23 July, 2021

Lion's Mane: the Brain and Nervous System Mushroom. Part 1.

Lion's Mane is large, shaggy, and white mushroom that looks like a lion's mane hence the name. Over the years, they have been used for medicinal and culinary purposes in various countries. The mushrooms are rich in bioactive substances that benefit the body, especially the heart, gut, and brain. This is why they are referred to as brain and nervous system mushrooms.

These mushrooms can be consumed raw, steeped as tea, cooked, or even dried and then prepared later. Their extracts can also be used in health supplements that are sold over-the-counter. Many people have described their taste and flavour as those exhibited by seafood and even gone ahead to compare them with lobster and crab.

You can find them in different names like Yamabushitake, Hou Tou Gu, Bearded Tooth, Monkey's Head, Pom Pom, Hedgehog, etc. In this article, we take a look at Lion's Mane mushrooms in general, the various strains available, foraging, cooking with them, and their look-alikes. Let's get started;

Types of Lion's Mane

Lion's mane mushroom is available in several strains. This however applies to commercial cultivation because, for wild mushrooms, it is relatively difficult to distinguish them in terms of strains. In this article, we focus on the main strains and their composition. They include;

Hericium erinaceus NSHE1

This is a common commercial strain that is also called the Lion's Brain. It is very productive and can form dense pom-pom fruit bodies. It also yields more in cooler temperatures. For instance, the yield can be about 200 to 500g on the first flush off of about 2.2 kg supplemented sawdust followed by several months of subsequent fruiting.

Hericium erinaceus NSHE2

This is a commercial strain which fruits like H1 and H3 strains. Its origin is traced to Washington, USA, but can also be found in other continents and countries. They produce less uniformed viable flushes.

Hericium erinaceus NSHE3

This is also called Tree Beard but has no major differences from H1 and H2. It is a showy strain that produces viable flushes with uniformed fruiting bodies. The best strain that adds variations to your grow boxes.

These are just the common strains but you can find other ones around.

Foraging for Lion's Mane

Lion's Mane can be harvested in the wild or cultivated and sold for its health benefits. When searching for Lion's Mane mushrooms in the wild, the experience can be challenging for newbies but exciting for experienced foragers. Most Lion's Mane mushrooms have look-alikes that may confuse you if you are not sure of what to look for.

There have been cases where people consumed harmful morel mushroom look-alikes. Consult multiple sources and take your time to learn about wild mushrooms before consuming any. Lion's mane, scientifically called Hericium erinaceus, is easy to identify.

H. erinaceus can be cultivated and also available in the wild. The common wild species include H. alpestre, H. americanum, H. abietis, H. laciniatum, and H. coralloides. It may be difficult, even for experienced foragers, to distinguish between these species. You don't need to go into gene sequencing to differentiate the species because it is not important. All you need to know is a few physical differences among the common species.

Regardless of the species, Lion's Mane mushroom is white but can be tinged with pink or yellow. Most specimens are usually pink when young but later turn white when mature. With age, the mushroom again turns from white to yellowish or orange or may discolour when past prime.

The Lion's Mane is identical with icicle-like teeth that hang from the central stalk. Despite starting short, the teeth can grow up to one centimetre long and even much longer than that. If you open the lion's mane mushroom, you will realise that it is made of large icicle-like teeth and nothing else.

Host Trees for Lion's Mane

On what trees can you find lion's mane mushroom? They are commonly found on or around beech trees but you can also find them in other hardwood species like oak and maple. All Hericium species attack and kill host trees. While they grow on dying wood, dead and downed logs, you can find them on living beech trees. Sources conflict on the abundance of Hericium species. Some claim that lion's mane is rare to find while others claim that these species are commonly available provided you know where to find them.

Unlike most mushrooms that grow near the ground or completely on the ground at the base of trees, Hericium species grow much higher in the trees. So if you are foraging for lion's mane mushroom, look up along the trunks of host trees. They can grow up to 12 metres or even above which may make it difficult to harvest them.

