Lion’s Mane Mushroom is taking the internet by storm. It’s a common occurrence during phone calls and at events that people will remark on how often they hear of Lion’s Mane in their day-to-day life. In this blog we will explore Lion’s Mane and the many reasons it is going viral!
Lion’s Mane in Nature
The term, “Lion’s Mane,” refers to multiple mushrooms of the genus Hericium (including Hericium erinaceus, Hericium americanum, Hericium coralloides) which all share medicinal benefits as well as their iconic, toothy look. Hericium in Latin means hedgehog and with these mushroom’s iconic shape, it’s no surprise that they go by many names; Hedgehog Mushroom, Pom Pom mushroom, Bearded Tooth Fungus, Bear’s Head Mushroom, Monkey Head Mushroom, Yamabushitake, Mountain Priest Mushroom and most notably, Lion’s Mane. Despite the quirky names bringing about thoughts of fluffy animals, one must not overlook the serious potential of Hericium mushrooms. For the remainder of this blog, we will refer to Hericium mushrooms as Lion’s Mane.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms can be found on decaying trees in North America and Canada during late summer and fall. They have a distinct look, like an off-white clump of icicles cascading from the trunk of their woody host. They can commonly be found on beech trees, maple trees, golden birch trees and a variety of other decaying hardwood trees. Some people claim that Lion’s Mane mushrooms are rare, but they can be abundant if you know where and when to look. Specifically, look up, as Lion’s Mane tends to grow higher on the tree than other types of fungi. Luckily, there are no poisonous look-alikes to Lion’s Mane, which means the effort expended getting them down from the tree will be well worth it.
History of Lion’s Mane
Like many healing mushrooms, Lion’s Mane made it’s first textual appearance in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. TCM focuses on natural and spiritual means to increase wellness. In TCM, Lion’s Mane is designated as a ‘tonic for the heart, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys.’ It is even said to have been used by Buddhist monks in order to increase concentration during meditation. In addition to this, Lion’s Mane is used widely as a culinary ingredient in China and Japan, lauded for it’s meaty flavor reminiscent of seafood.
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane Mushroom
If you’re a long time reader of Birch Boys content, then you know that many of the benefits of functional fungi overlap, but that each mushroom shines in it’s own respect. All of the fungi that we harvest and handcraft here at Birch Boys support the immune system, cardiovascular system, provide antioxidant support, and have adaptogenic properties which can largely be attributed to bioactive compounds like polysaccharides, triterpenes, sterols (read more about it here). This absolutely holds true for Lion’s Mane but for the sake of this blog, I’d like to focus on Lion’s Mane’s uniquely promising benefits, namely supporting cognitive function, supporting neurological health, and supporting a positive mood.
Lion's Mane Supports Cognitive Function:
Lion’s Mane is commonly considered a Nootropic, or a supplement that can provide cognitive support. This can be attributed to many of the compounds in Lion’s Mane but most notably hericenones and erinacines which have been shown in some studies to support healthy nerve growth synthesis. In one study conducted in Japan, 50-80 year old people with mild cognitive decline were administered a Lion’s Mane supplement three times a day for 16 weeks. At weeks 8, 12 and 16 the Lion’s Mane group scored significantly higher on the cognitive function scale than the placebo group. It is important to note that 4 weeks after the trial ended, and the participants no longer utilized Lion’s Mane, their scores once again decreased dramatically. This result suggests that Lion’s Mane must be used consistently in order to provide cognitive support.
Lion's Mane Supports the Nervous System:
One study published in 2011 studies the effect of Hericium on rats with nerve injuries due to crushing. The rats who were given an aqueous extract of Hericium fruiting body recovered 4-7 days sooner than the rats in the control group.
In another study, the aqueous fruiting body of Hericium was shown to increase the rate of myelin sheath formation. Myelin sheaths are fatty sleeves of tissue that provide protection and conductivity to the nerves. The myelin sheaths formed on day 26 as opposed to day 31 in the control group. While these results are very promising, human studies are needed to solidify these findings.
Lion's Mane Supports Positive Mood:
Firstly, let’s talk about what differentiates a mood from an emotion. A mood tends to be long-lasting, spanning over hours or days; moods are not as intense as emotions and are not usually attributed to something specific. This is an important distinction when we talk about mood support. There is no magical supplement that will stop emotions like anger, fear or sadness in their tracks, but Lion’s Mane shows promising results in supporting a positive mood.
In a study conducted in Japan in 2010, 30 women were studied with the intention of determining Lion’s Mane’s effects on menopause, sleep quality and indefinite complaints. Over a period of 4 weeks, the Lion’s Mane group ate Lion’s Mane Cookies, while the placebo group ate regular cookies. After the 4 week period, the women in the Lion’s Mane group were reported to have improved results on the Indefinite Complaints Index. Namely, the women who took Lion’s Mane experienced a healthy frequency of positive mood and healthy concentration levels compared to the placebo group.
Bonus! Spiritual Benefits of Lion's Mane
Did you know that Lion’s Mane has been used for it’s spiritual benefits? In order to understand this, let’s talk about why Lion’s Mane is called Yamabushitake. Lion’s mane was historically used by Yamabushi monks of Japan. Yamabushi means ‘those who sleep in the mountains.’ Hence, the names, ‘Yamabushitake’ and ‘Mountain Priest Mushroom.’ The Yamabushi monks are the original ‘forest bathers,’ living nomadically and practicing Shugendo, an amalgamation of Shinto, esoteric Buddhism, Taoism and local shamanism/folk practice. Shugendo involves worshiping the mountains as gods themselves. This is why the Yamabushi have been traversing the mountains seeking enlightenment for over 1,400 years to date. This enlightenment isn’t an easy journey, the Yamabushi refrain from every indulgence and practice intense self-discipline in order to achieve their goal. It is clear that one would need intense focus, concentration and commitment in order to live this lifestyle. Enter Lion’s Mane…the Yamabushi eat only vegetarian foods that they can harvest from the mountains. The Yamabushi historically used lion’s mane as a tea/extract before meditation to increase focus and purpose during their spiritual practice. They also carried it with them on their long journeys for sustenance, health benefits and to better enable them to cultivate ‘Qi,’ the energy of life. If you’re looking to augment your spiritual routine, lion’s mane could be a great addition to your daily meditation, manifestation, visualization or prayer.
It is safe to say that Lion's Mane lives up to the hype! With promising studies covering Lion’s Mane’s nootropic functions, positive mood support, cardiovascular support and much more, it is clear that Lion’s Mane is here to stay. What are the next steps in the Lion’s Mane Revolution? Firstly, get yourself or a loved one some Lion’s Mane to try; you won’t be disappointed! I recommend going with a dual-extract of the fruiting body of Lion's Mane as there are quality, efficacy and consistency concerns regarding mushroom powders (read more here). In addition to getting in on this trend, Lion’s Mane needs more studies in order to solidify it’s position in the functional fungi market. While no individual lay-person can single-handedly fund studies on Lion's Mane, one can invest with their time and their individual spending power. The more traction functional fungi, including Lion’s Mane, garners on the internet, in-store, and with consumers, the more interested scholars will be in studying it. I hope you enjoyed my take on Lion’s Mane and I hope you consider adding this revolutionary supplement to your daily routine. Stay happy and healthy, friends!