Yamabushitake, also known as lion’s mane, is a white, hairy, edible and medicinal mushroom or fungus. Scientifically known as Hericium erinaceus it is native to Eastern Asia, where it has a long culinary and medicinal history in both China and Japan. In the wild, they grow on logs and the stumps of dead hardwood trees such as oak, walnut, beech, maple, elm, and sycamore. The lion’s mane mushroom is known as the ‘wood-destroying fungi’ or ‘white rot’ as it grows very abundantly and accelerates decomposition. To produce fruit bodies (growth above ground that contains the stem, cap and spore-bearing surface (which includes the gills, pores, ridges, teeth) of the fungus) the mushroom requires a cool temperature of between 18-24 degrees Celsius as well as a moist and humid environment
- improves cognitive functions
- relieves depression and anxiety
- helps in the treatment of ulcers
- reduces inflammation
- aids in the prevention of Alzheimer’s
- aids in the protection of the digestive tract
- promotes neural regeneration
- boosts immune function
- may aid in weight loss
- Helps reduce the risk of heart disease
Little is known about the side effects although there is some concern about contraindications for those with allergies or asthma. Consult your medical doctor for guidance.
Form: Whole mushroom or powdered mushroom
Lion’s mane is a mushroom and can be used in many places that you would traditionally use shitake or oyster mushrooms. It can be chopped up and made into a cream sauce as well.
Yamabushitake – A look into Lion’s Mane
The first cultivation of Hericium erinaceus was in the year 1988. It took place in China where bottles and polypropylene bags were used, thus allowing for the fungus to be available year-round for consumers and practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Today yamabushitake continues to be cultivated in China and Japan, as well as Malaysia and Canada, using both modern techniques as well as cultivation using logs and stumps as the fungus would do in nature. Malaysia is a new development in the growth of lion’s mane mushroom as it is a tropical climate. However, research has shown that the increase in temperature has not affected the nutritional composition of the mushroom.
Cultivation in Japan is done using sawdust from oak trees and other hardwood trees as well as cacao husks. The mushroom is harvested within 45 days and if not sold fresh it is air-dried to preserve it and allows the mushroom to the processed into tablet or capsule form as well as into a powder for tea.
Some companies (a few in Malaysia) use ovens to dry yamabushitake. Though effective at preserving the mushroom it kills many of the beneficial properties of the fungus. Therefore it is important to inquire about how the mushroom was preserved. If you can’t find out, eating the mushroom fresh and adding it to cooking, soup stock or even steeping it into tea is a great way to get the amazing benefits of this mushroom into your diet.
Health Benefits of Lion’s Mane
If you have heard of lion’s mane or yamabushitake you will know that this wonderful white and long-haired mushroom is amazingly beneficial for the brain, digestive system, and the immune system. There are many compounds present in lion’s mane that provide the mushroom with its medicinal and healing benefits.
The benefit that lion’s mane is best known for is its effect on neuronal health. Lion’s mane has been shown to possess regenerative capabilities for the peripheral nervous system which consists of all the nerves that move outwards from the spine and is responsible for voluntary and involuntary actions, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is included in this as well as the functioning of the bodies most important organs, the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, lungs, etc. It is important to note that although lion’s mane had a long history of being used for its medicinal benefits, the research on the mushroom is new and many of the studies conducted and predominantly animal studies.
Lion’s Mane for Neurodegenerative Diseases
Oxidative stress and inflammation of non-neuronal cells of the central nervous system can lead to the development of neurodegenerative diseases. A 2019 study looked at lion’s mane polyphenol compound basidiocarps in an alcoholic extraction and its potential neuroprotective activities. It reduces free radical damage from its antioxidant content as well as boosting catalase and glutathione levels in the body. It was further shown to improve mitochondrial membrane function and reduced toxicity, ATP production, and gene expression. This study demonstrated the neuroprotective capacity of lion’s mane on non-neuronal cells and the nervous system as a whole (Kushairi, N., et al., 2019).
