The Enigmatic Lion's Mane Mushroom
The buzzing mushroom taking over the wellness industry: Lion’s Mane. Scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus, it is a distinctive fungus with cascading, white spines that resemble a lion's mane. Often celebrated for both its culinary appeal and health benefits, Lion's Mane is a unique species known to grow on hardwood trees in various parts of the world. Beyond its culinary uses, Lion's Mane has gained attention for its ability to support cognitive health. Traditional medicine systems in Asia have long been using Lion’s Mane to increase focus, improve memory and even help treat certain cancers. Modern research is catching up and proving the benefits of Lion’s Mane that it was historically touted for.
The Forest's Hidden Treasure
Understanding Lion’s Mane’s natural habitat in the wild is crucial for those interested in foraging or cultivating this mushroom. Lion's Mane is primarily a saprophytic mushroom, meaning it thrives on dead or decaying hardwood trees. Lion’s Mane specifically prefers oak, beech, maple, and birch. It is also commonly spotted in cool, damp conditions, often in late summer to early autumn. These mushrooms tend to thrive when the weather is not too hot or dry. Though not a common sighting, this mushroom is definitely a gem to stumble upon.
Harvesting Lion's Mane
If you live in North America, China, Japan, or Northern Europe, you may be lucky enough to find one of these white beauties in the wild. As mentioned earlier, typically in late summer or early autumn is when Lion’s Mane mushrooms thrive. Using a knife to cut the Lion's Mane away from the tree is suggested. This is to leave some mycelium behind so it can potentially regrow in the future. If you live in the right climate, you can also cultivate your own with the proper equipment. Because this is a tricky process, requiring a lot of steps and expensive equipment, commercial grow kits are available that make it easy to grow one or two harvests at home.
The Art of Steam Extraction
Steam extraction of Lion's Mane mushrooms is a process that harnesses the bioactive compounds and nutrients found within the mushroom. To start the extraction, Lion's Mane mushrooms are first carefully cleaned and prepared, removing any unwanted particles. The mushrooms are then dried to reduce their moisture content, an essential step to prevent mold growth and ensure the longevity of the extracted compounds. The dried mushrooms are then exposed to steam, which acts as a gentle solvent, effectively extracting the desired bioactive compounds and nutrients. Once the extraction is complete, the resulting solution is typically separated, with the extract containing the valuable compounds separated from the remaining mushroom material. Depending on the desired potency, the extract may undergo a concentration step to remove excess water and enhance the concentration of bioactive compounds. Steam-extracted Lion's Mane extract is a valuable ingredient in dietary supplements, tinctures, and functional-enhanced foods. Dual extracts with alcohol also exist, and extract different compounds, but historically steam extractions are more commonplace.
Nutritional Value and Bioactive Compounds
Lion’s Mane contains three main bioactive compounds; erinacines, hericenones, and polysaccharides. Erinacines and hericenones stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) production. NGF plays a crucial role in nerve cell production and protection, benefiting cognitive health and nervous system function. Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia are associated with loss of neurons, so these compounds can help counteract this. Lion’s Mane also contains polysaccharides which are rich in antioxidants and help boost the immune system. Aside from the bioactive compounds, Lion’s Mane is high in B vitamins, potassium and zinc. Lion’s Mane is one of the few functional mushrooms that can be also used culinarily. When eaten as a whole mushroom, it is a moderate source of protein and dietary fiber.
Health Benefits and Applications
Anyone wanting to enhance their cognitive function will benefit from Lion’s Mane. Due to its NGF content and ability to protect and grow new neurons, people taking it will experience sharper focus and memory. It will also help with creativity and mindfulness. Historically, Shaolin monks consumed Lion’s Mane to help them in meditation, a practice of mindfulness. Really anything related to brain health will be enhanced including mental health.
In China and Japan, Lion’s Mane has become a standard adjunct treatment to certain cancers. This means that in addition to standard cancer treatments like chemo or radiation therapy, patients will also receive Lion’s Mane as a supplement. It’s even been shown that when cancer cells are mixed in with Lion’s Mane in a test tube, the cancer cells die faster.
Quality Control and Product Varieties
When looking for a Lion’s Mane supplement, the most important thing is that it’s from a reputable supplier and derived from the 100% fruiting-body. A mushroom’s fruiting body is the portion that grows above ground and what we know to be a mushroom. Many companies use mycelium, the root structure of the mushroom, because it is cheaper to produce. However, mycelium grows on a grain, rice or oat substrate that it cannot be separated from, so the final product includes filler. Instead it’s better to buy from a company like Mālama Mushrooms that is USDA certified organic and uses 100% fruiting-body.
Lion’s Mane nowadays is widely available in health food stores and online markets. There are also many food and beverage products that include Lion’s Mane like coffee creamers, coffee replacements, kombucha and so many others. Our favorite ways to consume Lion’s Mane is in powder and tincture form. This way you can control your dose better and know exactly where your Lion’s Mane is coming from.
Lion’s Mane is truly the miracle mush. From improving cognitive function to treating cancer and improving immune health, this mushroom has so many benefits that will keep you feeling sharp and in your best form. While harvesting or cultivating this mushroom may not be available to everybody, it is easy to find reliable Lion’s Mane products where the hard work is already done for you. We even have a little discount for you if you want to try Lion’s Mane for yourself. Use the code MALAMABLOG for 15% off your Lion’s Mane order.