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Lion’s Mane Mushrooms: Great Substitute of Shellfish!

March 15, 2022

If you have ever walked in the woods—or even a city park—and looked up to see a giant, white cheerleading pom-pom stuck in a tree, you may have stopped in your tracks. What a throw! But what you thought you saw may not have been a pom-pom at all; instead, it was probably a lion’s mane mushroom, the most huggable and strange-looking fungus out there. Lion’s mane is edible, delicious, and considered a functional food since it offers numerous health benefits. Where can you find lion’s mane mushroom, and how should you prepare it? Is it true that it is a substitute for crab meat? Do the reputed benefits of lion’s mane meet the standards of science, or are they a myth? We have answers. (But if you’d like to skip the details our verdict is: It is yummy, and it’s pretty good for you, too.)

Viewed up-close these mushrooms resemble a shaggy ball of closely packed, dangling threads, icicles, or soft white teeth. It belongs to the genus Hericium, which includes many curious-looking, white, edible mushroom species. In Latin, Hericeus means hedgehog-like, or pertaining to spines, which speaks to the—soft, pliable—spines they all sport. In the U.S. the lion’s mane mushrooms brought to market are usually either Hericium erinaceus (which translates pretty much as hedgehog-like hedgehog) or H. americanum. Other English common names for lion’s mane include bearded tooth fungus and pom-pom mushroom.

In the wild these mushrooms can grow very large, up to 10 pounds, fruiting on dead trees and logs, but also on injured, living trees. It is both a saprotroph (an organism digesting decomposing organic matter) and a parasite (taking nourishment from a living organism). Lion’s mane’s natural season is generally from late summer through fall and winter. For mushroom hunters, finding one is like discovering that pot of shiny stuff at the end of the rainbow—just better-tasting. Read more:

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