Wild, edible mushrooms are probably the forest forager’s most prized take. Not only are many of them choice, culinary delights suited for fine dining, but lots of mushrooms bring powerful medicinal qualities to the table as well. The lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceous) is possibly the most notable blend of these attributes.

Lion’s mane mushrooms have a host of names: monkey head, satyr’s beard, pompom, and bearded tooth. The Japanese call it yamabushitake, or “those who sleep in the mountains”. Whatever it is called, it warrants attention from budding mushroom foragers because it is easy to identify and, for many, is perhaps the most delicious mushroom—with a texture and flavor often compared to lobster—in the forest. Finding something like that is what makes foraging so much fun.

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Additionally, lion’s mane is select amongst other fungi for having particularly potent medicinal qualities. Studies have shown that it can be especially useful in nerve regeneration and brain health. It is consequently being explored as an aid for those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other degenerative brain diseases.

Now, imagine going for a walk and getting all that for free!

What Does a Lion’s Mane Mushroom Look Like?

Source: Learn Your Land/Youtube

It’s all in the name, really. Aside from being stark white, lion’s mane mushrooms have the shape of a lion’s mane or a long beard. They look a bit bushy and tumble down from wherever they’ve affixed themselves. A lion’s mane can grow to over a foot wide. Its spines (or hairs) fork as they move downward, and as the mushroom ages, it begins to brown or yellow. For foraging, we’d want a fresh, white specimen that’s sizeable enough to recognize as shaggy like a lion’s mane.

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Where Do Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Grow?

Lion’s mane mushrooms grow in various hardwood forests of the United States, as well as Europe and Asia. The Southern United States, in particular, is prime growing real estate for lion’s mane mushrooms. They emerge from hardwood logs, stumps, and sometimes standing trees. Oak, beech, maple, and sycamore are species commonly associated with lion’s mane. This type of mushroom requires wood to grow.

When Can I Find Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?

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As important to where wild mushrooms grow is realizing when they grow. Most fungi only bloom during certain seasons, and lion’s mane is no different. Though the timing will change slightly for different regions, by and large this is an autumn mushroom. It can be found in late summer if the weather is cooler. In warmer environs, it’s possible to find viable lion’s mane mushrooms throughout the winter and into early spring. In other words, as the heat retreats, this mushroom starts to show up.

How Do Identify Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?

Lion’s mane mushrooms are often featured on easy-to-id lists because not much else looks like them, and what does is also edible and from the Hericium genus. Essentially, we are looking for white mushrooms growing on trees. From there, these mushrooms should have cascading branches or spines, resembling icicles, that move downward. For beginners, if you believe you have found lion’s mane, you should take several pictures showing the mushroom for different angles as well as its surroundings. There are several forums on social media sites to help with verifying fungi species, and newbies should definitely seek out experts to help with new mushrooms.

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Find Lion’s Mane in Other Places

Source: Epic Gardening/Youtube

In addition to growing wild, like other saprobic (decomposing) mushrooms, lion’s mane can be cultivated on logs at home. This process is fairly simple and mushroom spawn for inoculating your own mushroom logs is widely available online. Once logs are inoculated, it generally takes at least a year for the mushrooms to bloom. After that, they will produce for several years of enjoyment.

If foraging or growing lion’s mane is beyond reach but you’d still like to try them, fresh specimens are available online as easily as Amazon or you could check at local farmers’ markets in the fall. Again, they are only available fresh during certain times of the year. For those interested in using lion’s mane medicinally,  there are capsules of lion’s mane powder, liquid extract, or tinctures that can be found online or in most health food stores.

Now, it’s time to get adventurous and healthy with something delicious on the menu. Here are a few recipes!

It’s always important to cook your mushrooms rather than eating them raw. To cook a lion’s mane mushroom, start with brushing, rather than washing, them clean. Then, cut off the “foot” (it looks like the stalk of cauliflower) and then slice it steaks. Then you can pan fry them with plant-based butter and whatever seasoning you’d like! You can also add the powder to smoothies or swap out various mushrooms in recipes for lion’s mane mushrooms. The cooking process shouldn’t be much different, but it’s always good to double-check.

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