Lion’s mane is a large, shaggy, white mushroom that resembles a full-grown lion’s mane. It is native to North America, Europe, and Asia, and has been used as food and medicine in East Asian cultures for centuries. It is an edible fungus that grows on dying oak, beech, or maple trees, and can also be found on logs, stumps and in the wounds of living trees.
Though its scientific name is Hericium erinaceus, lion’s mane is also called the pom pom, bearded hedgehog, and monkey’s head mushroom because of its unusual shape. In recent years, lion’s mane has also emerged as a culinary favorite because of its versatility, mild taste, and crunchy texture. It is often found in stews, soups, stir fries, and as a meat or fish alternative that some believe has both the taste and texture of crab meat. Though not everyone agrees with that assessment, most fungi-loving foodies will acknowledge that it is fast approaching delicacy status, and it has the price point to prove it.
Lion’s mane was first used in ancient China for promoting digestive health, longevity, and boosting cognitive function. In 16th century Japan, it was used for its purported ability to enhance digestion and strengthen the immune system, though it was also used as food. Lion’s mane mushrooms have long been studied for their potential health benefits, and in recent years, for their possible neuroprotective effects. Today they are both a dietary supplement and a popular fungus in many kitchens.
The active ingredients in lion’s mane, erinacines and hericenones, have been found to promote nerve growth and improve cognitive function. They are also believed to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), which is crucial for the growth and survival of nerve cells.
This study found that lion’s mane may promote NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) and BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), which may contribute to cognitive benefits.
Another study found that lion’s mane may be effective in improving mild cognitive impairment. More research is required.
Lion’s mane may promote a healthy mood by enhancing nerve growth factors, but more research is definitely needed to understand its impact on mood and overall mental wellness.
Lion’s mane contains polysaccharides and beta-glucans which may help to support heart health, but actual studies to determine the mushroom’s ability to promote heart health are needed. Some of the best ways to support cardiovascular health are regular exercise, sleep, stress reduction, and a varied diet of lean protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and, per the recommendation of the American Heart Association (AHA), two servings of fish each week.
This study of the influence of lion’s mane supplementation on wild-type mice for two months showed potential benefits that included increased glutamatergic synaptic drive, novelty exploration behavior, and recognition memory in the hippocampus, both of which indicate the potential for improved cognitive function. Human studies are required before any conclusions can be drawn.
There is some support for the contention that lion’s mane supports gastrointestinal health, but human studies are required.
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain beta glucans that can help modulate the human immune system. There is animal research which indicates that lion’s mane may boost the immune health of a human, though no significant research has been done to date.
This study found that lion’s mane could improve the immune system by regulating the composition and metabolism of gut microbiota to activate the proliferation and differentiation of T cells in mice.
This study, which investigated the immunomodulating activity of lion’s mane polysaccharides in mice, concluded that these polysaccharides can support immune function. Research with human subjects is required.
Proponents of lion’s mane contend that it does help to manage stress and lower a person’s response to stress, but there is no scientific data of consequence to substantiate this belief. More studies are required.
There are no human studies to date that suggest that lion’s mane promotes a healthy nervous system and brain recovery, but there is some animal research that indicates its potential. More human studies are necessary.
Lion’s mane has powerful antioxidant properties which may help to manage oxidative stress.
There is anecdotal evidence to support the contention that lion’s mane, especially in tincture form, improves both the ability and speed of wound healing, though there is no scientific research to date.
Fresh lion’s mane mushrooms can be eaten raw, cooked, or steeped in tea. If you are using a powder, steep the tea for about five minutes.
Lion’s mane powder is easy to use, cheaper, and more readily accessible than fresh lion’s mane. You can put the powder in your shakes and smoothies, mix it with water, or add it to your morning cup of coffee or tea. Unfortunately, lion’s mane powder is an acquired taste for many.
Lion’s mane supplement is also available in capsule form, though it’s important to do your homework before you decide upon a particular product brand. And, as always, if you are making any changes to your supplement or medication protocol, check with your physician before you do so.
Finally, for those who want it, lion’s mane is also available in gummy form.
When looking for a lion’s mane supplement, it’s important to understand what you’re getting. Lion’s mane mushrooms contain hericenones from their fruit bodies and erinacines from the mycelium. Together, these two nootropic compounds are believed to stimulate the production of NGF and BDNF. To get the benefit of both of these bioactive compounds, you must get a full spectrum-product. It is also important to know where the product has been sourced as mushrooms absorb both nutrients and toxins from their environment. Mushrooms cultivated in a controlled environment by a mycologist are ideal. It is also beneficial to look at how the product was processed and whether it has been third-party tested and certified.
The best time to take lion’s mane mushroom supplements is a personal choice based on what works best for you. Some prefer to take it in the morning, while others take it at bedtime.
Fresh lion’s mane mushrooms are well-tolerated, but there are some minor side effects associated with its supplements, including abdominal discomfort, skin rash, and nausea. Those taking medication should check with their physician before taking lion’s mane.
Lion’s mane mushrooms have been used in Ancient China, and later Japan, for their healing properties. They are also becoming a culinary delicacy. If you’re looking to supplement, check with your doctor first. If you’re going for the meal, enjoy.