Lion's Mane has receieved some serious attention and fanfare recently.
Even TIm Ferris, entrepreneur and author, has raved to his audience of over 2 million listeners about the amazing potential of this fungus.
And for good reason.
This strange looking mushroom has long been thought to improve mental capacity, mental clarity and focus, improve nerve function, and to actually encourage nerve regeneration.
Commonly used as a nootropic, or "smart drug" Lion's Mane is used by high performance individuals looking to get a mental edge.
It's also used by people who suffer from age related memory loss and reduced mental capacity, with both anectdotal reports and scietific research showing that the mushroom can effect substantial improvement.
What is a Lion's Mane Mushroom
First of all, let me introduce the mushroom.
Lions Mane mushroom (scientific name Hericium eranacious) is a unique looking “toothed” fungus that naturally grows on dead or dying trees in temperate forests throughout the world. It is commonly found in North America, although it might be in your guidebook under a different name, such as the Bearded Tooth or the Japanese Yamabushitake.
If you are lucky enough to find it in the grocery store, it will likely be called a Pom-Pom.
The Lions Mane doesn’t resemble your typical stem and cap mushroom. Instead, the fruiting body looks more like a snowball, with long tooth like formations drooping down from the main body. These “teeth” act as the gills of the mushroom, and is what the mushroom uses to distribute its spores.
When the intended use of the mushroom is strictly for the health benefits, the mushroom is typically consumed as a supplement in the form of a powder or pill. Dosage, frequency, and duration of supplementation can vary widely.
Health Benefits of Lion's Mane
The potential health benefits of this mushroom are no joke. There is a good reason that some cultures have been using the toothed fungus for hundreds of years.
The most interesting and promising items on this list are the potential to improve brain function and clarity, which is a pretty bold claim for a humble mushroom. Research is showing that the secret weapon for the Lions Mane seems to be its ability to induce the production of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF).
NGF, which is naturally produced in the human brain, is involved in the maintenance, protection, and production of neurons- which are essentially the circuits in the computer that is your brain.
You can see why this stuff might be good for your brain, and why a lack of it would be bad.
There are not many things in the natural world that have ever been found to have the ability to stimulate production of NGF, which is what makes Lion’s Mane mushroom so interesting. By increasing NGF, the brain’s neurons are better protected, reducing naturally occurring cognitive decline due to aging.
Even more impressively, Lions Mane might actually be able to stimulate nerve generation, in which fresh neurons are produced and existing neural networks are made stronger. This could improve cognitive ability, even for people with healthy and functioning brains
Evidence and Medical Research on Lion's Mane
There have been plenty of scientific studies done which conclude that Lions Mane mushrooms may indeed stand up to its health claims.
One recent example is a 2009 double-blind placebo controlled study in Japan. They took two groups of 15 people, giving a placebo to one group, and 250mg of Lions Mane to the other. The study found that “At weeks 8, 12 and 16 of the trial, the Yamabushitake group [lion’s mane] showed significantly increased scores on the cognitive function scale compared with the placebo group.”
It concluded that “The results obtained in this study suggest that Yamabushitake is effective in improving mild cognitive impairment.”
This is exciting stuff in the world of Alheimers research, and gives hope to potential improvements for cognitive disorders in general.
Although the results don’t sound that exciting to the laymen, in science-speak, the above results are pretty strong in favor of Lions Mane being a powerful tool to improve brain function.
Another more recent study conducted in 2011 tried to test the hypothesis that Lions Mane mushroom could quicken recovery from brain injuries. They study was done by purposefully damaging the brains of rats followed by administering an extract of fresh Lions Mane mushroom during the recovery. The point of the study was to “ investigate the possible use of this mushroom in the treatment of injured nerve.”
They found that neurons regenerated better in the Lions Mane group than in the control group and concluded that “Patients who receive H. erinaceus may experience a more expeditious improvement in the quality of life and a more complete functional recovery after injury.”
Scientific papers are usually pretty dry, but this is exciting stuff. It gives hope to potential improvements for people suffering from brain injuries and other cognitive disorders in general.
Aside from rigorous scientific studies, there are plenty of anecdotal reports that supplementing mushrooms can have a marked effect on brain power. It is widely considered a “nootropic”, also known as “smart-drug”. People take it to improve their concentration and ability to retain new information.
People who use this mushroom as a supplement don’t usually feel the effects right away. Lion’s Mane is a natural product, and the benefits seem to come on subtly over time. This makes sense when considering the mode of action is for Lions Mane to simulate Nerve Growth Factor. It takes time for the production and protection of nerve cells in the brain to have beneficial effects.
Lions Mane Mushroom Extracts
So how are Lions Mane mushrooms cultivated for extracts and supplements?
There are a couple different ways that Lions Mane mushrooms are cultivated for the purposes of supplementation. One method involves actually growing and harvesting the complete mushroom fruit body, while the other method involves only growing the mycelium on grain.