Given that they can be found on dying dead trees, climbing such a distance is not worth the effort for some people. In case you spot them higher than you can reach, consider coming back after a year, maybe the tree will have gifted you with one which is within reach. However, if you don't want to go through all these, get ready lion's mane mushrooms from local and trusted vendors.

The season for foraging lion's mane mushroom depends on your climate. They are generally available during the cool weather at around 20℃.

Cooking With Lion's Mane

Lion's mane can be challenging for beginners when it comes to getting them ready for cooking. They have a spongy, soft, and absorbent texture. The inner structure of the mushroom is similar to cauliflower. It has branches that can easily be pulled apart like pieces of bread.

During preparations, do not try to wash them because they already have a lot of moisture content. Wild mushrooms grow naturally so there is no need to wash them. If you wash them, they are likely to absorb the water and become soggy. Slice the mushrooms into small pieces and cook.

When cooking, the first step is to make sure you evaporate all the moisture content. Get your pan super hot to help evaporate all the moisture content as quickly as possible. This helps keep a great texture of your mushroom. Low heat will make the mushrooms cook in their juice and thus get soggy.

Prepare your cooking pan by heating any oil of your choice. Avocado oil or any other oil that has a high smoking point works best. Deep the pieces of lion's mane in the oil until they brown. At this point, you can decide on the texture you like.

You can add any seasonings that you wish to have at the end of cooking. Keeping it simple is the best by adding only salt, fresh garlic, and a little butter.

When ready, Lion's Mane has a mild taste that others say is sweet. As aforementioned, many people liken its taste to that of lobster, crab, and scallop. Others may not even tell the taste because of the difference in taste buds. Generally, they tend to take on the flavour of the ingredients used.

After preparations, you can use lion's mane like any other mushroom. Because of their spongy texture, it is best when used in saucy recipes. As mentioned earlier, they have mild tastes of seafood. They can therefore be used as substitutes for lobster or crab in recipes.

Lion's Mane Look-Alikes

All Hericium species can be identified easily because of their white cascading spines. Consequently, they grow in a single clump and have a strong affection for hardwood logs. Although most mushrooms love growing on hardwood, which some people may say can confuse, you can still use their spines for identification.

When young, it is relatively difficult to tell the difference between Hericium species. Most of the species are considered edible so no big harm or fear of confusing them with harmful species. However, we have to acknowledge that some Hericium mushrooms can be dangerous.

In this article, we take a look at two Hericium mushroom species that are commonly confused with Hericium erinaceus.

Bears Head Tooth (Hericium americanum)

This species is so confusing that many wild mushroom hunters don't notice any difference with the true lion's mane. Despite looking very similar, there are physical differences that you can use to differentiate them. True lion's mane has a snowball-like formation while Bear's Head Tooth is made up of short branches bunched together.

Typically, these mushrooms grow on dead logs during the summer, especially late summer, and fall. They can also be found in the wounds of dead or dying trees. Although they have a strong affection for hardwood trees, you can also find some of them thriving in conifers.

Bear’s Head Tooth is edible and delicious when prepared properly. However, because of how it grows and its shape, it collects a lot of dirt. If you have not encountered them, it can be relatively difficult to clean them.

If you find one covered in dirt, use cold water, especially running water, to wipe off the debris before cooking. When prepared, some have reported that it has a fishy smell. Other people claim that the smell is not defined but will instead take the flavour of the ingredient used in cooking.

Commercial Strains of Hericium americanum

A commercial strain of Bear's Head mushroom, called Hericium americanum NSHA1, is also available. The species contains icicle-like spines but can be confused with Erinaceus species when young. You can usually find this mushroom on the hardwood but also thrives on conifers. Its origin is traced from the USA in the Pacific Northwest.

Coral Tooth Fungus (Hericium coralloides)

This is another common Hericium genus that you are likely to encounter in your foraging experience. It is easy to differentiate Coral Tooth Fungus from true Lion's Mane and Bear’s Head Tooth.

