Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: A Complete Guide

huge lion's mane mushroom in forest

Written by Em Casalena

Published: December 21, 2022

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One of the most intriguing mushrooms, and not just because of its look, is the lion’s mane mushroom. This special mushroom has intriguing nutritional qualities, a wealth of wellness and medical possibilities, and an alluring past in traditional Chinese medicine and spirituality.

This shaggy mushroom is a member of the tooth fungus genus, which is distinguished by its fruiting bodies that resemble teeth or spines. In temperate woods across the Northern Hemisphere, lion‘s mane grows on hardwood trees, giving specific preference to the American beech.

In this guide, we’ll explore all of the fascinating intricacies of the lion’s mane mushroom, from its classification to how and where it grows.

Information About Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
ClassificationHericium erinaceus
DescriptionA cream gold-shaped mushroom that boasts long shag-like spines.
UsesCulinary, medicinal
How to GrowSpread spore cultures of this mushroom along sawdust that has been supplemented with wheat bran.
How to ForageLook along tree trunks, especially dead or dying tree trunks, around the middle of the tree or even higher to find them growing. Look specifically for hardwood trees.
Key Identifying FeaturesThis mushroom can be easily identified by its long, hair-like caps that can cascade down the mushroom. It is also well-known as a potential natural supplement to ease the symptoms of dementia and depression.
OriginAsia, Europe, North America

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Classification

The lion’s mane mushroom is classified as hericium erinaceus. As a member of this genus, the lion’s mane mushroom is closely related to other edible mushrooms such as the bear’s head tooth, spine-face mushroom, and comb tooth fungus. The lion’s mane mushroom, as well as a number of similar species in the hericium genus, are referred to as monkey’s head, bearded tooth, hedgehog mushroom, pom pom mushroom, and bearded mushroom.

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Key Identifying Features and Appearance

Lion’s mane mushrooms are large, white, pom-pom-like mushrooms. The term “lion’s mane” refers to the gills, which have a hair or needle-like appearance that cascades downward as they expand.

It doesn’t appear to be a regular mushroom. It lacks a stem and a true cap. Instead, it has long, slender spines that typically extend over a centimeter and emerge from a single cluster. Although they eventually become brown or yellow as they mature, lion’s mane mushrooms are primarily white in hue. They too have white spore prints.

These mushrooms tend to grow anywhere from two to 15 inches in diameter. Their shape is somewhat rounded, very compact, and boasts spines that do not branch and instead will simply hang downwards.

The lion's mane mushroom or hericium erinaceus sporting its long spines on the side of a log

The lion’s mane mushroom (pictured) boasts long, white spines that are easy to spot.

© howell

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Where They Grow

The northern hemisphere is where the lion’s mane mushroom is most frequently found, particularly in North America, Europe, Japan, and China. The mycelium develops on both live and dead hardwood trees, primarily on ancient oak or beech, and produces mushrooms there from late summer to early fall, though in warmer climates this may continue into winter and spring. Usually, this mushroom can only be found on hardwoods. They enjoy American beech, birch, maple, and walnut in particular. Lion’s mane may not produce consistently every year no matter where it grows, and due to its rarity in some nations, it has been made illegal to harvest in order to promote its development.

With their white cascading spines and innate affinity to hardwood logs, lion’s mane is simple to recognize. Additionally, you’ll see that they all develop in a single cluster together. Be warned that occasionally, certain inedible mushrooms may resemble a lion’s mane. If you are uncertain, always consult a professional or experienced forager.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Lookalikes

Lion’s mane may easily be distinguished from other kinds of mushrooms thanks to its distinctive look. A novice forager, however, might not be able to distinguish between hericium erinaceus and other hericium species.

When foraging, people frequently mistake lion’s mane for the fungi hericium americanum (a.k.a. bear’s head tooth fungus) and hericium coralloides (a.k.a. The coral tooth mushroom). Some claim that when the lion’s mane mushroom is past its peak, it looks similar to the hen of the woods fungus. Because none of these hericium species are dangerous, the lion’s mane mushroom is a fantastic pick for a novice forager with the assistance of an experienced forager.

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: How They Are Used

The lion’s mane mushroom is often used in cooking. There are several preparations for this mushroom in cuisine. It works well as a meat substitute in sandwiches, a sauteed side dish, and in stir-fry recipes. It is best to thoroughly cook this type of mushroom rather than consume it uncooked. Like other raw mushrooms, they have chitin in their cell walls, which in large amounts can irritate the stomach or possibly result in an allergic response. This particular mushroom species is delicate, soft, juicy, and meaty when cooked. Some claim that it has a seafood or crab meat flavor.

