Lion's Mane Mushrooms, otherwise known as Bearded Tooth or Bearded Hedgehog Mushrooms, are a type of edible fungi fast growing in popularity, not just because of their striking appearance, but also for their taste and potential medicinal qualities.
The large fruit bodies resemble fluffy hedgehogs, with thousands of soft, dangling spines, white to cream in colour.
These spines often develop into shape during their growing period due to gravity, creating a white waterfall effect, while the delicious body lends itself to a wide assortment of culinary uses which we will discuss shortly.
Usually found growing in separate clumps, foraged Lion's Mane should be white and firm. Avoid fungus which is starting to brown; this will either have already sporulated (produced spores), or it may have been damaged or be holding water, both of which will have a detrimental effect on the flavour and texture.
Although not readily found in supermarkets and grocery stores, fear not – Lion's Mane is easy to grow indoors, making it the perfect fungi for the first-time or hobby grower. The best method for indoor growing is to use colonized bags or Jars, and it can be a fascinating sight to watch the development of the fruiting body emerge from the mycelium.
Habitat of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Native to the northern hemisphere, Lion's Mane Mushrooms are typically found growing on dead and decaying hardwood trees in the temperate forests of Asia, Europe and North America (decaying American beech is a particular favorite, especially during late summer and fall).
Belonging to the scientific family Hericium, Lion's Mane Mushrooms are most commonly found in Asia, and they have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. Here, the most popular form of production is outdoor, log cultivation. In contrast, North American production is on a much smaller scale, mostly revolving around intensive indoor cultivation, and whilst it is able to withstand cold, frosty climates, Lion's Mane struggles to establish itself in European forests. As a result, Lion's Mane is a protected species in the following European countries Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK.
Spawn Conditions for Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
The types of conditions required to spawn Lion's Mane Mushrooms are relatively simple and low-maintenance, with good spawn material and a sterile environment the basic necessities.
Temperatures for a spawn run should average between 70-75F or 21-24C, with humidity of 90-100% and CO2 levels of 5,000 to 40,000 ppm.
A spawn run takes between 10 to 14 days, with grains by far the most common method (rye is particularly effective).
Grain spawn or Sawdust spawn can be made from sterilized grains or sawdust that have been inoculated with live mycelium culture; as a result, they provide a vast amount of spawn for a Lion's Mane spawn run.
For beginners it could be a good idea to buy colonated sawdust or grain spawn, this removes the most difficult sterilization steps and means you can move straight into fruiting.
Lion's Mane mycelium can appear very fine, and it can be difficult to know when it is fully colonized and ready for the fruiting stage. The grain spawn should start to become slightly lighter in colour, with the fungi itself remaining largely transparent.
Lion's Mane mycelium is easy to mistake for cobweb mold when you first grow it.
However, Lion's mane mycelium will keep a low profile across the substrate until it begins to turn white and fruit. Cobweb mold will fill the top of the grow very chaotically and often rise inches above the substrate.
When it comes to spawning time add the spawn at a 10-15% spawn:bulk substrate ratio, making sure the environment is as clean and sterilized as possible.
Pinning Conditions for Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
The ideal pinning conditions are generally as follows: temperatures should be between 50-60F (10-15C), humidity should be a constant at 95-100%, with CO2 levels kept between 500 to 700 ppm.
When it comes to pinning Lion’s Mane Mushroom you are in for a really easy time. Lion's mane will pin and product small fruits on agar and grains without any introduction of new environmental factors.
Pinning should last between 3 to 7 days and often can begin before the Jar is 100% colonized. Lookout for the Mycelium turning from a greyish colour to white, this is when the Lion's mane mushroom is beginning to form primordia.
Fruiting Conditions for Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Ideal temperatures at the fruiting stage should stay between 65-75F or 18-24C, with a humidity of 85-95%, and CO2 should remain at 500 to 1,000 ppm.
Cooler temperatures would still be sufficient for the fruit to grow; however, anything warmer will dramatically slow growth.
