Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium Erinaceus)
Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) is an edible mushroom belonging to the tooth fungus group. It is native to North America, Europe, and Asia, and can be identified by its long spines. Many of these are greater than 1 cm in length.
Lion’s mane grows on hardwoods (particularly American beech and maple). It also has the tendency to grow a single clump of dangling spines.
This mushroom, also known as mountain-priest mushroom and bearded tooth fungus, can be mistaken for other species of Hericium, which grows in the same kind of habitat. In the wild, lion’s man mushrooms commonly grow during late summer and fall. It is considered saprophytic. This is because it mostly feeds on dead trees, but it may grow on living trees as well, so it may be a tree parasite.
Hericium erinaceus has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries, and its production is widespread in Asia. However, the medicinal use of lion’s mane has become popular all over the world, due to the mushroom’s various benefits.
This species is also common in gourmet cooking, with young specimens considered to be the best. Many describe the flavor of these mushrooms as “seafood-like”, often comparing it to crab or lobster.
In this guide, we will be delving into various aspects of this species of mushroom, including:
- Side effects
- How to grow lion’s mane mushroom
- Lion’s mane mushroom tea and coffee
- Hericium erianceus powder
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Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits
Lion’s mane offers a range of scientifically backed benefits, with their consumption (whole or as an extract) being associated with improvements to brain, heart, gut, and psychological health.
Protection Against Dementia
The brain’s ability to grow and form new neural connections typically declines with age, which can help explain why mental functioning worsens in many older adults.
Dementia occurs when this impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions interferes with everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is a specific brain disease, the most common type of dementia, in which the symptoms of dementia — such as memory loss — gradually get worse over time.
According to statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s (and by 2050, projections claim it could be nearly 13 million). One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, killing more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
Annually, Alzheimer’s and other dementias cost the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars. By 2050, these costs could reach nearly $1 trillion. More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other dementias.
However, there are many ways to reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.
One strategy is trying to improve diet and, in turn, brain health. And this is where lion’s mane comes in.
Studies have found that lion’s mane mushrooms contain two compounds that can stimulate the growth of brain cells: hericenones and erinacines. In addition, animal studies have found that lion’s mane may help protect against Alzheimer’s.
This mushroom and its extracts can reduce the symptoms of memory loss in mice, as well as prevent neuronal damage caused by amyloid-beta plaques, which accumulate in the brain as a result of Alzheimer’s disease.
While there aren’t studies examining whether lion’s mushroom benefits people with Alzheimer’s, it does appear to boost mental functioning.
One study in older adults with mild cognitive impairment found that consuming three grams of powdered lion’s mane mushroom every day for four months significantly improved mental functioning. However, these benefits did disappear when the participants stopped supplementing.
Easing Symptoms Of Depression And Anxiety
Rates of depression and anxiety are high in developed countries, with adults in the U.S. being the most likely to have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition. The percentage of adults with recent symptoms of depression or anxiety is around a third, although this rate (understandably) increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of course, there are many causes of depression and anxiety, including genetic, childhood, circumstantial, and social factors. Chronic inflammation — which can be caused by stress, poor diet, and sleep problems — can also be a major contributing factor.
Animal research has found that lion’s mane mushroom extract has anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in mice.
Other research has revealed that lion’s mane extract can help regenerate brain cells and improve the functioning of the hippocampus, a region responsible for processing memories and emotional responses and which has been found to shrink in people with depression.
Researchers believe that improved functioning of the hippocampus may explain the reductions in anxiety and depressive behaviors observed in mice given Hericium erinaceus extracts.
A further study in menopausal women found that eating cookies containing lion’s mane mushrooms daily for one month helped reduce self-reported feelings of irritation and anxiety.
It May Speed Up Recovery From Nervous System Injuries
The nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and other nerves that travel throughout the body. These parts work together to send and transmit signals that control almost every bodily function.
If you injure your nervous system, the effects can be devastating, with injuries to the brain or spinal cord often causing paralysis or loss of mental functions, which can take a long time to heal.
However, research has found that lion’s mane extract could help speed recovery from these types of injuries by stimulating the growth and repair of damaged nerve cells. In fact, one study found that lion’s mane mushroom extract could reduce recovery time by 23-41 percent in rats with nervous system injuries.
In another study, a high dose of an extract given immediately to rats after a stroke helped decrease inflammation and reduce the size of stroke-related brain injury by 44 percent.
There are no studies involving humans to determine if lion’s mane would have the same therapeutic effect on nervous system injuries, although the animal studies have been promising so far.
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Protection Against Ulcers In The Digestive Tract
Ulcers can form anywhere along the digestive tract, including the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Stomach ulcers are often caused by two main factors: overgrowth of a bacteria called H. pylori and damage to the mucous layer of the stomach that is often due to long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
There is evidence that lion’s mane extract may protect against the development of stomach ulcers by inhibiting the growth of H. pylori as well as by protecting the stomach lining from damage.