In addition to being tasty, lion’s mane also includes a biochemical mix of substances that are piquing medical researchers’ growing interest. These include glucans, hericenones, and erinacines, which are substances with medicinal potential for treating problems like inflammation and skin aging as well as illnesses including dementia, diabetes, and cancer.

These mushrooms have also had a place in traditional Chinese medicine for quite some time. The lion’s mane mushroom has been long used in Chinese and Japanese medicinal systems to strengthen the spleen, nourish the intestines, and also as an anticancer medicine. The liver, lung, spleen, heart, and kidney are among the five internal organs claimed to benefit from eating lion’s mane. It is well-known in traditional Chinese medicine to encourage healthy digestion, overall vitality, and strength. Additionally, it is advised for chronic gastritis, duodenal ulcers, and stomach ulcers. However, it is worth noting that there is not much scientific evidence to support this mushroom’s use in traditional Chinese medicine, though there is quite a bit of research into its other medicinal benefits.

Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Where They Are Purchased

If you’d prefer to use lion’s mane mushroom as a supplement for medicinal purposes, you’re in luck. This mushroom is widely available in capsule form at health and wellness stores where supplements are sold. You may also occasionally find fresh and dehydrated lion’s mane mushrooms at grocery stores, especially stores that have an international focus or wellness focus. If you can’t find these mushrooms at the store, you also have the option of simply foraging for them yourself.

The Lion’s Mane Mushroom Life Cycle and Behavior

The lion’s mane mushroom has an odd look, although it grows in a manner that is comparable to that of other widely grown mushrooms. The mycelium formed when mature mushrooms release their spores will then travel over the substrate in quest of nourishment. When the substrate supply runs out and the surrounding circumstances are right, the mycelium forms tiny clusters called hyphal knots, then larger clumps of fungus called primordia, which eventually develop into the fruiting body, or what most people refer to as mushrooms. When these mushrooms reach maturity, they expel the spores, and the cycle repeats.

Depending on many growing and environmental circumstances, the color of a lion’s mane can range from white to pink to yellow to brown. While white lion’s manes are the most typical, pink lion’s manes typically develop in colder climates or when the mushrooms are in full sunlight. When these mushrooms are overripe or if the humidity level lowers during the fruiting period, they may become brown or yellow.

The lion's mane mushroom growing on the side of a hardwood tree

The lion’s mane mushroom (pictured) tends to grow in groups or clusters, further improving its visibility to foragers.

© Andreev

How to Forage for Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

The white teeth or spines that resemble white icicles on all hericium fungi allow them to be distinguished from other mushrooms. All of the species feature groups of white spines that hang down in some way, despite the fact that they all have varied development patterns. This particular mushroom is unique. Hericium species are ideal for beginning foragers since they lack cunning look-alikes.

The lion’s mane mushroom is unique in appearance, and it also shines out in the forest due to its almost ghostly whiteness. Nothing in a deep forest compares to their brilliant whiteness, which shines out sharply against the black bark and downed trees. Lion’s mane is one of the easiest mushrooms to find, which makes foragers adore it.

Furthermore, this mushroom typically produces fruit after many deciduous trees have shed their leaves, so there isn’t even much vegetation to obscure its appearance. It’s rather simple to recognize this amazing edible fungus from a distance; I’ve seen several while speeding down a road since a white glob growing halfway up a tree in the autumn is rarely anything else.

Depending on where you live, lion’s mane is a fungus that grows in the late summer, fall, or winter. For fruiting, it favors chilly temperatures. While it may be found in the northeast U.S. in the fall, lion’s mane is foraged in the southeast throughout the winter. When there are strong frosts and temperatures fall below 20 degrees F, the season is over. The harvest season is prolonged when the winters are abnormally mild.

How to Grow Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

Although lion’s mane is reasonably simple to cultivate, newbies may need to spend some time learning since the mycelium is so fine. Because of this, it can be challenging to predict when the lion’s mane is fully colonized and prepared to bear fruit.

It takes one to two years following inoculation if you are growing lion’s mane on logs before you can harvest your first batch of new mane. Although lion’s mane does not grow quickly on logs, once it begins to produce, you can continue to harvest mushrooms for up to six years.

Though it takes far less time to grow these mushrooms indoors in bags or containers. One month after inoculating your substrate, you may be picking delectable lion’s mane mushrooms. The mycelium grows throughout the substrate during the colonization stage, which lasts for around 21 days when producing your own mushrooms. Pins (the early stages of a mushroom) will occur when the area has been completely colonized and placed in the fruiting chamber in two to three days. Depending on the climate, the lion’s mane continues developing and is ready to be harvested in one to two weeks.

The lion’s mane mushroom is a very special fungus, both in the culinary world and for its potential medicinal benefits. Foraging for these mushrooms might be difficult in certain regions, but it is absolutely worth trying. This unique mushroom could easily become a new favorite for you in the kitchen!

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

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