Hey there, fellow mushroom enthusiasts! Join us for an adventure into the captivating world of Lion’s Mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus).
This edible mushroom, nicknamed the “bearded tooth fungus,” is renowned for its cascading tendrils resembling a lion’s mane.
This unusual appearance makes it less risky for beginners to forage for Lion’s Mane than it is for some other mushrooms, as lion’s manes have no close look-alikes. (Do not eat any wild mushrooms before running your finds by an experienced forager.)
Lion’s mane mushrooms also tantalize the taste buds with their uniquely tender, seafood-like flavor.
These fungal treasures are sought after not just for their exquisite taste but also for their impressive health benefits that range from cognitive enhancement to potential cancer-fighting properties.
Other common names for this mushroom are bearded tooth and bearded hedgehog.
So grab your boots and pack your trusty mushroom field guide as we embark on a hunt for the enigmatic Lion’s Mane mushroom, which awaits discovery by those daring enough to seek its allure.
Below we’ll give you some tips on how to identify lion’s mane mushrooms. But the information we provide below is only a starting point. NEVER consume any mushroom unless you are absolutely sure of its identity.
Every year people die after consuming poisonous mushrooms. And with some species, just one mushroom is enough to kill you.
If you are new to mushroom foraging, be sure to run your finds by someone who is experienced in foraging for mushrooms.
f you are in the US, Canada, or Mexico, the North America Mycological Association (NAMA) has clubs in many cities and towns, and it is likely that there is a club near you. Visit their website to learn more.
Always carry a good field guide when you are looking for mushrooms. We are currently recommending Mushrooming Without Fear: The Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Safe and Delicious Mushrooms.
If you can find them, two excellent mushroom field guides are the Peterson Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America and the National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Both are out of print, but you may be able to find a used copy on Amazon.
Ensure you know how to identify common poisonous mushrooms in your area, such as destroying angels and death caps, to rule out the possibility of picking one by mistake.
While our articles provide a great overview, please don’t rely solely on the internet or a mushroom identification app to identify a mushroom. This isn’t a subject on which to take shortcuts.
With all that said, here is our overview of lion’s mane mushrooms and how to identify them.
Where do Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Grow?
This delicious edible mushroom can be found throughout the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and North America. They are saprotropic, and grow mostly on dead hardwood trees.
Unfortunately, they often grow high up in those dead trees, making them difficult to harvest. But you will also find them near the ground or growing on stumps or fallen logs.
Hericium erinaceus. (2023, April 19). In Wikipedia.
Timing and Season for Finding Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
The lion’s mane mushroom reaches its peak size in the late summer and fall. They like cooler temperatures, so the farther south you are, the later they will be ready. In fact, they can grow right through the winter in far southern areas. But their growing season will end at the first hard frost when temperatures are below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Typical Locations and Habitats for the Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane mushrooms grow mostly on the trunks of dead or dying hardwood trees, particularly oak, beech, and maple. As you walk, look up at the nooks and crannies of tree trunks and major branches.
The higher ones are hard to get at, especially since the trees they grow on are often partially or completely dead.
Keep an eye on the lower parts of the trunks that you pass and even on fallen trees. You may get lucky.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Identification
It’s not hard to identify lion’s mane mushrooms. First of all, they tend to be white- whiter than anything around them- so they will stand out against the darker bark of trees.
And second, they come with unmistakable waterfall-like spines that cascade downward off of a central stock. They have a puffy appearance that, it goes without saying, is similar to a lion’s mane.
Most wild lion’s mane mushrooms will measure between 4 to 10 inches across.
Simply put, their unique appearance makes them a breathtaking find amid the forest foliage.
With these features, the Lion’s Mane mushroom is hard to confuse with anything else. But don’t take that to mean you can just pick and eat one. If you are new to mushrooms or are not familiar with lion’s mane, it is imperative that you run your finds by an experienced forager.
Lion’s mane is a quick grower and can mature just a week or so after it first starts growing. If you find one, you may want to harvest it, even if it is still small.
If you decide to wait, then check whether it is ready every day or two. You’ll be surprised by how quickly they reach the perfect harvest point. But when the moment comes, act quickly. They get tough once they become too mature.
Older lion’s mane mushrooms can be cream-colored or even yellowish. They’ll be too tough to eat, so leave them alone to complete their life-cycle.
Note that the lion’s mane mushroom is considered endangered in parts of Europe and the United Kingdom. Check their status in your area, and only forage for them if they are not endangered where you live.
To harvest a lion’s mane, use a sharp knife to cut the mushroom near the base, where it joins with the wood. cut the mushroom as close to the base as possible.
Lion’s mane tends to grow back in the same place year after year, so mark the location and keep an eye on it the following year.
Distinguishing lion’s mane from look-alikes
A couple of other mushrooms in the Hericium species look similar to the lion’s mane mushroom.
Comb Tooth Fungus
The comb tooth fungus, which is also in the hericium species, can be distinguished by its coral-like branching structure. Its numerous cascading spines form a more delicate and intricate pattern than a lion’s mane mushroom with its compact, shaggy spines. The comb tooth fungus is also edible, and many foragers consider it a suitable alternative to lion’s mane.