The difference between these two methods is huge, and has a enormous impact on the quality of the final product. Further, the validity of the health claims for supplements produced from mycelium-on-grain is questionable at best.
Mycelium On Grain
As mentioned above, “mycelium on grain” is a method of growing Lions Mane mushrooms for the purposes of supplementation without ever producing an actual mushroom fruitbody. Here, myceluium is grown out on grain, similar to the process of making grain spawn. This grain is then pulverized and sold as a Lions Mane supplement.
This is the common method in which “mushrooms” for the purpose of supplementation are grown in the United States, where it is simply not cost effective to do otherwise.
The problem is that most of the beneficial compounds (namely the beta-glucans in the case of Lions Mane) are contained in the mushroom itself, and are not found in significant quantity when produced from mycelium on grain. The end result is a supplement that is mostly grain starch, which cannot be compared to pure Lions Mane mushroom.
Some research shows that beta-glucans are indeed found in mycelium-on-grain products, but there is substantial evidence to prove this research is flawed. The presence of beta-glucans is actually just a false positive for alpha-glucans– a compound commonly found in grain starch.
Growing The Fruitbody
This is what comes to mind for most people when they think of growing mushrooms. It involves actually growing the mushroom to completion and harvesting the entire fruitbody. This fruitbody is then used to produce an extract.
If done this way, the end supplement will contain all the beneficial compounds of the mushroom, which is the reason why people seek out a Lions Mane supplement in the first place.
There is no doubt though- it is much more expensive to produce mushroom supplements in this way. For this reason, the mushrooms are often grown overseas, where lower costs make it feasible.
However, you can still find supplements produced from mushrooms grown overseas that are certified organic and of the highest quality. The end result is a product that contains high levels of beta glucans and low levels of starch- far superior to supplements produced from mycelium-on-grain.
The bottom line when looking to buy Lions Mane supplements is to make sure you know what you are getting. You need to ensure that you are getting a full mushroom product that can live up to the claims, and not a bottle of grain starch.
Ways to Supplement With Lion's Mane
At this point you might be interested in trying Lions Mane mushrooms out for yourself. Whatever your reason, it’s good to know that it is perfectly safe to consume, and Lions Mane mushroom side effects are not generally reported, except for the potential of an allergic reaction (which could be said about any food).
Of course, checking with your doctor or health professional is advised before starting any supplementation regime, especially if pregnant, nursing, or if you have any medical conditions.
There are a few different ways that you get the benefits of lions mane mushroom.
Fresh Lions Mane Mushroom
Of course, you could always try your hand at foraging for this beautiful mushroom in the wild. Aside from being lucky, finding this mushroom in the wild will depend on your geographical location and the time of year that you’re hunting.
Check out a good mushroom foraging book to see it even grows in your area. In general, Lions Mane will grow in temperature regions of the northern hemisphere, most often found fruiting on dead or dying hardwood logs late in the fall.
Lions mane mushroom identification is relatively easy, although with any mushroom you find in the wild, you want to be 100% sure of what you have before you consider eating it.
You don’t really have to worry about lions mane mushroom look alikes, as the mushroom is the only one with dangling spines protruding from a single “ball” formation.
Also, although mushroom foraging can be great fun, it’s not really a dependable way to supplement with Lions Mane, especially if you want to try to see the effects of long term supplementation.
Of course you could always try to grow Lion's Mane yourself.
Lions Mane mushroom is relatively easy to grow, and can be grown at home using the methods and techniques found on this site. If you get good at growing and get your timing right, you shouldn’t have a problem having a constant supply. You can also dry them and powder them so that you can grow a bunch and save them for later.
A much less involved option is to grow them at home using a mushroom growing kit. These kits are about as easy as it gets for growing mushrooms at home. Usually, a Lions Mane kit consists of a fruiting block that has already been fully colonized and will arrive at your house ready to fruit. You simply need to slice some holes in the bag and place it in a reasonably humid environment.
Although it could get quite expensive over the long term, getting a kit is still a reasonable way to get fresh lions mane. Plus, it’s a ton of fun!
Supplementing With a Powder
By far the best easiest and most cost effective way to get some Lion's Mane in your diet is to supplement with a powder from a trusted supplier. It is also the easiest way to control the dose.
FreshCap offers Lion's Mane Mushroom Extract Powder in straight form, or as part of a 6 mushroom blend.
Our mushroom extract powders are 100% pure - we use nothing but the whole mushroom fruiting body.
Grown naturally in shadehouse and greenhouses, the mushrooms are 100% USDA Organic, Gluten Free, Non-GMO, Gluten Free, and Vegan and Paleo friendly.
The whole mushroom fruiting body is hand picked, and put through an extensive hot water extraction process in order to pull out the beneficial compounds of the mushroom.
The powder is then analytically tested, and scientifically verified to ensure that you get what it says on the package.