If you’re new to mushroom identification and foraging, lion’s mane mushrooms are a great place to start.
Their distinct appearance makes them easy to spot and impossible to confuse with other, potentially poisonous, fungi.
Here’s what you should know about identifying lion’s mane in the wild before you embark on your first foraging trip.
What are Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
Hericium erinaceus is an edible mushroom known by many common names (bearded tooth fungus, monkey head mushroom, the bearded hedgehog), but most people refer to it as lion’s mane. Often referred to as one of the healthiest mushrooms in the world, Hericium erinaceus provides an abundance of benefits for overall mental and physical health.
What are the Medicinal Benefits of Lion’s Mane?
Research on the potential benefits of the lion’s mane mushroom indicates this fungus has nerve regenerating potential, as it aids in the production of nerve growth factor proteins. It appears to ease the symptoms of dementia, lessen oxidative stress, as well as improve brain function and neuronal health.
Some of the beneficial effects of lion’s mane include:
- reduces symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and depressive disorders
- reduces inflammation and oxidation
- improves overall brain health and cognitive functioning, including learning and memory
- reduces the risk of heart disease and blood clots
- promotes neurite outgrowth
- improves mental clarity and protects against mild cognitive impairments and Alzheimer’s disease
- lowers blood sugar levels and aids in diabetes treatment
- encourages apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells, and has the potential to fight cancer
- improves digestive health and prevents stomach ulcers
- boosts the immune system and improves immune function
- has neuroprotective properties and reduces nerve damage in neurodegenerative autoimmune disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
What are the Side Effects of Lion's Mane?
Although there’s no research on the side effects of lion’s mane mushroom extract, the centuries of lion’s mane use in traditional Chinese medicine and cooking suggest that there are no side effects to regular lion’s mane use.
However, if you want to err on the side of caution, talk to a medical professional before you start taking lion’s mane mushroom supplements or including this medicinal mushroom into your diet.
What Does Lion's Mane Look Like?
Due to their unique appearance, it’s easy to identify lion’s mane mushrooms. When in its prime, the lion’s mane mushroom looks like a white ball covered in shaggy spines.
The spines, which resemble the mane of a lion (hence the name), are short while the fungus is young, but grow to about two inches long when the lion’s mane is ready for consumption.
As they age, lion’s mane mushrooms discolor and turn slightly yellow. If the mushroom is slightly yellow, it's still safe to eat.
However, once it turns orange, Hericium erinaceus is past its prime. If you find an orange lion’s mane, you should leave it on the tree so it can produce spores as it decays.
When and Where to Forage for Lion’s Mane?
Lion’s mane mushrooms grow on hardwood trees and dead logs. You can find wild lion’s mane growing on hardwood logs and living trees (mostly beech, maple, and oak trees). They prefer cooler climates (65-70° F), and their natural habitat is usually a lush forest in the northern part of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are at their prime in the late summer and fall. Therefore, if you plan on foraging, it’s best to do so from August to November.
Due to their popularity, it's easy to find lion’s mane in farmer’s markets and online stores, and you can even buy a kit and grow lion’s mane at home.
Does Lion’s Mane Mushroom Have Any Look-alikes?
Lion’s mane has a unique appearance, so it's easy to differentiate it from other types of mushrooms. However, an inexperienced forager may not be able to tell the difference between Hericium erinaceus and other Hericium species.
People often confuse lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) for Hericium americanum (bears head tooth fungus) and Hericium coralloides (coral tooth mushroom) when foraging. Some say the appearance of the lion’s mane mushroom resembles the hen of the woods (maitake) fungus when past its prime.
Luckily, all of these Hericium varieties are non-poisonous, which makes the lion’s mane mushroom a great choice for a beginning forager.
Can You Eat Lion's Mane Raw?
Yes, you can eat lion’s mane raw, but you may not like the spongy texture of the mushroom. While lion’s mane can be delicious when cooked (the taste of Hericium erinaceus resembles lobster or crab meat) its flavor is subpar without seasoning.
Luckily, it’s easy to cook and eat lion’s mane, as you can add it to a mushroom risotto, pasta, or use it as a vegan seafood alternative (for example, a lion’s mane mushroom recipe for crab cake is a must-try).
Are You Interested in Trying Lion’s Mane?
If you want to experience the many benefits lion’s mane mushrooms provide but foraging isn’t quite your speed, our adaptogenic mushroom granola may be perfect for you.
In a breakfast granola bowl, you get a hyperconcentrated lion’s mane extract, as well as cordyceps and chaga mushroom extracts.
The granola is gluten-free, vegan, and contains the lowest amount of added sugar on the market. What more can you ask for in a morning bowl of cereal?
Lion’s Mane FAQ
Can lion's mane mushrooms get you high?
No, lion’s mane can’t get you high. Mushrooms that can cause a high contain a compound called psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic that can alter your state of mind.
As lion’s mane doesn’t contain psilocybin or other psychoactive compounds, there is no risk of you getting high from consuming these medicinal mushrooms.
Does lion's mane increase testosterone?
Yes, lion’s mane seems to increase testosterone levels, especially in people who naturally have lower levels of testosterone. Many adaptogenic mushrooms have the potential to improve testosterone levels in the body, which could lead to muscle growth and an increase in overall energy.
Is lion's mane addictive?
No, lion’s mane mushrooms are not addictive, even if taken every day. Even if you’re taking high doses of lion’s mane, you won’t experience any side effects or withdrawal symptoms once you stop taking it, although you’ll also stop reaping its benefits.
How quickly does lion's mane work?
That depends on what you’re taking the mushroom for. You can notice the short-term effects of lion’s mane after just a few days.
You’ll likely feel less anxious and more energized within the first two weeks of taking a lion’s mane mushroom extract.
However, to reap the long-term benefits of lion’s mane, such as its antioxidant activities, you should be taking it consistently for at least a few months.
How much lion's mane should I take daily?
The lion’s mane dosage that works for you will differ greatly based on what you use it for. Most people start with a lower dosage (usually 750-1000 mg per day) and work their way up until they are satisfied with the effects these adaptogenic mushrooms provide.
What drugs does lion's mane interact with?
There are no studies on the effects of lion’s mane mushrooms on medication. However, due to the antiplatelet and antihyperglycemic effects of the fungus, you should use it with caution if you’re on antidiabetics or medication that slows blood clotting.
This article was written strictly for informational purposes and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or give medical advice. The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).