Multiple studies have discovered that lion’s mane extract can prevent the growth of H. pylori in a test tube, although there are no studies testing whether these same effects occur inside the stomach.
An animal study found that lion’s mane extract was more effective at preventing alcohol-induced stomach ulcers than traditional acid-lowering drugs, and without any negative side effects.
The Promotion Of Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. One person dies every 34 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease, accounting for one in every five deaths.
Major risk factors for heart disease include age, smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, high triglycerides, large amounts of oxidized cholesterol, and an increased tendency to get blood clots.
Fortunately, research shows that Hericium erinaceus extracts can influence some of these factors and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Studies in rats and mice have revealed that lion’s mane mushroom extract improves fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels. Researchers in one study fed rats a high-fat diet and gave them daily doses of lion’s mane extract, and they observed a 27 percent reduction in triglyceride levels and a 42 percent decrease in weight gain after 28 days.
Also, test tube studies have found that lion’s mane extract can help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Oxidized cholesterol molecules tend to attach to the walls of arteries, which causes them to harden, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Additionally, lion’s mane mushrooms contain a compound called hericenone B, which can decrease the rate of blood clotting, therefore lowering the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Benefits To People With Diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body can no longer regulate blood sugar levels, resulting in levels that are consistently elevated. Chronically high blood sugar levels can cause further complications like kidney disease, nerve damage in the hands and feet, and vision loss. In the U.S., 37.3 million people have diabetes (11.3 percent of the population).
Lion’s mane mushroom may be beneficial for people with diabetes by improving blood sugar control. Several animal studies have demonstrated that lion’s mane can significantly lower blood sugar levels in both normal and diabetic mice, even with low daily dosages.
One way that lion’s mane achieves this effect is by blocking the activity of the enzyme alpha-glucosidase, which breaks down carbs in the small intestine. When this enzyme is blocked, the body is unable to digest and absorb carbs as effectively, thereby lowering blood sugar levels.
In addition, lion’s mane extract may reduce diabetic nerve pain in the hands and feet. In one study, researchers were able to significantly reduce pain and blood sugar levels in mice with diabetic nerve damage by giving them a daily dose of lion’s mushroom extract over a period of six weeks.
Cancer occurs when DNA becomes damaged, causing cells to divide and replicate out of control. Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly one in six deaths, with the most common cancers being breast, lung, colon and rectum, and prostate.
Around one-third of deaths from cancer are due to tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity.
Some research suggests that lion’s mane mushroom has cancer-fighting abilities, due to the presence of unique compounds like cerebroside. When lion’s mane extract is mixed with human cancer cells in a test tube, it causes cancer cells to die at a faster rate, which has been demonstrated with several types of cancer cells, including liver, colon, stomach, and blood cancer cells. However, we should point out that at least one study failed to replicate these results.
As well as killing cancer cells, lion’s mane extract can slow the spread of cancer. One study in mice with colon cancer found that taking this extract reduced the spread of cancer to the lungs by 69 percent.
Another study found that lion’s mane extract was more effective than traditional cancer medications at slowing tumor growth in mice, all while having fewer side effects.
Nevertheless, the anti-cancer effects of lion’s mane mushroom have not yet been tested in humans. This means we need more research to establish this effect.
Reductions In Inflammation And Oxidative Stress
There is evidence suggesting that chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are at the root of many modern illnesses, including heart disease, different forms of cancer, and autoimmune disorders. Diet, however, can be an effective way of tackling these issues.
Research shows that lion’s mane mushrooms contain powerful anti-infallamatory and anti-oxidative compounds that can minimize the impact of various illnesses. One study looking at the antioxidant abilities of 14 different mushroom species highlighted that lion’s mane had the fourth highest antioxidant activity.
Moreover, several animal studies reveal that lion’s mane extract can reduce markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in rodents and may be particularly helpful in the management of inflammatory bowel disease, liver damage, and stroke.
Lion’s mane mushrooms may also help reduce some of the health risks linked to obesity, as they can decrease the amount of inflammation released by fat tissue.
Immune System Benefits
The advantages of having a strong immune system can’t be emphasized strongly enough (the COVID-19 pandemic has further brought this fact to our attention). A robust immune system protects the body from bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing pathogens.
We now have animal research showing that lion’s mane mushroom can boost immunity by increasing the activity of the intestinal immune system, which protects the body from pathogens that enter the gut through the mouth or nose. These effects might be partly due to beneficial changes in gut bacteria.
One study even discovered that supplementing with lion’s mane extract daily nearly quadrupled the lifespan of mice who had been injected with a lethal dose of salmonella.
