Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a fungi native to Eastern Asia and is known for its unique appearance with white, hairy strands. It typically grows on dead hardwood trees such as oak, walnut, beech, maple, elm, and sycamore. Lion's Mane is a highly valued edible mushroom that has played a vital role in Asian cuisine due to its versatility in cooking and diverse range of health benefits.
What are some of those benefits? Here's a few.
- Cognitive function: It has been shown to improve memory and concentration.
- Nerve function: Lion's Mane has nerve growth-promoting properties, which can potentially help in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s.
- Anti-inflammatory: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help in reducing joint pain and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
- Immune system: It has properties that can enhance the immune system, potentially reducing the risk of infections.
- Cardiovascular health: It has shown potential in improving heart health and reducing the risk of heart diseases.
- Digestive health: It can improve digestion and gut health by promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
- Anti-cancer: Some studies suggest that Lion's Mane has anti-cancer properties.
Interested in learning more about Lion’s Mane? Let’s dive into the history, traditional use and new scientific studies demonstrating how adding Lion’s Mane to our diet can specifically improve our health.
The Lion's Mane Mushroom gets its name from its resemblance to a lion's mane, due to its long white tendrils. It stands out among other fungi because of its unique appearance and because it grows on dead or damaged hardwood trees oak, walnut, beech, maple and sycamore trees.
Used and identified thousands of years ago in Asian countries such as China, India, Japan, and Korea, it is also called Hou Tou Gu, Yamabushitake, Monkey Head Mushroom, Bearded Tooth Mushroom, Satyr’s Beard, Pom Pom Mushroom, Bearded Hedgehog Mushroom, Bearded Tooth Fungus, Cendawan Bunga Kobis (in Malaysia), and Mountain Priest. The most prized species of Hericiaceae family in the fungi kingdom, Lion's Mane was given its scientific name, Hericium erinaceus, in 1797 by Pierre Bulliard.
The use of Lion's Mane Mushroom as a food and medicinal ingredient in Asia, including China, dates back thousands of years. The mushroom was traditionally harvested from the wild and has been a staple in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia. More recently, Lion's Mane Mushroom has been cultivated for commercial purposes, making it more widely available for culinary and medicinal use. The first cultivation efforts for Lion's Mane are documented in China in 1988.
Lion's Mane is often used in cooking for its meaty texture and unique flavor, which is described as being similar to seafood (particularly crab or lobster). It can be used in various dishes as a meat substitute, such as in stir-fries, soups, sauces, and stews. It can also be sautéed or grilled and served as a side dish or as a topping for pizza and other dishes. Lion's Mane Mushroom is also popular as an ingredient in vegetarian and vegan dishes due to its meaty texture and ability to absorb flavors. The mushroom can be consumed raw, but cooking enhances its flavor and texture.
Today, the Lion's Mane Mushroom can be found in the wild and cultivated in Asia, North America, and Europe. Fresh, dried and powdered Lion’s Mane can be found at farmers’ markets, health food stores and multicultural grocery stores.
Historically, Eastern and Western medicine have taken different approaches to diagnosing and treating diseases. Western medicine focuses mainly on evaluating symptoms and using synthetic pharmaceutical drugs that have undergone clinical trials and regulatory approval to treat them. The “mechanism of action” (“MOA”) is often researched through clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of a drug or treatment. On the other hand, Chinese medicine takes a holistic approach, seeking to balance physical, mental, and spiritual health, and relying more on dietary changes and herbal medicines (that pharmaceuticals are often derived from). The term "Traditional Chinese Medicine" (TCM) was created in the 20th century to describe the institutionalization of traditional Chinese medical practices, but the roots of Chinese medicine can be traced back to the dynastic periods of China and have evolved and spread globally, including to the United States.
In TCM, it is used to tonify (or balance) the heart and brain, heal wounds, promote digestion, support the liver, spleen, heart, lungs and kidney. Numerous Western medical studies are supporting TCM’s use of Lion’s Mane to treat health conditions with a scientific understanding.
Our brain health can change for many reasons including stress, injury and aging. As we experience decreased cognitive function, anxiety and depression often increase as our symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases.