White Coral Fungus
Another lookalike, the white coral fungus (Clavulina cristata), doesn’t belong to the Hericium family but shares a similar branching structure with the comb tooth fungus.
It is smaller and less dense than a lion’s mane, with delicate, thin branches. Although this fungus is edible, its flavor and texture aren’t considered to be as desirable.
Preparing and Cooking Lion’s Mane: A Culinary Delight
Proper cleaning techniques
Lion’s manes are dirty mushrooms. Their folds make a perfect nesting place for insects, and plenty of detritus can get stuck in their tendrils.
We don’t recommend soaking any mushrooms to clean them, as they absorb water, but this is one case where it may be necessary.
First, brush off any foreign objects. Then, wipe any remaining dirt off with a damp paper towel.
Then, if absolutely necessary, you can soak the dirtier pieces. But remember, soaking mushrooms makes them soggy, so try to keep as much of your lion’s mane dry as possible.
Pan-frying lion’s mane
Pan-frying is probably the easiest way to cook lion’s mane. We recommend dredging the slices in flour, but you can simply fry them with butter, olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper.
Here is a recipe for dredging and frying your lion’s mane.
2 lbs cleaned lion’s mane mushrooms
½ cup flour
½ cup panko
1 large egg
Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Take your clean lion’s mane mushrooms and trim off any tough parts at the bases. Then, slice the mushrooms into 1/2-inch-thick pieces.
- Then, season ½ cup of flour: In a shallow dish, mix the all-purpose flour, salt, and black pepper. This will be used for dredging the mushroom slices.
- Set up the breading station: Crack a large egg into a separate shallow dish and whisk until well beaten. In another dish, place some panko breadcrumbs. Line up the dishes in the following order: seasoned flour, beaten egg, and panko breadcrumbs.
- Bread the mushrooms: Dredge each mushroom slice in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess. Next, dip the floured slice into the beaten egg, allowing any excess to drip off.
- Then, coat the slice in panko breadcrumbs, pressing gently to ensure even coverage. Set the breaded mushroom slices aside on a plate or wire rack.
- Fry the mushrooms: Heat the vegetable oil or a mix of butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Once hot, add the breaded mushroom slices, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding the pan. Fry each side for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
- Drain and serve: Transfer the fried lion’s mane mushroom slices to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Allow them to cool slightly before serving. If desired, garnish with lemon wedges and fresh parsley.
Enjoy your delectable fried lion’s mane mushrooms as an appetizer, side dish, or main course.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Health Benefits: More Than Just a Tasty Treat
For centuries, Lion’s mane has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for its healing properties. And now, studies in Western universities are starting to confirm many of the Asian findings for these delicious medicinal mushroom.
Studies indicate that Lion’s mane may have the following benefits:
One of the most promising characteristics of lion’s mane is its potential to enhance cognitive function. Research has shown that lion’s mane mushrooms contain compounds called hericenones and erinacines, which have neuroprotective and neuro-regenerative effects.
These compounds have been shown to enhance the production of nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein which plays a crucial role in nerve cells’ growth, maintenance, and survival. Lion’s Mane may improve memory, focus, and overall brain function by promoting NGF production.
Furthermore, NGF has been shown to reduce age-related cognitive decline and improve mental clarity in elderly people.
Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Properties
In addition to its cognitive benefits, Lion’s Mane also boasts significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
These properties seem to be related to its high content of polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and other bioactive compounds.
Antioxidants help protect the body from oxidative stress, which can lead to inflammation and diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
Potential anti-cancer properties
Emerging research suggests that Lion’s Mane may also possess anti-cancer properties. In laboratory studies, the bioactive compounds of lion’s mane have been shown to inhibit the growth of various cancer cells, including leukemia, gastric, and colon cancer cells.
More research is needed to fully understand its cancer-fighting potential, but these initial findings show promise for the future development of Lion’s Mane-based therapies.
Digestive health benefits
Asian medicine practitioners have long turned to lion’s mane to treat gastrointestinal problems. The anti-inflammatory properties of lion’s mane can help soothe the digestive tract and reduce ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
Additionally, Lion’s Mane contains prebiotic compounds which promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
Wrapping It Up
In conclusion, the lion’s mane mushroom presents a unique culinary experience and potential health benefits for wild mushroom foragers. With its unmistakable appearance and delicious seafood-like flavor, this is one wild mushroom that you definitely want to become familiar with!
Lion’s mane is a rewarding find for those who can safely identify it. As more research is conducted to confirm its therapeutic potential, incorporating the lion’s mane mushroom into one’s diet is a delicious and healthful choice for those seeking culinary adventure and a natural boost to overall well-being.
With their striking beauty and impressive health benefits, lion’s mane offers a truly unique and unforgettable experience for those who are willing to take the time to learn how find lion’s mane mushrooms and how to to identify them safely.
For some more ideas about how to cook lion’s mane, check out our article Eight Healthy and Delicious Lion’s Mane Recipes
For more information on wild mushroom foraging, check out our article Mushroom Foraging — The Ultimate Guide.
And if you’re interested in learning about types of mushrooms, see our article A Brief Guide to Common Edible Mushrooms.