Lion’s mane mushrooms are stunning natural fungi that feature long, delicate filaments that resemble the look of a lion’s mane. The mushrooms are popular in Asian culinary dishes and are also an integral part of alternative and traditional medicine. They can be eaten cooked or raw and can also be brewed into a tasty tea. Learn more about the lion’s mane mushroom including health benefits and side effects right here.
What Is A Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Lion’s mane mushrooms, known by the botanical name Hericium erinaceus, are characterized by long, dangling white spines. The mushroom is also known as yamabushitake, bearded hedgehog, pom pom mushroom, and monkey head mushroom. These mushrooms typically grow in North America and Europe, particularly on hardwoods including the American beech tree. They are most common in the late summer months and throughout the fall.
The mushrooms contain a number of polysaccharides including B-glucan as well as diterpenoids called hericenones and erinacines, which are responsible for many of the wild mushrooms health benefits. Most dietary supplements that contain lion’s mane mushrooms are made from the mycelium — the fine white filaments — of the plant.
Uses and Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion’s mane mushrooms boast anti-inflammatory properties that may help to decrease symptoms of pain and other ailments. These benefits can be attributed to the presence of antioxidants in the mushrooms. A study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that lion’s mane mushrooms had the fourth-highest antioxidant activity when compared to 14 other medicinal mushrooms (1).
Ease Anxiety and Depression
Animal studies have shown promise in the use of lion’s mane mushrooms to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. A study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior found that mice that were given lion’s mane mushroom extract had decreases in inflammation that helped to improve depression symptoms (2).
A second animal study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that lion’s mane mushrooms enriched in erinacines reversed depressive behavior by directly affecting levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in mice (3).
Human studies are less common and have mixed results though some show a correlation between intake of the wild mushrooms and a reduction of depression. One such study was published in Biomedical research in 2010. The study consisted of 30 females who were given placebo cookies or cookies containing H. erinaceus. The study involved 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake with each participant eating four cookies at any time of the day. The women who ate the mushroom cookies reported lower levels of anxiety and improved sleep compared to the placebo group (4).
Improve Cognitive Function
As with the research on anxiety, most studies showing improvements in cognitive health are limited to animal studies. An animal study published in 2017 found that lion’s mane extract helped to increase the efficacy of hippocampal neurotransmitters. Researchers found that mice performed better on tests of memory and recognition when given lion’s mane mushrooms compared to placebo (5).
One human clinical trial published in 2009 examined the effects of yamabushitake mushrooms on cognitive impairment in a double-blind, placebo-controlled setting. The study was authored by Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, and Tuchida T in Japan. The study consisted of 30 Japanese men and women between the ages of 50 and 80 with mild cognitive impairment. Participants who consumed yamabushitake mushroom powder three times a day for 16 weeks had increased scores on cognitive performance tests during the period of intake. Participants were tested four weeks after the trial stopped and results showed that scores decreased back to baseline when mushroom intake stopped (6).
While eating these mushrooms may help to boost cognitive performance, some medical experts have also looked into the role of mushrooms in treating degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. One such animal study found that Hericium erinaceus offered neuroprotective effects in certain brain cells of mice (7). More research on humans is needed to establish the role of wild mushrooms in brain health.
The antioxidant activity of lion’s mane mushrooms may help to boost the immune system by fighting off free radicals and preventing oxidative stress. Again, much of the research behind these benefits is limited to animal studies. One study published in Food and Function found that polysaccharides derived from lion’s mane mushrooms offered beneficial immune support in the intestines of mice (8).
Some small laboratory studies show that lion’s mane mushrooms may help to support nerve regeneration. One study published in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms examined the impacts of lion’s mane, tiger milk mushrooms, and other higher basidiomycetes — a diverse group of fungi that have an enclosed nucleus — on the nervous system. Researchers found that the mushrooms helped to encourage nerve growth factors (NGFs) in brain cells, spinal cord cells, and retina cells (9).
Side Effects of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
The side effects of Hericium erinaceus are largely unknown as most research has focused on consumption in animals. However, the mushrooms are widely eaten in Asian countries and most side effects appear to be limited when consumed in moderate amounts. In animal studies, even large amounts of lion’s mane mushrooms produce few side effects. The main side effects of the mushroom yamabushitake are an allergic reaction and upset stomach. Do not eat these mushrooms if you are allergic to them.
Always seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional before using herbal remedies like lion’s mane mushrooms. These mushrooms may cause interactions with medications and other side effects that can be detrimental to health. A doctor can help you understand whether taking these mushrooms will cause any side effects for your specific health needs.
It’s also important to remember that the United States Food and Drug Administration does not approve the use of herbal remedies in the treatment of any health conditions. The FDA also doesn’t regulate dietary supplements so it’s important to buy from reputable brands.
Add Lion’s Mane Mushroom to Your Kitchen Lair
Lion’s mane mushrooms are a tasty addition to culinary dishes from stews and soups to stir-fried vegetables. These mushrooms may also help to support human health, though more research is needed to establish the exact benefits of this natural fungi. Try the delicious mushrooms in your next salad or steep it into a tea to discover the flavor and benefits of these wild mushrooms.