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Lion’s Mane Mushroom Side Effects
There are no human studies exploring the side effects of lion’s mane mushroom or its extract, but both appear to be very safe.
Researchers have not observed any adverse effects when giving lion’s mane to rats, even when the dose was very high and given to them every day for a month.
Nonetheless, if you are allergic or sensitive to mushrooms, then you should avoid lion’s mane. After all, there have been documented cases of people experiencing breathing difficulties or skin rashes after exposure to these mushrooms. These are likely due to allergies.
How To Grow Lion’s Mane Mushroom
While you can find lion’s mane mushroom in the wild, you might want to make sure you have an abundant supply of these mushrooms. Growing Hericium erinaceus can also be an affordable way to source them.
We have put together a detailed, step-by-step guide that will show you how to grow lion’s mane mushrooms from scratch. (Alternatively, you can purchase growing kits that will make the process a lot easier, saving you time having to buy all of the individual ingredients and pieces of equipment.)
What You’ll Need
In this guide, we will be listing the quantities needed to produce one 2.5 kg fruiting block. The substrate will weigh 2.3 kg, which you will inoculate with an additional 200 g of grain spawn.
The ingredients and equipment you need are:
- Lion’s mane mushroom spores or spawn (available online)
- Substrate (wood chips, straw, sawdust, or log)
- Filter bags with drawstrings (available online or at a gardening store)
- A bucket or container for mixing the substrate and spawning material
Steps For Growing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Here are the steps you should follow:
- Fill the bags with the substrate. You can use a variety of materials, but wood chips, sawdust, or logs all work well. Make sure the substrate is moist but not wet. You can achieve this by soaking it in water for a few hours beforehand. If too wet, mold will develop.
- Next, add the spores or spawn to the substrate. You can do this by mixing them together in a bucket or container.
- Once the substrate mixes with the spores, it’s time to fill the bags. Fill each bag about two-thirds full and then close the top with a drawstring.
- Hang the bags in an area where they will get indirect sunlight and good air circulation. A garage or shed works well.
- Keep the bags moist by misting them every day with water. After a few weeks, you should see white fuzzy growths starting to form on the surface of the substrate.
- Once the mushrooms are large enough, you can harvest them by cutting them at the base with a sharp knife. Make sure you leave some of the mushrooms so that they can continue to produce spores and propagate.
- After harvesting your mushrooms, you can let the bags rest for a few weeks before adding more substrate and spawning material, starting the process again.
You can grow lion’s mane mushroom in bags pretty quickly. In just three weeks, you can have a bag full of delicious and healthy mushrooms. Lion’s mane mushrooms are great to eat fresh, and they can also be dried and stored for later use.
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The Best Temperature For Growing Hericium Erinaceus
Lion’s mane mushrooms grow best in temperatures between 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too cold, the mushrooms will not fruit. If the temperature is too hot, the mushrooms will fruit but will be smaller in size.
Fortunately, lion’s mane mushrooms can tolerate a wide range of humidity levels.
If growing your mushrooms indoors, you can control the temperature by using a fan or an air conditioner. If you’re growing them outdoors, you’ll need to choose a location that gets enough sunlight and has the right temperature range.
Possible Challenges When Growing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms In Bags
If you decide to cultivate lion’s mane mushrooms in bags, there are some potential obstacles to be aware of:
- The spines of the mushroom can get tangled in the bag, causing the mushrooms to break apart. If the spines are not carefully removed, they can cause the mushrooms to rot.
- The bags can get very hot, which can cause the mushrooms to dry out. You will need to keep an eye on the bags and make sure they don’t get too hot (if they do, you can open them up to let the heat out).
- Lion’s mane mushrooms need a lot of moisture. If the bags do not remain moist, the mushrooms will not grow properly. You will need to mist the bags regularly to make sure that they’re not drying out. If the bags do dry out, you can add more water to them.
How To Store Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
After harvest, the best way to store your mushrooms is to dry them. Lion’s mane mushrooms are dry and dense compared to many other kinds of mushrooms, which makes them a great candidate for dying.
You can air dry lion’s mane mushrooms if you live in a hot, dry climate; otherwise, you will want to use an oven or a food dehydrator.
Start by cleaning your mushrooms with a mushroom brush or by rinsing them in water. If you clean them with water, allow them to sit in the sun for at least a couple of hours. This is to remove any excess moisture they soak up.
Whenever handling the mushrooms, be careful not to break off the delicate spines.
Use a sharp knife to slice the mushrooms from top to bottom. The slices should be fairly thin (about a quarter of an inch). Place the slices on dehydrator trays or baking sheets covered with parchment. Make sure they are in a single layer and try to keep them from touching.
Dry the mushrooms at 135 degrees for about 4-6 hours if using a dehydrator. If using an oven to dry them, put it on the lowest temperature setting and dehydrate them for 2-4 hours. Remember to check them frequently.
