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A delicious and nutritious mushroom for the brain and more

Lion’s mane

Hericium erinaceus Herinaceae

This wonderfully characterful shaggy fungus with its delicate cascading white “teeth” has been consumed as a culinary and medicinal mushroom in the east for millennia and is now a major player on the functional food stage for its promising neurosupportive qualities, amongst an array of other potential benefits.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Cognitive function
  • Neurodegenerative conditions
  • Neurological conditions
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Immune regulation
  • Antibacterial
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • How does it feel?

    Eaten as a foodstuff Lion’s mane has a mild, sweet flavour and a tender, fleshy texture and is often likened to shellfish.

  • What can I use it for?

    Lion's mane mushroom
    Lion’s mane mushroom

    Lion’s Mane is an intriguing fungus with many potential applications. Today, it is typically known best for its ability to support the health of the brain and nervous system.

    Pre-clinical studies into the mechanisms by which Lion’s Mane does so suggest an impressive array of actions in this area, including:

    • an ability to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF) – critical to the development and protection of nerve cells – and the growth of developing nerve cells (1-4)
    • neuroprotective qualities (5,6)
    • an increase of myelination, (7) the process by which myelin sheaths coat nerve cells for greater transmission of electrical impulses between these cells
    • a reduction of neuronal excitability (7) – as seen in some neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, and associated with sensory hypersensitivity, seizures and sleep issues (8)

    Human clinical trials, though still relatively small at this stage, have reinforced the ability of Lion’s Mane to support brain health, revealing significantly improved cognitive function (9) and a reduction in depression and anxiety (10).

    We may, therefore, be prudent in using Lion’s Mane to boost general cognitive function, memory and concentration where these are lacking and even as a potential support for more specific conditions impacting brain and nervous system health such as mild dementia/ Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic injury to the brain, post-stroke brain injury, neurological disorders, MS, depression and anxiety.

    This marvellous mushroom also has a long history of use for disorders of the digestive tract and has displayed antibacterial, immune-regulating and anti-inflammatory properties and benefit to the cardiovascular system – via the reduction of cholesterol and blood pressure – in pre-clinical studies (11).

  • Into the heart of lion’s mane

    Lion’s Mane has a beautifully nourishing and calming quality, benefiting the brain, nervous, digestive and cardiovascular systems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is seen to be energetically sweet and bland in taste and neutral in temperature. This combination is wonderfully fortifying and its energetic mildness lends Lion’s Mane to regular usage as both a food and herbal medicine for a wide range of conditions and constitutions.

    According to the Chinese Pharmacopoeia it primarily benefits the Spleen, Stomach and Heart organ systems where it strengthens the digestive system by tonifying the qi (energy) of the Spleen and Stomach, regulates qi flow in these organ systems and calms and strengthens the spirit-mind (shen), closely related to the Heart (12).

  • Traditional uses

    Traditional use of Lion’s Mane in China and Japan has focussed on its benefits for the gut, in particular its anti-microbial and immunologic properties as applied to conditions such as gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis and gastric and oesophageal cancer (12).

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Lion's mane mushroom
    Lion’s mane mushroom

    Lion’s Mane has many potential health benefits owing to its perceived neuroprotective, gut-protecting, immunomodulating, antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, liver-protecting, anti-cancer, hypoglycaemic and hypolipidemic activities (11).

    It is the terpenoids, erinacines (found in Lion’s Mane mycelium) and hericenones (found in the fruiting body), primarily attributed to this medicinal mushroom’s demonstrated and increasingly sought-after nootropic – meaning brain health and cognition-boosting – properties. Low in molecular weight, these bioactive compounds pass through the blood-brain barrier to affect nerve cells directly. Importantly, Lion’s Mane has an impressive ability to stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF); a factor involved in the growth, survival and functioning of nerve cells (1-4). 

    It has also been shown to protect nerve cells from oxidative damage, (5,6) enhance NGF activity and promote neuronal development (1-4), including boosting the myelination process (7), thereby enhancing nerve cell communication. 

    All of this has truly favourable implications for the use of Lion’s Mane in the possible prevention and management of neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia/ Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons and MS as well as nerve damage sustained from a variety of sources including trauma, stroke and surgical injuries.  

    It has also displayed other benefits for the nervous system including alleviating anxiety and depression (10). This correlates with the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) action of Lion’s Mane (hou tou gu) as a ‘spirit-calmer’.

