If you’re unfamiliar with it, you probably wouldn’t realize lion’s mane was a mushroom on sight alone. It’s all white and rotund, with long, tendril-like spines. The many names attributed to it reflect its weird, animalistic appearance, like sheep head, bear’s head, and pom pom blanc (that last one actually refers to a cheerleader’s white pom poms). Its official Latin name, Hericium erinaceus, means hedgehog.
In this HuffPost article about lion mane’s powerful nerve-regenerative properties, renowned mycologist Paul Stamets says that lion’s mane may be our first “smart” mushroom. He is, of course, referencing “smart drugs,” or “nootropics,” which are drugs that work to enhance cognitive functions such as memory, focus, and mood. And while studies on lion’s mane are inconclusive, Stamets believes that they “absolutely” suggest positive outcomes.
The studies show particular promise for lion mane’s effect on subjects that are cognitively impaired. In one recent 2009 study, conducted by researchers in Japan, it was found to result in significant benefits for 30 patients with mild cognitive impairments. Another study conducted on mice found that mice with memory-impairments performed better on tests after being fed lion’s mane.
In a Brattleboro Food Co-Op piece on herbalism and cognitive function, Wisdom of Healing’s Cindy Hebbard claims that lion’s mane is “the only thing on earth capable of regrowing damaged or dead nerve cells, aside form exercise.”
Of course, you don’t need to be growing old or have suffered a traumatic brain injury to benefit from lion’s mane. A small clinical study found that post-menopausal women who consumed this mushroom showed reduced anxiety and depression and improved concentration.
Like other culinary mushrooms, lion’s mane is nutritious and flavorful. Stamets writes:
Lion’s mane mushrooms are increasingly sold by gourmet food chains. This nutritious mushroom is roughly 20 percent protein, and one of the few that can taste like lobster or shrimp (Stamets, 2005). Lion’s mane is best when caramelized in olive oil, deglazed with saké wine, and then finished with butter to taste. It can be bitter if not cooked until crispy along the edges. It takes some practice to elicit their full flavor potential.
The web is full of countless delicious recipes for lion’s mane. Here is a simple one for making a buttery sauce for pasta or crackers from Mushroom Appreciation:
- 1/2 lb lion’s mane mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups light cream
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 tablespoons flour
Read Paul Stamets’s full HuffPost article here.
Faye Sakellaridis is the associate editor of Reality Sandwich.