Lion's Mane is known for its anti-inflammatory properties has been suggested to alleviate symptoms of mild depression and anxiety. It is believed to enhance the functioning of the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for memory processing and emotional regulation. With its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which increase blood flow to the brain, Lion’s Mane is being studied for its ability to treat vascular dementia. It has also been studied for its ability to protect against memory problems caused by the buildup of amyloid-beta—a substance that forms the brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The Lion's Mane mushroom has two edible parts, the fruiting body and the mycelium, which contain the organic compounds Hericenones and Erinacines. Hericenones are obtained from the fruiting body of the mushroom, while erinacines are extracted from its mycelia. These compounds may have therapeutic effects on the central nervous system (CNS) and can stimulate the release of nerve growth factors (NGF). Lion's Mane is known for its ability to enhance NGF release. In the CNS, NGF plays a supportive role and is crucial for protecting both existing and developing neurons.
Polysaccharides extracted from Lion's Mane mushroom had neuroprotective effects by promoting the survival of nerve cells and modulating the activity of the Akt/mTOR signaling pathway, which is involved in regulating nerve cell growth and survival. Lion's Mane extracts have also increased the production of nerve growth factor, a protein that promotes the growth and survival of nerve cells, in a cell culture of brain tumor cells. Lion's Mane also have been found to protect nerve cells from damage caused by oxidative stress and promoted the growth of nerve fibers in a cell culture model.
Studies have demonstrated that Lion's Mane mushroom may have potential benefits for myelination. Myelination is the process by which the fatty insulation called myelin is formed around nerve fibers in the central and peripheral nervous system. Myelination is crucial for the proper functioning of nerve fibers and helps to speed up the transmission of nerve impulses. Nerve fibers that are not myelinated, or that have damaged myelin, can result in impaired nerve function. One particular study found that extracts of Lion's Mane mushroom increased the production of nerve growth factor, a protein that is important for the growth and maintenance of myelin.
Several studies have demonstrated Lion’s Mane’s ability to reduce inflammation in different areas of the body.
One study evaluated the anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of the Lion's Mane both in vitro (in cell cultures) and in vivo (in living organisms). It found that Lion’s Mane had anti-inflammatory effects, reducing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules in cell cultures. It also showed neuroprotective effects, protecting nerve cells from damage in cell cultures. These results suggest that lion's mane extract has potential therapeutic benefits for conditions involving inflammation and neurodegeneration.
Another study investigated the anti-inflammatory effects of polysaccharides extracted from the mushroom with results demonstrating the polysaccharides had anti-inflammatory effects by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules and modulating the activity of two key signaling pathways involved in inflammation (MAPK and NF-κB).
One study investigated the effects of Lion’s Mane on inflammation and oxidative stress in mice that were induced to become obese through a high-fat diet. The results showed that supplementing the mice's diet with lion's mane mushroom reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in both the liver and brain, compared to the control group. These findings suggest that lion's mane mushroom has potential therapeutic benefits for conditions involving inflammation and oxidative stress, particularly in the context of obesity.
Stress recovery and mental health issues have gained considerable attention in recent years, adding Lion’s Manes to your diet is an easy and effective way to protect and improve your brain, nervous system, and overall health.
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 "Hericium erinaceus polysaccharides protect against myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities" by J. Wang, et al., published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules in 2017.
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 "Hericium erinaceus polysaccharides exhibit neuroprotective activity through the regulation of Akt/mTOR signaling pathway in vitro and in vivo" (Li et al., 2018)
 "Hericium erinaceus enhances nerve growth factor synthesis and secretion by C6 glioma cells" (Mori et al., 2009)
 "Hericium erinaceus extracts protect PC12 cells against oxidative stress-induced apoptosis and enhance neurite outgrowth" (Zhang et al., 2014)
 "Hericium erinaceus enhances nerve growth factor synthesis and secretion by C6 glioma cells" (Mori et al., 2009)
 “Anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects of the Lion's Mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes), in vitro and in vivo studies" (Wang et al., 2018)
 "Hericium erinaceus polysaccharides exhibit anti-inflammatory activity via MAPK and NF-κB pathways in vitro and in vivo" (Li et al., 2018)
 “Lion's Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) Attenuates Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in the Liver and Brain of High-Fat Diet-Induced Obese Mice" (Zhu et al., 2016)