    In TCM, Lion’s Mane is also commonly prescribed for disorders of the digestive system such as ulcers, cancers and chronic gastritis. In Chinese medicine, it is believed to tonify the qi of the Spleen and Stomach, our digestive centre. Typical symptoms of a deficiency in Spleen qi include not simply digestive complaints and physical fatigue symptoms, but also often those of compromised cognitive function and a taxed nervous system; poor memory, clouded-thinking, difficulty with focus and anxiety. This link between the gut and the brain, now well established in modern medical thinking, is central to the TCM paradigm and goes some way to explain Lion’s Mane’s excellence in supporting brain function.    

    As with many medicinal mushrooms, Lion’s Mane also has immunomodulating properties, meaning it can both stimulate and suppress the immune system as needed. It is rich in beneficial polysaccharides, in particular beta-glucans, and these have been seen to stimulate an immune response, with other constituents doing the opposite, as evidenced by macrophage (white blood cells that clean up harmful substances) suppression (11,13). This immune-balancing activity, combined with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial actions is believed to be central for its use in supporting gastric mucosal health (11).

  • Research

    Preparing fresh pom pom mushroom
    Preparing fresh pom pom mushroom

    While there have been many promising pre-clinical studies in to the mechanisms of actions and potential benefits of Lion’s Mane, much of which conducted on animals, few human studies have been conducted to date and those that we can look to, though favourable, are typically small in scale, so further research is warranted.  

    Human studies:

    Cognitive function

    A randomised double-blind controlled trial involving 30 subjects between 50 – 80 years with mild cognitive decline reported significant improvement in cognitive function when 3g of powdered Lion’s Mane was given daily for 16 weeks, with improvement correlating with the increased duration of consumption. Four weeks after cessation of the supplement, the control group’s scores decreased significantly (9).  

    Menopause/ depression/ anxiety 

    Another randomised double-blind controlled trial involving 30 subjects looked in to the benefits of Lion’s Mane for menopausal symptoms, sleep disturbance, depression and other menopausal complaints including anxiety. Powdered Lion’s Mane fruiting body was administered in 0.5g doses via cookies eaten 4 times per day (ie. a total of 2g of H. Erinaceus powder per day). After 4 weeks the study found significant improvements in relation to anxiety, concentration, motivation (“incentive”), palpitations, frustration and irritability within the control group. (10)

    Age-related hearing impairment/ NGF stimulation 

    A 2022 double-blind randomised control trial in to the benefits of Lion’s Mane for age-related hearing impairment involved 80 subjects between 50 – 79 who received 2g of powdered cultured Lion’s Mane mycelia (constituting 10 mg of erinacine A) per day via Lion’s Mane and honey boluses for a period of 8 months. Those 65 years and older in the treatment group saw an improvement in hearing, in particular for high frequencies and speech recognition along with an increase in NGF (4).  

    In vitro studies:


    In one study, the effect of a water extract of Lion’s Mane alone and in combination with NGF on the growth of developing nerve cells (neuroblastoma-glioma cell NG108-15, to be exact) was investigated along with the neuroprotective action of this extract on nerve cells exposed to oxidative stress. It was found that the water extract stimulated NGF production in these nerve cells, enhanced NGF activity when the two were combined but did not provide neuroprotection (2).

    Lion's mane mushroom on an oak tree
    Lion’s mane mushroom on an oak tree

    A similar study reiterates that the water extract of Lion’s Mane has neuroactive compounds, with the greatest stimulation of nerve cell growth in this particular research coming from the mycelial extract as compared to the fruiting body extract (1).   

    Another study concurs that Lion’s Mane stimulates NGF synthesis in vitro, finding that it did so via activation of what is known as the JNK pathway; an important aspect of a signalling pathway involved in cell function (eg. growth, transformation and death) regulation (24).

    A study looking into the neuroprotective activity of a hericenone anologue (3-hydroxyhericenone) found it had neuroprotective activity as it protected nerve cells from death by endoplasmic reticulum (a cell organelle involved in protein synthesis, development and transportation) stress. (6)

    A study using Lion’s Mane fruiting body extracted by ethanol, ether or broth found that it enhanced the developmental process of the myelin sheaths of nerve cells (neurons) and that it was able to inhibit neuronal excitation stimulated by L-glutamic acid. (7)     


    An early (2005) study looking in to the anti-bacterial potential of Lion’s Mane Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – a staph ‘superbug’ commonly contracted by hospital patients and resistant to many antibiotics typically prescribed for staph – found that ethanol extracts of both the mycelium and fruiting body showed anti-MRSA activity. (14)

    A later study found that ethanol extracts of the fruiting body of Lion’s Mane had a direct inhibitory effect on H. Pylori and Staphylococcus aureus, the authors concluding that this was not simply because of the immunomodulatory nature of medicinal mushroom polysaccharides, but owing to active compounds unique to Lion’s Mane. (15)


