A Beginner's Guide to Lion's Mane

A Beginner's Guide to Lion's Mane
Latin name: Hericium erinaceus
Origin: Northern Hemisphere – Europe, East Asia and North America
Alternative names: shishigashira, Houtou, Monkey’s Mushroom, Monkey’s Head, Bear’s Head, Hog’s Head 
BlancParts used: The whole mushroom


The Latin name "Hericium Erinaceus" alludes to the substances which enable this potent mushroom to work it's magic. Amongst the active ingredients in Lion's Mane Mushroom are the cyathane derivitives hericenones & erinacines which act as nerve growth factors (NGF). A small protein that is needed for the maintenance and growth of certain neurons, NGF is crucial to the overall health of the central nervous system. Problems can arise when the production of NGF in the brain slows down - the protein is too large to cross the blood-brain barrier and this is where the Lion's Mane Mushroom comes into its own. The substances it contains actually stimulate the production of NGF and easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Hericenones stimulate the brain to produce more NGF and erinacines are small enough to cross this barrier and work with the brain to foster the production of NGF, thus stimulating the production of new neurons. 

Buddhist Shaolin monks used the Lion's Mane mushroom in meditation practices, believing it enhanced their concentration thus enabling them to better cultivate the mystical life force "Qi". These compounds may be the key to its reputation for improving memory and concentration.

Also known as "Nature's gift to your nervous system", Lion's Mane is said to give you nerves of steel and the memory of a lion. Although the science surrounding this super-mushroom is in its infancy, evidence already points to many therapeutic benefits to the peripheral and central nervous system. Some conditions that may benefit are; dementia and mild cognitive impairment, anxiety and depression, parkinson's disease, peripheral neuropathy and stroke recovery, 

Another benefit of the Lion's Mane mushroom is its positive effect on digestion, with recent research suggesting it is helpful in supporting the gastric mucosa. This effect is likely due to it containing beta glucan polysaccharides, polypeptides and fatty acids which protect and enhance digestive tract function.

Folklore and history

This alien looking fungi has taken on the character of the mystical and esoteric in Japan where it has been given a name after one of the most fascinating Buddhist sects in Asia. The Lion’s Mane is called ‘Yamabushitake’, after the Yamabushi Buddhist monks. The name means ‘those who sleep in the mountains’ and very much reflects the solitary nature and unique look of this mushroom as well as describing the practices of the monks. The Yamabushi are essentially wandering ascetics from the Shugendō spiritual Buddhist tradition who live in the mountainous forests of Japan. Another comparison comes from an ornamental garment worn by the Yamabushi called a ‘suzukake’. This piece of clothing, composed of long strands of fur that resembles the look of the Lion’s Mane. Although the Lion’s Mane has been known to the Chinese and Japanese for many centuries as a food, it hasn’t been until recently that the fungi started to be eaten in Europe and America. 

Traditional use

The Lion’s Mane mushroom grows on decaying Oak, Walnut and Beech trees throughout the Northern Hemisphere. A food staple for 100's of years in Japanese and Chinese culture, the Lion's Mane mushroom benefits were legendary. 

Typical use

Most commonly this mushroom is consumed as a food. In China and Japan it is also taken for its medical properties.


Polysaccharides; fatty acids (Y-A-2); hericenones A and B, hericenones C, D, E, F, G, H. Diterpenes called erinacines.


Peer Reviewed Sources 

  1. Wong, K. H., et al. (2012). Peripheral nerve regeneration following crush injury to rat peroneal nerve by aqueous extract of medicinal mushroom Hericium erinaceus (Bull.: Fr) Pers. (Aphyllophoromycetideae). Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4895668/

  2. Nagano, M., et al. (2010). Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomedical Research, 31(4), 231-237. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/biomedres/31/4/31_4_231/_article/-char/ja/

  3. Friedman, M. (2015). Chemistry, nutrition, and health-promoting properties of Hericium erinaceus (lion's mane) mushroom fruiting bodies and mycelia and their bioactive compounds. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 63(32), 7108-7123. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26244378

  4. Lai, P. L., et al. (2013). Neurotrophic properties of the Lion's mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 15(6), 539-554. https://www.dl.begellhouse.com/journals/708ae68d64b17c52,2829e62f245d7e21,2c10a7f514d73450.html

  5. Mori, K., et al. (2008). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 22(11), 1532-1536. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18844328

Reading next

A Beginner's Guide to Ginkgo
A Beginner's Guide to Reishi

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.