremely rare and endangered species from the mountains of Argentina. Grows exclusively on trunks of Lithraea molleoides.|
|Hericium yumthangense||Rare species from India that was described in a Rhododendron reserve in 2013.|
|Hericium bembedjaense||One of the most recently discovered (2019) species in the genus, from the tropical rain forests of Cameroon.|
Tips for foraging Lion’s Mane mushroom
- Foraging for Lion’s Mane is a bit different than soil-dwelling mushrooms. You’re not so much scanning the ground but instead within rather large woody debris.
- The most common hosts include Oak, Beech, Maple, Sycamore, Walnut, and other hardwoods.
- Being able to identify host trees by their bark and wood color can be particularly important since the wood may have been on the forest floor for years.
- Don’t forget to scan the branches and trunks of living host species!
- Lion’s Mane will usually fruit near the beginning of the rainy season after 3-4 weeks of good rain. It may not be worth searching for Lion’s Mane if you haven’t had any significant rainfall.
Medicinal uses of Lion’s Mane
Lion’s Mane mushrooms are a unique natural medicine that can help treat and prevent a variety of illnesses. What makes it truly stand out from other medicinal mushrooms/herbs is the way it interacts with your nervous system and enhances brain function. While this is an attractive and potent effect that Lion’s Mane has on our bodies, its health benefits don’t stop there.
While Lion’s Mane is a great supplement to incorporate into a daily health routine, it is most effective when combined with healthy lifestyle choices. This includes a healthy diet, exercise, and avoiding unhealthy habits.
How does Lion’s Mane interact with the body?
Lion’s Mane mushrooms contain many different unique compounds that positively influence your health. Below we outline the most important and researched of these compounds.
Hericenones and Erinacines
The most famous compounds found within Lion’s Mane are called hericenones and erinacines respectively. These compounds unique to Lion’s Mane mushrooms have been shown to stimulate the production of the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) (Kawagishi, 2009). This is a compound important in many bodily functions but particularly for the process of neurogenesis.
Furthermore, these compounds help with the regeneration of an important component of your nervous system called the myelin sheath (Cheng, 2016). This is a substance that wraps around the axons (space between your neurons) in your nerves and allows for more efficient neurotransmission. When the myelin sheath is degraded it becomes filled with a material known as amyloid plaque which interferes with neurotransmission. High quantities of amyloid plaque are commonly seen in severe Alzheimers and dementia patients. Hericenones and Erinacines have been shown to reduce amyloid plaque and regenerate the myelin sheath. There is also ongoing studies for the use of Lion’s mane for neuropathy and nerve damage.
Beta Glucans are polysaccharides with medicinal properties found within all mushrooms. They are one of the primary medicinal components found within medicinal mushrooms and are highly regarded for their immunomodulating properties. They are ubiquitous to fungi as they form an important component of their cellular structure. Lion’s Mane is no exception to this and known to contain high quantities of beta-glucans (Dong, 2006).
Lion’s Mane for improved cognitive function
- A trial conducted with adult mice fed a diet of Lion’s Mane mushrooms showed it may be useful in the prevention of cognitive dysfunction. It successfully prevented impairments to short-term memory and visual recognition that were caused by amyloid beta-plaques. (Mori, 2011)
- Lion Mane improved learning and memory while delaying degenerative aging in mice brains. (Ratto, 2019)
- Lion’s Mane significantly improved cognitive function in 50- to 80-year-old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment after 16 weeks of consuming 250mg of Lion’s Mane 3x a day. Effects were shown to wear off after 4 weeks of stopping the regiment. (More, 2008)
- Improvement of cognitive functions of healthy adults was seen by oral intake of Hericium erinaceus after 12 weeks. (Saitsu, 2019)
- Studies conducted on mice suggest Lion’s Mane could have neuroprotective effects that could help in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers. (Zhang, 2016)
Lion’s Mane may help reduce depression and anxiety
- A trial conducted with 30 female participants showed that Lion’s Mane reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety after 4 weeks of consumption. (Nagano, 2010)
- Lion’s Mane extract was shown to reduce depressive and anxious behaviors in adult mice by promoting hippocampal neurogenesis. (Ryu, 2018)
- Four weeks of treatment with Lion’s Mane extract ameliorated depressive-like behaviors in mice. (Chong, 2021)
- Lion’s Mane mycellium enriched in Erinacine A was shown to have antidepressant-like effects on depressive mice challenged by repeated stress. (Chiu, 2018)
Lion’s mane may help with digestive health
- Lion’s Mane extracts improve digestive health and exhibit anti-inflammatory properties in mice with ulcerative colitis (Qin, 2016).