Lions Mane Reduces the Risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
In a 2015 study on lion’s manes benefits for individuals with or at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, an extract of the mushroom, approximately 50 ug/ml was administered to individuals and shown to improve the neurite outgrowth within the cells of the brain, spinal cord, and the retina at an average of about 20% improvement in all three areas (Samberkar, S., et al., 2015).
Lion’s Mane Reduces Dementia for the Elderly
Human clinical trials have shown that lion’s mane shows a cognitive improvement for the elderly that suffered from mild cognitive impairment – such as the early onset of Alzheimer’s.
As humans age the ability to rebuild neural networks and form new connections in the brain gets worse. This explains why elderly people tend to suffer from cognitive impairment as well as dementia.
Lion’s mane ability to promote neural generation and reduction in oxidative damage can help explain why there is a positive effect for people who suffer from dementia.
Anti-cancerous Capabilities of Lions Mane
One of the most prolific compounds is beta-glucan a polysaccharide, present in lion’s mane. Beta-glucan is a natural polysaccharide that is found within pathogenic bacteria and fungi, such as lion’s mane. This polysaccharide aids in elevating the immune system and increasing the bodies defense against infection, it aids in increasing the effectiveness and function of macrophages and natural killer cells as well as possessing anti-cancerous capabilities.
Two compounds in lions mane, hericenones and erinacines have been shown to reduce cell proliferation, aids in inducing cell apoptosis all of which are beneficial in preventing and treating cancer. Erinacines also aids in nerve repair, reduce endoplasmic reticulum stress as well as neurodegenerative cell death.
- Contains antitumor activity – extend the life of cancer patients
- An effective immunomodulatory, boosting the immune system, working as an antioxidant and providing nerve protection.
- Reduces the risk of atherosclerosis
- Balances cholesterol levels
Preventing Anxiety and Depression
The fruit bodies of lion’s mane Hericium erinaceus contain hericenones which, depending on how the fungus is treated, can to an extent provide NGF (nerve growth factor). Erinacines, which are found in the mycelium (root) of the mushroom, has a far greater potential for NGF. Both are low molecular in weight and are able to pass through the blood-brain barrier. These compounds aid in enhancing neurogenesis and hippocampal neurogenesis which aids in preventing anxiety and depression.
Lion’s Mane for Wound Healing
Erinacines, the compound in lion’s mane has been shown to provide nerve repair for accident victims, a daily dosage can promote the regeneration of injured nerves during the early stages of recovery. This makes lion’s mane very beneficial for individuals who have had any head injury. The smallest pressure placed on the head will to even a small degree affect the brain, an injured brain take a long time to heal.
Gastroprotective Effects of Lion’s Mane
Lion’s mane like many other mushrooms displays positive benefits on gut health. From building up gut flora to reducing inflammation the polysaccharides in lion’s mane show great promise for the reduction and prevention of numerous gastrointestinal issues.
Lion’s mane polysaccharides in a study published in Carbohydrate Polymers was shown to reduce alcohol-induced gastric lesions as well as preventing duodenum ulcers. This study likewise recognized lion’s mane’s ability to reduce inflammation in the digestive system, as well as boost the body’s ability to fight free radicals (Wang, X.Y., et al., 2018).
Lion’s mane has been shown in studies to increase gut flora and its distribution through the large intestine as well as preventing an imbalance between beneficial and bad bacteria (Ren, Y., et al., 2018)
Lion’s Mane is Beneficial for IBS
Lion’s mane has a fantastic impact on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is caused by dysregulated immune with an unknown cause. The anti-inflammatory benefits of polysaccharides and other secondary compounds such as sterols and terpenoids reduce oxidative stress, help to rebuild microbial flora and repair intestinal barrier integrity. By bringing back integrity to the digestive tract, the healing of the blood-brain barrier can begin and inflammation systemically is reduced positively decreasing the likelihood of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s developing (Ren, Y., et al., 2018).
