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Lion's Mane - Hericium erinaceus

Good afternoon, friends,

This week's mushroom is a goodie; Hericium erinaceus, commonly known as lion's mane. My friend/roommate/coworker Phil found this and sent me a picture of it early Wednesday morning. I dropped everything I was doing and shot up to the north woods to see this enchanting mushroom for myself. One of my favorite mushrooms in the world, I'd been looking for it in the park all fall and was head-over-heels to finally see it in the flesh.



Ecology

H. erinaceus is saprobic - consuming dead wood, as seen here - but it can also be found growing on living trees where it consumes the heartwood of the tree. It grows in the fall and is found across North America (typically east of the great plains), Europe, and Asia. It is a toothed fungus, meaning that spores are produced not from gills nor pores like we've seen previously, but from those conspicuous white teeth cascading down the mushroom. There are two similar species of Hericium that we have in the northeast: Hericium americanum and Hericium corraloides, both of equal beauty to our Hericium erinaceus. One distinguishing characteristic of H. erinaceus is that it has teeth greater than one centimeter in length (which actually doesn't seem to be the case here but that could be due to the young age of this mushroom). It has been noted that H. erinaceus can grow for 20-40 years on the same tree, fruiting intermittently in the fall season depending on environmental conditions. Eric showed me a picture of H. erinaceus fruiting in the ramble on 10/9/2020 but that fungus did not produce a mushroom this year. Why? Outside of speculating about environmental stressors we do not know.



Medicinal

If there is one legal medicinal mushroom I could recommend, it's H. erinaceus. It has been cultivated in China for centuries where, according to a traditional medicinal text, the mushroom helps with "fortifying the spleen, nourishing the stomach, and tranquilizing the mind".(1) Along with the anti-cancer, immuno-modulating, and anti-inflammatory properties that are possessed in other medicinal mushrooms we've talked about, H. erinaceus is unique in that it possesses neuroprotective qualities as well. It is purported to stimulate both neuron and nerve growth which makes it an ideal preventative medicine for Alzheimer's/dementia, Parkinson's, and other cognitive impairments. There are even studies that show H. erinaceus supplements were able to improve the daily living and cognitive functioning in both Alzheimers and MCI (mild cognitive impairment) patients, but there hasn't been enough research done to fully scientifically substantiate these initial results.(2) Nonetheless, this is the one mushroom extract I make sure to consume everyday.

Here is an excellent ten-minute video that provides a deeper dive into not only the science surrounding the medicinal benefits, but which methods of consumption allow you to best absorb these novel chemical compounds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGsGIZOLYKU&ab_channel=FreshCapMushrooms. The fifth reference delves deep into the science as well.


The video is from a company that sells mushroom extracts & powders. While I don't want to publicly endorse any company, I will emphasize that if you're shopping for medicinal mushroom supplements you want to make sure they're made from the fruiting bodies (the actual mushroom) and not the fungal mycelium. Think local as well - there are a lot of craft mushroom growers and extract producers in the area. If you want recommendations don't hesitate to ask.

Fun Facts

H. erinaceus is considered a choice edible and I get it at the farmers' market when it's available. H. erinaceus is one of only four fungi to receive the highest level of legal protection in the UK. Additionally, harvesting and/or selling the mushroom is illegal across all of Europe as the mushroom has been red-listed (denoting a threatened species) by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). I haven't been able to find any information on its conservation status in North America, however, but just from eyeballing the number of observations on iNaturalist it seems to be more common on this side of the pond. I did not harvest this mushroom and I hope deeply that it will continue producing spores for the next couple of months (since the mushroom is resistant to freezing temperatures - one final fun fact!)


I'm an early bird so I don't mind the sun rising and setting earlier, what about you?

- Aubrey

In-text References:

1) https://www.drugs.com/npp/lion-s-mane-mushroom.html#26244378 (always a little suspect when your reference is "drugs.com", but they cited their information which makes them credible enough for me)

Additional References:

3) Kuo, M. (2016, September). Hericium erinaceus. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/hericium_erinaceus.html

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