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 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 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).
What practitioners say
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).
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.
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).
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).
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”).
- hou tou gu (“monkey-head mushroom”, China)
- yamabushitake (“mountain priest mushroom”, Japan)
- Hedgehog Mushroom
- Bearded Tooth Mushroom
- Pom Pom Mushroom
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.
It has been suggested that Lion’s Mane may have the potential to enhance the effects of blood-thinners and blood sugar lowering medications.
- Dried herb (powder/ capsule/ tea/ decoction)
- Ethanol/ water extracts
- Ethanol/ dual water-ethanol tinctures
- Fruiting body eaten raw or cooked
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
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 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).
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).
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).
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.
- 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/
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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
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- 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.
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- 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.
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- 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.
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