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What is Lion's Mane?

[and why should you take it]

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Lion’s Mane is a raw superfood mushroom that is commonly used as a nootropic due to its cognitive enhancement properties.

It is often referred to as the pom-pom mushroom or monkey head mushroom because of its appearance.

Although most of the studies conducted on Lion’s Mane focus on brain health, this mushroom is also known for other great benefits such as decreasing anxiety and supporting healthy cholesterol levels.


What is Lion's Mane

Lion’s Mane or Hericium erinaceus is a mushroom with a unique appearance. Unlike other mushrooms of which the fruiting bodies (part of the mushroom above the ground), are usually a smooth cap and stem.

Where the individual branches of a mushroom normally form into a stem, in Lion’s Mane they face outward. Each of these manes grows over a centimeter’s length.

Its particular appearance has led people to give it plenty of other nicknames. Like “pom-pom mushroom”, “bearded tooth” and “monkey head”.

Where Can You Find Lion’s Mane?

The mushroom is native to Asia, Europe, and North America and you can find it on both living and dead broadleaf trees. Lion’s Mane grows in late summer and fall.

Historical Uses of Lion’s Mane

Lion’s Mane has been part of traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. In Chinese, it’s called hóu tóu gü, which translates to monkey head mushroom.

But the mushroom also has a place in Japanese Medicine.

In Japanese, Lion’s Mane is called yamabushitake, which means mountain monk mushroom.

Both in Chinese and Japanese medicine the mushroom has been used to strengthen the spleen, nourish the gut, and supposedly as an anti-cancer drug.1

According to these ancient medicines Lion’s Mane is considered nutritive to five internal organs. The liver, lung, spleen, heart, kidney. And therefore, improves digestion, energy levels, and strength.

Who is it for?

You can use Lion’s Mane for a variety of reasons (the benefits will be discussed down below) and in several ways.

You can consume Lion’s Mane:

  • As an isolated supplement
  • In a supplement combined with mushrooms like Reishi and Cordyceps
  • In its natural form (cooked or raw)
  • Mixed in your favorite juice, smoothie, protein shake, or our favorite of course, PhytoFood
If you’re using Lion’s Mane as supplement, the recommended dosage is usually between 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg.

Benefits of Lion's Mane

Lion’s Mane is famous for its great variety of positive effects on your body. Most importantly, the power to improve your cognitive function.

Read below a selection of the scientifically proven effects of the monkey head mushroom.

Decrease Anxiety

It seems that edible Lion’s Mane reduces anxiety. Your concentration, irritation, and anxiousness can be reduced by using the mushroom over the course of at least four weeks.2

How did the researchers do to figure this out?

They divided a group of 30 women into two groups. After that, they asked them to fill out a variety of questionnaires. These all aimed to figure out what the severity of their depression was and to quantify indefinite complaints like “anxious” and “irritation”.

Then, they gave half of the women cookies with Lion’s Mane powder 4 times a day for four weeks. When they asked participants to fill out the questionnaires again at the end, the ones that ate the cookies with Lion’s Mane powder scored significantly better.

Now, isn’t that interesting?

Let’s continue quickly with what researchers found on cognitive improvements.

Improve Cognitive Function

In Japan, researchers found that you can improve cognitive function with Lion’s Mane.3 They gave tablets that contained the dried and powdered form of the mushroom.

Again, they divided the group into two. One part of the elderly Japanese participants received the medicine and the other part a placebo.

Before and after the treatment the research subjects filled out a questionnaire to define their level of cognitive impairment.

After 8, 12 and 16 weeks into the trial, the results showed that the group that took Lion’s Mane was performing significantly better.

Improve Mood

In a mouse study, Chinese researchers used amycenone, extracted from Lion’s Mane, to fight several inflammatory factors.

When they gave amycenone to the mice they saw that interleukin-10, an anti-inflammatory cytokine improved. While tumor necrosis factor-alpha reduced.4

This indicates that Lion’s Mane can improve mood and fight inflammation.