- Polysaccharides from Lion’s Mane appear to have prebiotic properties that can help improve gut microbiota and improve digestive health. (Yang, 2018)
- Lion’s mane polysaccharides may exert gastroprotective effects and were shown to prevent duodenum ulcers while promoting colonic health in rats (Wang, 2018)
- Extracts from Lion’s Mane relieves inflammatory bowel diseasein adult rats. It was shown to do this by regulating immunity and gut microbiota. (Diling, 2017)
Lion’s Mane may improve immune function
- Polysaccharides from Lion’s Mane were shown to have immunomodulatory effects mediated by intestinal immunology. (Sheng, 2017)
- Lion’s Mane extracts protected infected mice from Salmonella-induced liver damage and mortality via stimulation of immune cells. (Kim, 2012)
Other uses for Lion’s Mane
- Lion’s Mane shows significant anti-fatigue properties in adult mice and has potential for athletic support. (Liu, 2014)
- There was an increase in muscle endurance seen in my fed a diet including Lion’s Mane mushroom. (Komiya, 2019)
- Lion’s Mane was shown to have good potential in helping against human gastrointestinal cancers. (Li, 2014)
- Lion’s Mane showed high anticancer activity against a variety of human cancer cell lines (Am, 2017)
Does Lion’s Mane have any side effects?
Lion’s Mane is an exceptionally safe natural medicine with no known negative side effects. Its safety is reflected in the fact that it’s also a valued edible mushroom that can be eaten in large portions with no ill effects. There is no known “overdose” from Lion’s Mane mushrooms.
Lion’s Mane in Traditional Chinese Medicine
There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes “People would rather lose one thousand dun of millet (about 25kg) than lose Houtou (Lion’s Mane Mushroom) to others”. If nothing else, this saying reflects the value that this mushroom has in Chinese culture.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Lion’s Mane mushrooms are primarily used to neutralize issues within the digestive system. It promotes Qi, considered “flat and sweet” and invigorates the spleen. It is also said to soothe mucus membranes and help against many different digestive ailments. This includes excessive heat in the stomach, gastritis, heartburn, acid reflux, and general digestion issues. It is commonly used to treat stomach ulcers.
Considering that your digestive system is loaded with neurons and forms a big part of your nervous system, the beneficial effects of Lion’s Mane on digestion make a lot of sense. After all, your digestive system is often called “the second brain” due to its crucial role in the nervous system.
Consuming Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
There are many different ways to consume Lion’s Mane mushrooms. In general, Lion’s Mane is most effective when consumed regularly for several weeks daily (3-4 weeks minimum). Occasional usage of Lion’s Mane mushroom may provide some medicinal benefits, but will not be as effective.
This is why for many folks (especially those with bad memories!) finding an easy and convenient way to consume Lion’s Mane regularly may be the best option. It is also important to ensure that you are consuming a high-quality product that has sufficient quantities of the desired medicinal compounds.
Choosing quality Lion’s Mane products
Medicinal products made from Lion’s Mane can greatly vary in quality, strength, and effectiveness. This can be due to the use of inferior raw materials or ineffective methods of processing. Choosing the right product is particularly important for individuals hoping to treat a serious illness. Check out our guide for our recommendations on the best Lion’s Mane mushroom supplements in the United States and Canada.
If you’re in Australia, check out our guide of the best producers of Lion’s Mane mushrooms in Australia.
The best way to verify that you’re purchasing high-quality products is to find producers who offer chemical analysis on their products. The most legitimate producers analyze specific batches of their products that can be directly tied to what you are consuming.
This being said, it can be totally fine to consume products from local and small-scale producers. In this case, it is important to inquire about their product, materials, and processes if you have any doubts about the quality. In most cases, even lower-quality products do contain some medicinal properties.
Lion’s Mane mycelium vs fruiting bodies
In the medicinal mushroom world, consuming the whole fruiting body is the general consensus of obtaining the maximum health benefits from the mushroom. In regards to mycelium, there is controversy regarding the use of mycelium-based medicinal products. In most cases, these products are made from mycelium cultivated in grains such as rice, wheat, or millet. While there may be a high rate of conversion to mycelium from grain, unrefined mycelium products often contain high quantities of starches and low quantities of medicinal compounds.
While mycelium has been shown to contain higher quantities of Erinacines which have been shown to easily cross the blood-brain barrier, only a small quantity is found in colonized grain products. Studies conducted on the medicinal properties of mycelium most often used pure mycelium cultivated in biodigesters.
Are Chinese medicinal mushroom products bad?
