Lion’s Mane is one exciting mushroom. Many are envious of all the morels and oysters we have at Meadowcreek, but Lion’s Mane is even more interesting.
Walking through our unique forests, you have to keep your eyes open. Last year, one of our research assistants was walking on an isolated trail up an unnamed hollow and found this strange mushroom species sprouting from a tree. Now we are propagating it in our sporulation room in the Resilience House and have just made a new planting in a bed prepared to meet its requirements.
Lion’s mane is not the classic cap-and-stem mushroom. It doesn’t look like any mushroom you have ever seen before. It looks like a mass of thick white yarn or icicles flowing from a tree. Hence their other common names: sheep’s head, bear’s head and even “pom pom blanc” — as in the white pom-poms cheerleaders use. It’s from these pieces of yarn or icicles that white spores emerge. The spores are the “seeds” of a mushroom that allow the fungal organism to reproduce.
Lion’s Mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a wide variety of problems, Extracts are used in Western medicine to treat gastric ulcers and reduce blood glucose levels. Animal studies show success in improving wound healing.
Most fascinating are the effects of Lion’s Mane on nerve growth. Animal studies indicate increased regeneration of peripheral nerves when a Lion’s Mane extract was given orally. It also stimulated nerve growth factor and myelination (increasing the nerve covering) in a in vitro experiments with human cells. Japanese and American researchers have isolated two novel classes of nerve growth factors–unique compounds which appear to be the active ingredients causing nerve growth.
The effect of Lion’s Mane on nerve growth has led to human studies on cognitive impairment. A double-blind, parallel-group, placebo-controlled trial showed improved cognitive ability in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. At weeks eight, 12 and 16 of the trial, the Lion’s Mane group showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group. Four weeks after use of Lion’s Mane was stopped, benefits significantly decreased.
Some studies indicate Lion’s Mane may reduce the effect of the type of amyloid plaque formation seen in Alzheimer’s patients. Mice injected with a peptide known to cause such plaque formation were challenged in a maze designed for testing memory. Mice fed with a normal diet were compared to those supplemented with lion’s mane mushrooms. As the peptide-induced plaque developed, the mice lost the ability to memorize the maze. When these memory-impaired mice were fed a diet containing 5 percent dried lion’s mane mushrooms for 23 days, the mice performed significantly better in the Y maze test. The mice also regained another cognitive capacity, something comparable to curiosity, as measured by greater time spent exploring novel objects compared to familiar ones. Examination of their brains showed a reduction of amyloid plaques in the brains of mushroom-fed mice compared to the mice not fed any mushrooms.
A small clinical study (n=30) compared post-menopausal women who consumed lion’s mane baked into cookies showed less anxiety and depression yet improved in their ability to concentrate compared to those not given lion’s mane.
These remarkable results have led many researchers to begin exploration of this beautiful mushroom.
All these studies must be replicated and no one should yet claim Lion’s Mane is a cure for Alzheimer’s or other nerve diseases.
Whether Lion’s Mane will cause you to be smarter or not, you can be sure that Lion’s Mane tastes great and is nontoxic and completely safe, even for lactating mothers. It is also so unique looking that you won’t confuse it with any other mushroom.
Most say the mushrooms have a lobster or crab flavor when cooked in just a little oil. They do need need longer periods of heat to cook off moisture and improve their texture. Cook until the icicles are browned. Keep checking on them and doing taste tests until you’ve reached your desired crispiness.
Their high moisture content also makes drying a real pain. The best way to preserve lion’s mane is to sauté and then freeze them for later.
If all goes well, we will soon have some extra so that you can try them. In the meantime, come on up to Meadowcreek and look at our Lion’s Mane beds and cultures. Or go walk in the woods and see what unique species you can find.