Antioxidant Properties

Antioxidants have the capacity to reduce inflammation and reduce natural degenerative processes that come with aging in the human body.

When it comes to Lion’s Mane specifically, it seems that chemicals called polysaccharides provide the strongest anti-oxidants. When researchers used this compound in rats after giving them poison, they saw that the anti-oxidants protected the liver of the animals.5

And that’s not all the anti-oxidants seem to do. It seems that they can also improve your blood supply.

Improve Blood Supply

As things go, in another study on mice researchers reduced blood flow to their organs on purpose.

The reason they set out to do this research, is because ischemia is a common side effect of heart surgery. Ischemia is a lack of blood supply to the organs. This then alters or even damages cell function.

Thus, if there’s a way to reduce the chance of it, heart surgeries can be done with less chance of complications. As a result, you’ll recover quicker.

Now back to the research.

Besides the blood flow restriction, they gave the mice Lion’s Mane before the surgery.

After, they found that oxidative damage to the kidneys was less in the mice that received the mushroom extract before the treatment.6

Reduce Hypertension

Heart disease is what kills humans most world-wide. Sounds a bit depressing right?

Still, you can easily reduce the chances of running into trouble with your heart. A healthy diet and exercise are two key strategies you can use.

But there’s another option.

Lion’s Mane.

The mushroom can reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood.

It seems that when rats are given an extract from the mushroom that it reduces the bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), with 45,4% and triglyceride levels with 34.3%. While it can improve the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), with 31.1%.7

These results were in comparison to a group of animals that received an equal diet but without the mushroom extract.

Stimulates Immune System

Do you remember the polysaccharides from before? These so-called anti-oxidants.

The ones in Lion’s Mane seem to improve immune function as well.

When researchers gave these anti-oxidants to mice that were suffering from lung tumors, they saw that it affected them positively. It seems that the mushroom improves special immune cells called “T cells” and “macrophages”. These cells help the body protect, attack and clean out unwanted invaders.

lion's mane & brain performance

How does Lion’s Mane improve brain function?

Although most of the research on Lion’s Mane has been conducted in animals, you notice a strong consistency. The powerful anti-oxidants can improve the immune system, improve blood supply, and protect organs against damage.

What’s even better established though, is that Lion’s Mane improves brain function. As you read above it improves cognitive function in the elderly and it reduces depression.

But what if you’re not impaired, older, or depressed?

Nerve Growth Factor

Then it’s good to know that Lion’s Mane stimulates Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). This is a protein that helps with the formation of new neurons. An important process that improves your cognitive function and stalls degenerative processes.

Even more so, NGF also helps by stimulating the formation of myelin sheaths. This is a waxy substance that protects your neurons and increases signal transmission.8

A chronic disease like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) directly affects the myelin sheaths in the central nervous system.

So, wouldn’t it be great to have some extra NGF circulating in your brain whenever possible?

The problem is though, NGF can’t get into your brain. Because your brain is protected by the “blood-brain barrier”. This protection helps your central nervous system stay safe when a disease spreads through your body.

Now, let’s have a look at Lion’s Mane. Do you remember it’s Latin name?

Hericium erinaceus.

Hericones stimulate the brain to make more NGF. Unfortunately, it’s too big to cross the blood-brain barrier. That’s why it’s great there are erinacines. Because they are small enough to pass through.

That means that Lion’s Mane can improve neural growth by directly stimulating NGF in the brain.

How NGF Can Improve Brain Function (A LOT)

Next, to preventing disease, NGF can help a lot to improve your cognition.

Because for everything you think, feel, and do, there are signals being transmitted in your nervous system. The higher the quality of the signals the quicker you remember and the easier it is to focus.

The same goes for learning. When you learn something new, you’re actually forming new connections between the neurons in your brain.