You can also store fresh lion’s mane mushrooms in the fridge, but they won’t last very long (only a few days, up to a week max). If stored this way, you need to keep them in a bag where they can breathe, and make sure to keep them out of direct moisture, otherwise they will soak it up like sponges.
If you don’t want to commit to growing these mushrooms, you can also buy them online. Typically, these are from specialist vendors or at certain health food stores.
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Lion’s Mane Mushroom Recipes
There are all kinds of Hericium erinaceus recipes. Each one makes for some great dishes, while also bringing great health benefits from the mushroom.
How To Cook Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Here’s one way to cook Hericium erinaceus that will allow you to add these mushrooms to a variety of dishes:
- Slice off the bottom of the mushrooms and then cut them into slices. The bottoms are likely dirty, so you don’t want to keep them.
- Cook the sliced mushrooms over medium heat for two minutes, using olive oil.
- Flip them and cook for 1-2 minutes more, and then add your seasonings of choice. Once the mushrooms brown on both sides, add a little garlic powder, soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Taste and add a little more salt if desired.
You can then have your fried, seasoned mushrooms as a side dish, or add them to:
- A sandwich
- Stir fry
- Your favorite grain or pasta
- Sourdough bread
- Mashed or baked potatoes
Since they taste meaty, lion’s mane mushrooms can be an excellent meat replacement.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Tea/Coffee
Another way to consume lion’s mane is in the form of tea or coffee.
How To Make Lion’s Mane Mushroom Tea
- 2 cups of water
- 3 g of dried lion’s mane mushroom
- 2 black tea bags
- 1 tbsp. of ground cinnamon
- Add 1 tbsp. of ground cardamom
- 1 tbsp. of ground ginger
- In a pot, bring your 2 cups of water to boil.
- Add your 3 g of lion’s mane mushrooms inside the boiling water. Lower the heat.
- Allow the mushrooms to simmer for about 15-20 minutes.
- Remove the mushrooms from the water and add to compost or toss them in a trash bin.
- Add one or two black tea bags (depending on preference), a tablespoon of ground cinnamon, a tablespoon of ground cardamom, and a tablespoon of ground ginger.
- Steep for 5-10 minutes.
- Add lemon to taste.
- Strain in a cup and enjoy.
How To Make Lion’s Mane Mushroom Coffee
- 8 oz. of water
- 1 tbsp. of coarsely ground coffee
- 1 tbsp. of lion’s mane mushroom powder
- Sweetener to taste.
- In a kettle, bring your water to a near boil.
- In your French coffee press, add your mushroom powder and ground coffee.
- Pour your boiling water into your French press and stir.
- Place your plunger and then press.
- Allow the lion’s mane mushroom coffee to sit for four minutes.
- Pour into a cup.
- Sweeten to taste.
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Lion’s Mane Mushroom Powder
As you can see from the coffee recipe above, you can buy lion’s mane in the form of powder as well. You still retain all of the health benefits of the mushroom in this form, but you have the added benefit of being able to easily add the powder to any drink or meal. There are two forms of lion’s mane mushroom powder, however.
Whole Hericium Erinaceus Powder
This comes from the whole mushroom having been dried and ground down into a powder. You still retain the fiber and protein of the mushroom in this form. This means it’s available to use for either mushroom broth, or as a flavor enhancer.
Hericium Erinaceus Extract Powder
This comes from the whole lion’s mane mushroom and/or its mycelium (root system) having been soaked in hot water or alcohol (or both). The fibrous remains of the mushroom are discarded and the resulting liquid is then evaporated. This process leaves behind a very concentrated powder where the medicinal compounds of the mushroom are retained.
One advantage of Hericium erinaceus extract powder is that you need to ingest very little to get the health-benefiting compounds unique to lion’s mane. Powder extracts are ideal for their versatility. The intention of them is to maximize the ease and efficiency of obtaining the health benefits of lion’s mane. Since so little of the extract is necessary, you can add it to any drink, snack, or meal.
You can find organic whole lion’s mane mushroom powder from online vendors and health food stores relatively easily. You want to make sure that it is certified organic so that it is free from harmful pesticides.
If you want to buy Hericium erinaceus extract powder, make sure you’re aware of the strength of the product. There is a lot of variety when it comes to strength. The stronger the extract, the less you’ll want to consume on a daily basis.
There are many online vendors selling lion’s mane mushroom extracts. These can come in the form of powder, tinctures, or capsules. Similar to buying whole mushroom powder, you should make sure the extract is organic and free from pesticides, heavy metals, and contaminants.
Adding lion’s mane to a daily diet is a quick way to enjoy the benefits of this unique mushroom. The compounds found in lion’s mane help stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF has protective and regenerative effects on the nervous system. It is also known to decline as we age, so keeping levels of it up has important implications for neuron health and cognitive function.