Lion’s Mane Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Several studies have shown that lion’s mane extract improves fat metabolism and lowers triglyceride levels, which is beneficial to hearts.
Since fat, as well as triglyceride levels, are a significant factor in heart disease it would follow that lion’s mane would promote heart health.
Lion’s Mane May Aid in Weight Loss
Since lion’s mane increases fat metabolism it is possible that it can help promote weight loss. No clinical studies involving humans have been performed.
Lion’s mane ability to reduce anxiety and stress can have a positive effect on weight loss. Depression and anxiety can lead to over-eating. The reduction in anxiety or depression can have a positive effect on promoting healthy eating habits.
Lion’s Mane Boosts Immune Response
A strong immune system is important for fighting off infectious diseases, bacteria or any other pathogen.
Lion’s mane has been shown to promote a healthy digestive tract as well as increasing the activity of the intestinal system. A well functioning intestinal system is important in fighting off any bacteria, viruses or pathogens you may consume.
In one animal trial, lion’s mane quadrupled the expected lifespan of mice that were injected with the salmonella bacteria, although no human clinical trials have been performed.
The reported reductions in depression and anxiety could potentially result in an overall decrease in cortisol – the stress hormone. Continued exposure to cortisol results in body fatigue – which means that your body does not function as well as it should and cannot fight off infections or bacteria.
Cooking with Lion’s Mane
Hericium erinaceus is a very delicious mushroom and works perfectly as a substitute for mushrooms you may usually use such as shiitake, white mushrooms or oyster mushrooms. It may seem a little daunting to try sometime new, but trust me, it will be delicious! I picked up some lion’s mane at my local farmer’s market a month or so ago and have been getting it every week since. It is easy to use and you feel great after eating whatever you make with it. They work well in sauces and stir-fry as well as by themselves fried in a pan in coconut oil or butter.
Hericium erinaceus can also be added to soup stock to enhance both the flavor and the nutritional benefits of the stock. If cut up finely they can also make a perfect additive to a vegetable soup, mushroom soup or any other type of hearty soup.
If gently steeped, just as in soup stock, lion’s mane is a great additive to teas. Let the fungus sit in hot water overnight and afterward you will have a wonderful elixir to add to teas, coffee or smoothies. If you can’t wait that long, let it steep for between 5-10 minutes, perhaps combine it with a herbal fruit tea and sit back and enjoy the brain stimulation.
Supplementing with Lion’s Mane
The best way to reap the benefits of lion’s mane is to consume the fresh mushroom. Processing of lion’s mane (as stated previously above) affects the neurite stimulating activities of the fungus. Not standardized cultivation techniques and conditions may affect the medicinal properties as well. Furthermore, always make sure the whole mushroom is used – down to the root and that if preserved lion’s mane has been air-dried. Lion’s Mane is low in calories (approximately 24 kcal per 100g), and for every 100 grams, the fungus contains 3.6 g of carbs and 2.4g of protein.
The best way to incorporate this beneficial food into the body is through diet, consuming the fresh fungus in everyday meals. However, sometimes it is not always the most convenient route. There are a lot of great products on the market that provides a very good source of lion’s mane, below are a list of a few that I personally find work and taste great.
Host Defense Organic Mushrooms – Lion’s Mane
This freeze-dried organic lion’s mane supplement is each to take and carry with you as it comes in a capsule. It contains a high amount of polysaccharides as well as a host of beneficial plant secondary compounds. It also contains a large amount of mycelium (the fungus root), thus it has a high amount of erinacines making it an overall incredibly beneficial supplement for nerve regeneration, antioxidant aid, and many other wonderful health benefits.
New Chapter – Lifeshield Lion’s Mane Complex
This is another fantastic product. Not only does it contain the beneficial mycelium of Hericium erinaceus it also contains the mycelium of reishi, Chaga and poria. One received the amazing nerve, immune, digestive etc benefits of lion’s mane along with the calming effects of reishi, the immune-boosting power of Chaga as well as the anxiety-reducing benefits of poria.