Imagine you never played tennis before. The first time you’re hitting the ball with your racket it’ll land far from where you wanted it to be. As you practice more the connections between your arm motion, your body position, your vision on the ball, and the way you place your feet will improve.

Over time, a new neural network will be formed in your brain. Ready to be accessed every time you play tennis.

To create this network your brain forms new connections between neurons and even forms new neurons if possible.

Thus, NGF plays a key role in learning, concentration, memory, and skill development.


Cooking with Lion’s Mane

If you buy, harvest, or grow Lion’s Mane there are many ways to prepare it. You can bake them in butter or oil with garlic. Throw them into your pasta dish or bake a pie.

But that’s not all. Because you can also make Lion’s Mane pancakes!

The ingredients are:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups almond milk
  • 1 cup packed fresh spinach, finely chopped
  • 1 cup spelled flour (substitute cassava flour for gluten-free pancakes)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for cooking and serving
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 8 ounces fresh lion’s mane mushrooms (or 3 cups dehydrated lion’s mane, soaked for 2 hours)
  • Jam or pure maple syrup, for serving (optional)

This is how you prepare them:

  1. In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the eggs and almond milk.
  2. Add the spinach, flour, butter, salt, pepper, and mushrooms and stir until smooth. Let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  3. Set a cast-iron pan over high heat. When the pan is hot, add a liberal amount of butter and allow to melt. Add a ¼ cup of the pancake batter to the pan. When little bubbles appear on the surface of the batter, use a spatula to check if the underside of the pancake is golden brown. If so, flip and fry on the other side for 1 to 2 minutes more. Repeat until all the batter has been used.
  4. Serve hot with butter, jam, or syrup. Pancakes are also delicious eaten cold the next day. Store in a sealed container in the fridge overnight.

The recipe is taken from Isokauppila, Tero. Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health (pp. 146-147). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Key Takeaways

  • Lion’s Mane stimulates NGF directly in the brain
  • The mushroom improves mood
  • It can improve concentration
  • It reduces cognitive impairment
  • It can improve immune function
  • It can improve blood circulation
  • It can protect organs
  • You can consume Lion’s Mane both as a supplement and as part of a delicious home cooked meal


Liu J, DU C, Wang Y, Yu Z. Anti-fatigue activities of polysaccharides extracted from Hericium erinaceus. Exp Ther Med. 2015;9(2):483-487. doi:10.3892/etm.2014.2139

  1. Nagano M, Shimizu K, Kondo R, et al. Reduction of depression and anxiety by 4 weeks Hericium erinaceus intake. Biomed Res. 2010;31(4):231-237.
  2. Mori K, Inatomi S, Ouchi K, Azumi Y, Tuchida T. Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake (Hericium erinaceus) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2009;23(3):367-372. doi:10.1002/ptr.2634
  3. Yao W, Zhang J, Dong C, et al. Effects of amycenone on serum levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-10, and depression-like behavior in mice after lipopolysaccharide administration. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2015;136:7-12. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2015.06.012
  4. Zhang Z, Lv G, Pan H, Pandey A, He W, Fan L. Antioxidant and hepatoprotective potential of endo-polysaccharides from Hericium  erinaceus grown on tofu whey. Int J Biol Macromol. 2012;51(5):1140-1146. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2012.09.002
  5. Han Z-H, Ye J-M, Wang G-F. Evaluation of in vivo antioxidant activity of Hericium erinaceus polysaccharides. Int J Biol Macromol. 2013;52:66-71. doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2012.09.009
  6. Yang B-K, Park J-B, Song C-H. Hypolipidemic effect of an Exo-biopolymer produced from a submerged mycelial culture of Hericium erinaceus. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2003;67(6):1292-1298.
  7. Sofroniew M V, Howe CL, Mobley WC. Nerve growth factor signaling, neuroprotection, and neural repair. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2001;24:1217-1281. doi:10.1146/annurev.neuro.24.1.1217

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