Last Update: August 31, 2023
By now, you’ve likely heard the phrase “functional mushrooms”. The name implies that mushrooms are more beneficial than the mushrooms you toss in your stir-fry or salad—but what, exactly, are they doing for you?
If you want to understand functional mushrooms, the lion’s mane mushroom is a good place to start. Lion’s mane is one of the most widely known functional mushrooms: it’s large, white, and almost shaggy-looking, and whether you cook and eat it or take it in supplement form, it has a lot of total-body benefits to offer.
What many people refer to as lion’s mane mushrooms are technically Hericium erinaceus mushrooms. They’re especially popular in Asian countries like China, India, Japan, and Korea, where they’re often called hou tou gu or yamabushitake mushrooms.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are large, white mushrooms that aren’t cap-shaped like portobellos or button mushrooms; rather, they have a cloud-like, undefined shape, with long, shaggy bits all over that almost make them look furry—hence the name “lion’s mane”.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are native to North America, Europe, and Asia. They commonly grow on hardwood trees, and while they can be harvested for culinary purposes, they’ve recently become popular as supplements and in beauty products.
Lion’s mane mushrooms contain bioactive substances (compounds found in food) that may be beneficial to the brain, gut, heart, and skin. Here are a few of the most notable benefits of lion’s mane:
Studies have found that lion’s mane stimulates the growth of new brain cells, which is especially important for preventing memory loss as humans age. Eating or taking lion’s mane may also help prevent the oxidative stress and inflammation that lead to neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, when patients with Alzheimer’s took lion’s mane daily, their cognitive test scores improved over time.
Some studies show that lion’s mane is effective at “promoting positive brain and nerve health-related activities”, including lessening symptoms of depression. In other studies, mice who ate lion’s mane mushrooms were able to regenerate parts of the hippocampus in the brain, reducing the effects of anxiety and depression.
Certain molecules called oligosaccharides found in lion’s mane have been shown to have antioxidation and anti-inflammatory properties. Because inflammation and oxidation cause long-term damage to the body, leading to diseases like cancer, ingesting lion’s mane regularly may help to reduce the risk of developing these diseases.
Some studies on animals show that lion’s mane boosts the intestinal immune system, helping it to protect the body against inhaled or ingested pathogens that lead to illness. Another study showed that mice who were given lion’s mane were far better protected against salmonella, thanks to the mushroom’s immune-strengthening effects.
Lion’s mane may help to lessen the pain and symptoms related to gastrointestinal ailments like inflammatory bowel disease, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps to regulate the gut microbiota, suggesting that lion’s mane could be used as a food ingredient to help stimulate the immune system through the gut.
Many studies related to lion’s mane have only been performed on animals. Because there aren’t many studies on humans, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about its effectiveness.
Because lion’s mane is an edible, non-poisonous mushroom, it is safe for people to eat; however, if you have allergies or sensitivities to mushrooms, do not eat or ingest lion’s mane in any form.
Aside from eating it in its whole form, you may also incorporate lion’s mane into your wellness routine. Lion’s mane supplements come in many different forms, including capsules, powders, teas, tinctures, and even gummy candies.
Wellmade by Thrive Market Organic Superfood Mushroom Powder, Lion’s Mane
Improve focus, memory, and cognitive function with this full-spectrum lion’s mane powder, sourced from whole mushrooms grown in California.
OM Lion’s Mane Mushroom Superfood Capsules
Add these handy capsules to your morning supplement routine to reap the brain-supporting benefits of lion’s mane throughout the day.
Mushrooms in the form of a gummy? You read that right—and with 500mg of lion’s mane in each one, these are a seriously supportive candy treat.
Teeccino Mushroom Herbal Tea, Lion’s Mane Rhodiola Rose
Sip your mushrooms in your afternoon tea with this blend of organic lion’s mane and rhodiola, an equally powerful adaptogen.
Kettle & Fire Mushroom Chicken Bone Broth
Get the tasty flavor of mushrooms and all the nootropic benefits with this lion’s mane-infused bone broth.
If you hit the farmer’s market and find a big, beautiful lion’s mane mushroom, you may be wondering how to cook it. Don’t be afraid of its shaggy “fur” and the spongy consistency; lion’s mane mushrooms have a delicate, tender, meat-like taste that’s delicious in pastas, soups, as a side dish, or even as a vegan meat or seafood substitute.
Here’s a quick way to saute lion’s mane mushrooms:
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.
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