In my experience Lions Mane can deal with a higher Co2 environment however it will require sufficient humidity levels to grow bigger fruits.
I have a post on how to grow Lion's mane using jars only which can be found here.
The Best Type of Substrate to grow Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
One of the best substrates for growing Lion's Mane Mushrooms in is sterilized hardwood sawdust, mimicking the natural trees which the mushrooms prefer. You can also mix a little wheat bran into the sawdust at a ratio of 10 to 20%, or use a 50-50 mix of hardwood sawdust and soy hulls hydrated to 60% to create Masters-Mix which has been proven to increase yields
Whilst wood-based substrates tend to be the best and easiest for growing Lion's Mane Mushrooms, it is even possible to grow Lion's Mane on waste cardboard and paper.
Fruiting Containers for Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
The best container to begin spawning Lion's Mane Mushrooms is a mushroom grow bag. This is because the bag itself can double up as a humidity tent for the substrate, you can then spray inside the bag one or twice a day whilst allowing the mushroom to fruit out of any slits created in the bag.
However it is also possible to fruit Lions Mane in the following:
Buckets – You can use a bucket to fruit your Lion's Mane Mushrooms in; however, make sure the top is covered, with holes punched in the bucket to allow growth.
Jars – It is possible to grow Lion's Mane straight out of the Jar, I regularly use this technique as it is so simple. I have a full post about this here.
Keeping the humidity constant will ensure consistent, impressive yields; for this reason, one of the best pieces of equipment you can purchase for your mushrooms is a humidifier. While misting, take care not to spray directly onto the fruits; otherwise, this may risk bruising.
When to harvest Lion’s Mane Mushrooms?
This is best done while the spines of the mushroom are still in good, tight condition, and white in colour. Avoid getting to the stage when the fungus turns beige-brown; this will either be too old, water-logged, or have been damaged or bruised. All of these factors will adversely affect the taste of the mushroom. The optimum growing period before harvesting is around 2 to 3 weeks, with younger Lion's Mane Mushrooms having a firmer, denser consistency.
Cut the fruit close to the site of growth with a sharp knife, and be careful not to damage the spines. Lion's Mane Mushrooms bruise very easily; however, they will last a reasonably long time in the fridge if handled carefully.
Once harvested, leave the original block in its fruiting chamber without making any new holes. The mushrooms will continue to bear fruit within the next 7 to 14 days, offering up to 4 harvests at the sites of previous fruits, before finally coming to their natural end.
Yield of Lion’s Mane Mushrooms
Lion's Mane Mushrooms typically offer a high yield, with some individual fruits weighing over one pound. A single 5lb fruiting body can produce more than 2lbs of mushroom over multiple harvests, although this harvest will depend on whether the body is being grown indoors or outdoors (this is due to the difference in fresh air exchange, more fresh air will result in larger yields).
What do Lion’s Mane Mushrooms taste like?
Lion's Mane Mushrooms are a popular substitute for meat, with a spongy texture perfect for soaking up and holding flavor. Their taste is often said to resemble lobster, and there are numerous ways of preparing them, either as an appetising side-dish or as your main meal.
One of the most delicious methods is to roast and sauté; in butter until golden brown, but they can also be prepared as steaks, added to soups, or fried in a pan, sliced and dipped in hot butter.
As well as their flavor, Lion's Mane Mushrooms are increasingly becoming recognised for their medicinal benefits. They are a good source of polysaccharides, a type of “superfood” compound, and they also produce erinacines, which have been proven to have astonishing effects on nerve-regeneration. Conditions which may be treated and alleviated with this compound include dementia and Alzheimer's disease, strokes, Parkinson's disease and neuropathic disorders.
Are Lion’s Mane Mushrooms hallucinogenic?
Simply put, no! While the medicinal properties of Lion's Mane Mushrooms may be incredibly powerful, they are classed as strictly non-hallucinogenic.