Unlike the true lion's mane and H. americanum that have teeth growing from the centre, H. coralloides has several irregular branches sprouting out. The length of the branches is not uniform but also does not differ significantly.

The branches have long and slender spines that emanate from the branches. The spines extend downwards heading to the ground. You can use this to differentiate the three common Hericium genus.

H. coralloides is commonly available according to experienced foragers. So you have to learn more about it because you are likely to encounter it first when looking for Hericium genus mushrooms. In case you find one fruiting during your foraging experience, chances are you will find a bunch if you take the time to look around. Generally, H. coralloides mushrooms love growing near each other.

Commercial Strains of Hericium coralloides

This is a commercially productive strain that is also called Comb Tooth, called Hericium coralloides NSHC2. One major difference between H. erinaceus and H. coralloides is the fruiting body. H. erinaceus produces dense pom pom bodies while H. coralloides produce large and coral-like bodies with several spines branching out.

Conclusion

When dealing with wild mushrooms, it is always wise to consult with an expert for proper identification. Most wild mushrooms have identical look-alikes, something that may get you in trouble. Most look-alikes are usually dangerous when consumed.

Alternatively, you can find these species from trusted vendors. These are experts who understand the wild mushrooms and there are no chances of getting lookalikes. Additionally, you will find the mushroom prepared for you. For example, the vendors have the mushroom prepared as either mushroom powders, matcha, or even dried.

Further Reading

  1. Sung Phil Kim, Sang Jong Lee, Seok Hyun Nam, and Mendel Friedman. Elm Tree (Ulmus parvifolia) Bark Bioprocessed with Mycelia of Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) Mushrooms in Liquid Culture: Composition and Mechanism of Protection against Allergic Asthma in Mice. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2016, 64 (4) , 773-784.
  2. Mendel Friedman. Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2015, 63 (32) , 7108-7123.
  3. Xiao-xiao Hou, Jing-yu Liu, Zhuo-yu Li, Ming-chang Chang, Min Guo, Cui-ping Feng, Jiang-ying Shi. Fruiting body polysaccharides of Hericium erinaceus induce apoptosis in human colorectal cancer cells via ROS generation mediating caspase-9-dependent signaling pathways. Food & Function 2020, 11 (7) , 6128-6138.
  4. Li-Wei Zhou, Masoomeh Ghobad-Nejhad, Xue-Mei Tian, Yi-Fei Wang, Fang Wu. Current Status of ‘Sanghuang’ as a Group of Medicinal Mushrooms and Their Perspective in Industry Development. Food Reviews International 2020, 16, 1-19.
  5. Yang Luo, Zhe Ren, Ruonan Bo, Xiaopan Liu, Junwen Zhang, Ruihong Yu, Shixiong Chen, Zhen Meng, Yongde Xu, Yufang Ma, Yifan Huang, Tao Qin. Designing selenium polysaccharides-based nanoparticles to improve immune activity of Hericium erinaceus. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules 2020, 143, 393-400.
  6. Marina Soković, Ana Ćirić, Jasmina Glamočlija, Dejan Stojković. The Bioactive Properties of Mushrooms. 2016, 83-122.
  7. Benjarong Thongbai, Sylvie Rapior, Kevin D. Hyde, Kathrin Wittstein, Marc Stadler. Hericium erinaceus, an amazing medicinal mushroom. Mycological Progress 2015, 14 (10)
  8. I-Chen Li, Yen-Lien Chen, Li-Ya Lee, Wan-Ping Chen, Yueh-Ting Tsai, Chin-Chu Chen, Chin-Shuh Chen. Evaluation of the toxicological safety of erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus in a 28-day oral feeding study in Sprague–Dawley rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology 2014, 70, 61-67.
  9. Mingxing Wang, Yang Gao, Duoduo Xu, Tetsuya Konishi, Qian Gao. Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake): a unique resource for developing functional foods and medicines. Food Funct. 2014, 5 (12) , 3055-3064.
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As lovers of mushrooms, we began as a small grower of oyster mushrooms in the Canberra and have now grown to producing a whole range of different mushroom products. 
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