Birch Boys – Lion’s Mane Tincture
This lion’s mane tincture made from wild-harvested lion’s mane mushrooms from the Adirondacks. If you don’t have time for pills or powder this is your product. All it takes is 5-10 drops a day in your morning tea, coffee, smoothie or just a bit of water to obtain the brain-boosting benefits of this fabulous mushroom. To obtain the best nerve, immune and digestive benefits take the tincture 2-3 times a day. You can find this product on their website.
See which product you like best and begin including lion’s mane into your daily routine. You may not feel the change right away but note how you feel after taking it continuously for one week.
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He, X., Wang, X., Fang, J., Chang, Y., Ning, N., Guo, H., . . . Zhao, Z. (2017). Structures, biological activities, and industrial applications of the polysaccharides from Hericium erinaceus (Lion’s Mane) mushroom: A review.International Journal of Biological Macromolecules,97, 228-237. Online Available at PubMed.
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Liang, B., Guo, Z., Xie, F., & Zhao, A. (2013). Antihyperglycemic and antihyperlipidemic activities of aqueous extract of Hericium erinaceus in experimental diabetic rats.BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine,13(1). Online Available at PubMed.
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Mori, K., Ouchi, K., & Hirasawa, N. (2015). The Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Lions Mane Culinary-Medicinal Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) in a Coculture System of 3T3-L1 Adipocytes and RAW264 Macrophages.International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms,17(7), 609-618. Online Available at PubMed.
Ren, Y., Geng, Y., Du, Y., Li, W., Lu, Z.W., Xu, H.Y., Xu, G.H., Shi, J.S., Xu, Z.H. (2018). Polysaccharide of Hericium erinaceus attenuates colitis in C57BL/6 mice via regulation of oxidative stress, inflammation-related signalling pathways and modulating the composition of the gut microbiota. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Volume 57, Pages 67-76.
Sabarathnam, V., Kah-Hui, W., Naidu, M., & David, P. R. (2013). Neuronal Health – Can Culinary and Medicinal Mushrooms Help? Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine,3(1), 62-68. Online Available at PubMed.
Samberkar, S., Gandhi, S., Naidu, M., Wong, K.H., Raman, J., Sabarotham., V. (2015). Lion’s Mane, Hericium erinaceus and Tiger Milk, Lingosus rhinocerotis (Tiger Basidiomyceler) Medicinal Mushrooms Stimulate Neurite Outgrowth in Dissociated Cells of Brain, Spinal Cord and Retina: An Invitro Study. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. Volume 17, Issue 11, Pages 1047-1054.
Wang, M., Konishi, T., Gao, Y., Xu, D., Gao, Q. (2015). Anti-gastric Ulcer activity of Polysaccharide Fraction Isolated from Mycellium Culture of Lion’s Mane Medicinal Mushroom Hericum erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. Volume 17, Issue 11.
Wang, X.Y., Yin, J.Y., Zhou, M.M., Liu, S.Y., Nie, S.P., Xie, M.Y. (2018). Gastroprotective activity of polysaccharide from Hericium erinaceus against ethanol-induced gastric mucosal lesion and pylorus ligation-induced gastric ulcer, and its antioxidant activities. Carbohydrate Polymers. Volume 186, pages 100-109.
Wong, K., Naidu, M., David, R. P., Bakar, R., & Sabaratnam, V. (2012). Neuroregenerative Potential of Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr.) Pers. (Higher Basidiomycetes), in the Treatment of Peripheral Nerve Injury (Review). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 14(5), 427-446. Online Available at PubMed.
Amanda Filipowicz is a certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) with a bachelor in environmental studies (BES) from York University. She also has certification in clinical detoxification, prenatal and postnatal care as well as nutrition for mental health. She has been working as a nutritionist since 2013 and is a lifelong proponent of eating healthy.