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:

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Recipe
Here’s a simple lion’s mane mushroom recipe that’s delicious on pasta or crackers. The butter and cream are a little heavy, but you can substitute olive oil and milk for a lighter mushroom recipe.
This cooks down to gravy, although you can omit all the liquids if you like and still have a delicious topping for pasta, tofu, or other dish.
  • 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
Melt one tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until they seem to have given off most of their liquid.
Throw in the onions and garlic and cook until the onions have softened and the mushrooms are brown.
Add the flour and the remainder of the butter. Cook several more minutes, stirring frequently to mix the melting butter with everything else.
Slowly pour in the cream. Turn down the heat and allow the mixture to simmer until it has reached your desired consistency.
Serve on top of pasta, rice, or crackers. Delicious!

Read Paul Stamets’s full HuffPost article here


Faye Sakellaridis is the associate editor of Reality Sandwich.

Faye Sakellaridis

Faye Sakellaridis’s interest in psychedelics and consciousness led her to become an managing editor at The Alchemists Kitchen and Reality Sandwich, where she enjoys the scope of visionary thought that she regularly encounters from the site’s many contributors and the “rich spectrum of intellectual essays on consciousness through a diverse lens of art, culture, and science.” Faye recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens College in NYC, and her professional and academic life have been centered on journalism and creative writing. However, Faye—a classically trained improvisational pianist—says that spiritually, she identifies herself first and foremost identify as a musician. “Music is my most intuitive language,” she says. “If it weren't for music I'm not sure I'd truly understand the concept of the sublime. Writing and music are two are elemental parts of me, and communicating through them is what I do.”

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