No, they are not. China is the largest producer of medicinal mushrooms in the world. They have been using mushroom-based medicine for thousands of years, long before it became popular in the west. In fact, China produces some of the most potent medicinal mushroom products on the market. After all, they have decades of research on this topic and have developed sophisticated procedures for every part of the process. This being said, consider supporting local businesses before importing your products from across the globe.
Lion’s Mane products – methods, dosage, benefits
- Fresh Lion’s Mane
Lion’s Mane is a culinary delicacy with functional values. It is recommended to cook raw Lion’s Mane before consuming it to make its medicinal properties bioavailable.
To preserve the medicinal properties of Lion’s Mane it can be cooked in a soup or brothy dish. Avoid frying it in oils or exposing it to excessively high temperatures (greater than boiling) that may denature important compounds. Dose: 50-100 Grams
- Dehydrated fruiting Bodies
This is how Lion’s Mane is most often commercialized in China and other eastern countries. It’s convenient due to the fact it has a long shelf-life as long as it is properly stored. Another benefit is that it maintains much of the culinary value associated with fresh Lion’s Mane. It can easily be rehydrated by soaking in warm water for 10 min or by just adding directly to a soup. Dose: 5-10 grams
- Dried powdered fruiting body or myceliated Grain
This can describe a variety of different products with unique applications and potencies. Make sure to read the packaging or ask the producers if you have any doubt about the contents of your powder.
Activated Powders have been processed so that their medicinal constituents are bioavailable. These can be mixed into any food item or beverage without heating. Products that are not labeled as “activated” should be heated or used in cooking before consumption.
Dose: Powders made with 100% fruiting bodies can be dosed at 5-10 grams per day. Powders made from myceliated grain may need to be dosed at around 15-25 grams. It is best to consult the instructions or producer of these products about the dosage as it can greatly vary.
Extracts are the most potent Lion’s Mane products on the market. They contain the medicinal compounds we value from Lion’s Mane without the less cherished biomass. This makes them extremely compact, easy to transport, and with a long shelf life. There are two different types of extracts commonly found on the market that are described below.
1. Tinctures – Tinctures are liquid extracts that most often use water and alcohol as solvents. “Double Extraction” tinctures are when the fungal biomass is extracted in both water and alcohol to ensure a thorough extraction. The alcohol content of 20%+ also contributes to the long shelf-life of these products. Dose: Usually, 1-2 droppers of tincture is a good dose but it depends on the potency. Check your product information or ask the producer regarding the dosage.
2. Powdered Extracts – Powdered extracts are some of the most powerful Lion’s Mane products. They are convenient as they have a long shelf-life, can be mixed with any food item or water, and are chock-full of medicinal compounds. This makes them particularly useful for travel or whenever space is limited. Powdered extracts are also good options for the production of food items (mushroom coffee, chocolates, cookies, ect.) or medicinal supplements. The dosage of powdered extracts should be indicated by the producers of the product. Dose: Usually around 500-1000 mg
Capsules and Tablets are usually either filled with mushroom powders or extracts. They are easy to dose and consume. These may be a good option for those already regularly taking supplements or other medications in this form. Dose: Around 2-4 capsules a day but consult indications provided by the producers.
- Tea, coffee, and other food products with Lion’s Mane
Lion’s Mane can be incorporated into a wide variety of different food items. The most common of these is medicinal mushroom coffee. The big benefit these products have is that they are easy to incorporate into your daily routine. Dose: As indicated by producers.
What is the best time to take Lion’s Mane?
While this isn’t something that has been deeply studied, many practitioners agree that the best time to take Lion’s Mane is in the morning. This ensures that the active compounds are doing their magic when you need them most. It’s likely that another dose in the evening or before bed can also be greatly beneficial and may help you see results faster.
How long does it take lion’s mane to “kick-In”?
Most studies conducted on Lion’s Mane have not observed the short-term effects caused by the consumption of Lion’s Mane. Instead, they have looked at its effects when consumed over long periods of time. This is because Lion’s Mane is most effective after consuming it for several weeks.
This being said, many individuals claim to feel positive effects within an hour of consumption. One study showed that rats consuming Lion’s Mane did have changes in the electrical activity of the brain within 2 hours of administration (Justus, 2020).
Trying Lion’s Mane for yourself
There’s no better way to learn about Lion’s Mane than experiencing it firsthand. For those trying to treat illnesses with Lion’s Mane, it’s recommended to incorporate a holistic treatment with other changes to your lifestyle. This may include changes in your diet, routine, and daily habits. These can greatly amplify and work synergistically with Lion’s Mane mushrooms.
- Environmental Science and Mycology Researcher, Author, Contributor
- Humboldt State University Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Environmental Science with focus on Ecological Restoration.
- Former President of the Mycology Club at Humboldt State University
- Learn More