    A 2022 review of in vitro studies of H. Erinaceus polysaccharide (HEP) concluded that it exhibits an impressive protective effect on gastric mucosa – even aside from inhibiting H. Pylori as mentioned – as it improves its nutritional status, strengthens its defences and repairs damage. (11) 


    The same review cites 7 in vitro studies using human gastric, liver, colorectal and breast cancer cell models where it was found that HEP may help to regulate cytokine (immunomodulating cell signals involved in anti-cancer activity) secretion, increase cancer cell death and inhibit cancer cell growth. (11)


    Amongst many other potential benefits displayed through in vitro studies, further studies confirm Lion’s Mane immunomodulatory (11), anti-inflammatory (13) and antioxidant (16) properties.

  • Did you know?

    The Japanese name for Lion’s Mane, yamabushitake, meaning ‘mountain priest mushroom’ is derived from the Yamabushi Monks; mountain-worshipping monks of Yamagata Prefecture who are believed to have used this mushroom to enhance focus during meditation and often wear a pompom-like ornament on their chest which, depending on the source, is believed to be in reverence or lending its name to this unique fungus (17).

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    Lion’s mane is a large tooth fungus of the Basidiomycota division of fungi, spanning 5-40cm wide, made up of a clump of dangling white spore-releasing spines (“teeth”).

  • Common names

    • hou tou gu (“monkey-head mushroom”, China)
    • yamabushitake (“mountain priest mushroom”, Japan)
    • Hedgehog Mushroom
    • Bearded Tooth Mushroom
    • Pom Pom Mushroom 
  • Safety

    Lion’s mane has a long history of safe use and was found to be safe in human clinical trials using 2-3g per day for up to 8 months (4,9,10), however, there have been two cases of anaphylaxis reported that were believed to be linked to its consumption in food (18) and as a supplement (19) so caution must be taken in those with asthma and other allergic conditions (12). There is no existing research into its safe use during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. 

  • Interactions

    It has been suggested that Lion’s Mane may have the potential to enhance the effects of blood-thinners and blood sugar lowering medications.

  • Contraindications

    Mushroom allergy

  • Preparation

    • Dried herb (powder/ capsule/ tea/ decoction)
    • Ethanol/ water extracts
    • Ethanol/ dual water-ethanol tinctures
    • Fruiting body eaten raw or cooked
  • Dosage

    Typically taken at around 3-5g of the fruiting body daily as per clinical trials but could be as much as 25-50g according to the 2010 Chinese Pharmacopoeia. Larger doses may be required for more serious conditions (12,20).

  • Plant parts used

    Fruiting body (mushroom) and mycelial biomass

  • Constituents

    Major active constituents:

    • Terpenoids: in particular, Hericenones A and C-H (fruiting body) and Erinacines A-K (mycelium) 
    • Polysaccharides: especially beta-glucans 
    • Sterols: including ergosterol and beta-sitosterol (21)
Lion's Mane illustration
  • Habitat

    Lion’s mane typically grows on the trunks and branches of old hardwood trees, particularly beech and oak, in temperate (i.e. humid and mild) forests across the Northern Hemisphere (22).

  • Sustainability

    According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for Threatened Species, as of 2019 Lion’s Mane is rated as of ‘Least Concern’. Its population, however, was reported as decreasing and it is on the red lists of many European countries. In the UK it has the highest possible level of protection for any fungi, with the picking and selling of Lion’s Mane being illegal as per the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) (22).

  • Quality control

    High quality Lion’s Mane supplements include the fruiting body extracted with both ethanol and water to gain the most nutrition and the broadest range of bioactive compounds and will contain a high percentage of beta-glucans. Quality markers include hericenones and erinacerins.

  • How to grow

    Lion’s Mane is relatively easy to grow at home, both indoors and outdoors from spawns or pre-inoculated substrate kits. Spawn may be grown indoors on hardwood woodchips or pellets (in purpose-made substrate bags for ease). Colonisation takes 2-3 weeks and fruit growth a further 10-17 days when grown between 15-24 degrees Celsius. Spawn may also be grown outdoors using Lion’s Mane spawn plugs in healthy hardwood logs with regular watering, however, this process is slower with a 1-2 year wait on the first harvest (23).     

    It is important to be mindful, however, when using imported H. Erinaceum mycelia to cultivate this mushroom that they may pose a threat to native Lion’s Mane populations if spores are released in to the local natural environment (22).

