17 Aug 2023 • 9 min read
Mushrooms are making a serious comeback in the health and wellness world – and for good reason! Many different types of mushrooms are thought to hold potential benefits for your well-being, and one of those currently in the spotlight is the lion’s mane mushroom.
These big, white, fuzzy mushrooms might not be the most attractive fungi out there, but they've been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese traditions for many years and are treasured for their potential health and wellness effects.1
Keep reading to learn all about lion’s mane mushrooms, including how they might benefit you, their side effects and how to use them.
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Lion’s mane mushrooms get their name from their large, white, shaggy appearance, which resembles, yes, you guessed it, a full-grown lion’s mane. Also known as Hericium erinaceus, their distinctive, pom-pom-like appearance makes these mushrooms easy to identify.
Covered in hair-like strands, lion’s mane mushrooms are edible fungi that grow on the trunks of dead hardwood trees across North America, Asia, and Europe.
They've long been used in traditional practices and cooking, with Greek physician Hippocrates even lauding their potential health benefits as far back as 450 BCE in Ancient Greece.1
In the UK, lion’s mane mushrooms are protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.2 This is the highest legal protection that can be given to plants or fungi, meaning they're illegal to collect in the wild.2 So, if you come across a lion’s mane mushroom when you're out and about, leave it alone! Instead, you can stock up on these fuzzy mushrooms in food shops or markets.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are packed full of plant compounds and are low in calories and salt, making them a great addition to many of your favourite recipes.3 They often come in many forms, like fresh, dried, powdered, and even as supplements.
Mushrooms, in general, are thought to have many benefits as they're full of essential nutrients, like protein and antioxidants.4
Lion’s mane mushrooms, in particular, are believed to have a range of potential benefits and are sometimes referred to as functional mushrooms. However, research is still developing on lion’s mane health benefits, so it's too soon to confirm that lion’s mane mushrooms can be recommended for specific reasons.5
From the limited research available, potential lion’s mane benefits include the following:
Some research suggests lion’s mane mushrooms can help boost your mental health and help with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.6 7
Lion’s mane mushrooms are an adaptogen. These adaptogens help your body respond to stress, anxiety, and fatigue by bringing your body back to a stable balance.8
Research suggests that lion’s mane mushrooms increase the activity of your intestinal immune system by helping to regulate your gut’s bacteria.9 But it's important to note that research is still developing in this area.
It's thought that lion’s mane mushrooms may help older adults with their cognitive function, like helping to boost their memory.10 Lion’s mane mushrooms contain two specific compounds, hericenones and erinacines, which are alleged to protect the brain from the cognitive effects linked to ageing.11
Lion’s mane mushrooms are believed to help improve your sleep without making you feel drowsy. They’re thought to work by calming the nervous system and easing your anxiety to help you drift off.12
Very little is known as to whether lion’s mane mushrooms are safe for everyone to use, so it's essential to check with a medical professional before adding lion’s mane mushrooms to your diet in any form – especially if you're already taking any form of medication.
Most of the studies so far have been limited to animals, so the actual effects on humans are unknown.13 There are also regulatory restrictions around the specific type and part of the fungi that's acceptable for use in food or supplements, so it’s worth checking the kind you buy.
As with any food, there's always a risk of allergies, so you should stop taking lion’s mane mushrooms immediately if you have a reaction and definitely avoid them entirely if you already know that you're sensitive to mushrooms or have a mushroom allergy.
In some cases, lion’s mane mushrooms can result in mild stomach aches, so staying within a safe dose is vital. You should also always stick to the recommended serving size of lion’s mane mushrooms – this is usually stated on the packaging of your chosen product.14
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it's recommended that you steer clear of lion’s mane because there isn't enough information available for it to be considered safe.
You can buy lion’s mane mushrooms in many forms, like fresh, dried or as a powder. Buying them fresh is excellent for frying or grilling, but powders are a better choice for making broths, drinks, or baking.
Cooking lion’s mane mushrooms is easy, and when cooked, they have a delicate flavour with a meaty texture that some say resembles seafood. It's a really versatile mushroom that you can eat raw, cooked, steeped in tea, or even dried.
Here are just a few ways you can whip up lion’s mane mushrooms to add to your diet:
Sauté some up and add them to a delicious stir fry for a quick dinner
Fry them up and add them to the top of your toast for a protein-packed breakfast
Use a lion’s mane mushroom powder to make a hearty stock for soups and stews
Roast them in the oven for a tasty alternative to meat in any meal
Chop them up and add them to a risotto for an alternative to your regular button mushrooms
Fresh lion’s mane mushrooms will likely hold the most potential benefits, but you can also shop these mushrooms in supplement form.15
From powders to capsules, many different forms of lion’s mane mushroom supplements are on the market. So, why not try a lion’s mane latte for a mid-morning pick-me-up or add a lion’s mane supplement to your vitamin routine?
Just make sure you always take the correct dosage as stated on the label and stop taking the supplements if you have a reaction or feel unwell. You should also check with a doctor before you start taking these supplements to ensure you’re safe.
As it turns out, there’s much more to these fuzzy fungi than meets the eye. From their potential benefits to their fantastic flavour, there are many reasons to include lion’s mane mushrooms in your diet.
Whether you cook up a batch of fresh lion’s mane mushrooms, take a convenient capsule or try a tasty lion’s mane coffee, you’ll undoubtedly make the most of their lion’s mane effects and their active ingredients.