  • Recipe

    Lion’s Mane mushrooms lend themselves to easy preparation, not far from that of large mushrooms typically found in our kitchens. Simply cleanse the “teeth” of the mushroom and slice it in to 1-2cm steaks then fry on each side until a lovely golden colour. May be used as a substitute for shellfish. 

  • References

    1. Wong KH et al. Activity of Aqueous Extracts of Lion’s Mane Mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) on the Neural Cell Line NG108-15. Int J Med Mush. 2007;9(1):57-65. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v9.i1.70/
    2. Lai P L et al. Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. Int J Med Mush. 2013;15(6):539-54. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v15.i6.30. 
    3. Mori K et al. Nerve growth factor-inducing activity of Hericium erinaceus in 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 2008 Sep;31(9):1727-32. doi: 10.1248/bpb.31.1727.
    4. Chan Y C et al. Effects of erinacine A-enriched Hericium erinaceus on elderly hearing-impaired patients: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Functional Foods. 2022;97. doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2022.105220.
    5. Ueda K et al. An endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-suppressive compound and its analogues from the mushroom Hericium erinaceum. Bioorg Med Chem. 2008 Nov 1;16(21):9467-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bmc.2008.09.044. 
    6. Ueda K et al. Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-suppressive compounds from scrap cultivation beds of the mushroom Hericium erinaceum. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2009 Aug;73(8):1908-10. doi: 10.1271/bbb.90279. 
    7. Moldovan MG et al. Neurotropic and trophic action of Lion’s Mane mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.:Fr.) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae) extracts on nerve cells in vitro. Int J Med Mush. 2007;1(9). 
    8. Bülow P et al. Mechanisms Driving the Emergence of Neuronal Hyperexcitability in Fragile X Syndrome. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23(11):6315. doi:10.3390/ijms23116315
    9. Mori K et al. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009 Mar;23(3):367-72. doi: 10.1002/ptr.2634. 
    10. Nagano M et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010 Aug;31(4):231-7. doi: 10.2220/biomedres.31.231. 
    11. Liu J et al. Bioactivities and molecular mechanisms of polysaccharides from Hericium erinaceus. Journ Future Foods. 2022;2(2): 103-111. doi.org/10.1016/j.jfutfo.2022.03.007.
    12. Powell M. Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide 2nd ed. Dorset: Caric Press, 2014.  
    13. Kim Y O et al. Hericium erinaceus suppresses LPS-induced pro-inflammation gene activation in RAW264.7 macrophages. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 2012 Jun;34(3):504-12. doi: 10.3109/08923973.2011.633527. 
    14. Kawagishi H et al. Anti-MRSA compounds of Hericium erinaceus. Int J Med Mushr. 2005;7(3):350.
    15. Shang X et al. In vitro anti-Helicobacter pylori effects of medicinal mushroom extracts, with special emphasis on the Lion’s Mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (higher Basidiomycetes). Int J Med Mush. 2013;15(2):165-74. doi: 10.1615/intjmedmushr.v15.i2.50. 
    16. Qin T et al. Characterization of polysaccharides isolated from Hericium erinaceus and their protective effects on the DON-induced oxidative stress. Int Journ Biol Macr. 2020;152: 1265-1273. doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2019.10.223.
    17. Mizuno T. Yamabushitake, Hericium erinaceum: Bioactive substances and medicinal utilization. Food Reviews Int. 1996;11(1): 173-178. doi: 10.1080/87559129509541027
    18. Watson C, Kobernick A. Dangers at the Dinner Table: a Report of Anaphylaxis to Lion’s Mane Mushroom. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 2022;129(5): S147. doi.org/10.1016/j.anai.2022.08.931.
    19. Nakatsugawa M et al. Hericium erinaceum (yamabushitake) extract-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome monitored by serum surfactant proteins. Intern Med. 2003 Dec;42(12):1219-22. doi: 10.2169/internalmedicine.42.1219. 
    20. Powell M. Medicinal Mushrooms: The Essential Guide. Oxfordshire: Mycology Press, 2013.
    21. Spelman K et al. Neurological Activity of Lion’s Mane (Hericium Eranaceus). Journ Rest Med. 2017;6(1): 19-26(8).
    22. Kałucka I et al. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T70401627A70401637. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-3.RLTS.T70401627A70401637.en. Accessed 5 June 2023.
    23. Sayner A. Growing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: The Ultimate Guide. Grocycle. Accessed June 8 2023. https://grocycle.com/growing-lions-mane/
    24. Chong PS, Fung ML, Wong KH, Lim LW. Therapeutic Potential of Hericium erinaceus for Depressive Disorder. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2019;21(1):163. doi:10.3390/ijms21010163
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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