Meet the mushrooms! The Mushroom Profiles will be a series of posts where we will highlight different mushroom varieties that we cultivate in our farm. In this initial feature, we will be presenting two of our favorite mushrooms: the Lion's Mane and Reishi mushrooms. So, without further ado...
Lion's Mane is the common name for Hericium erinaceus, one of several white and fleshy mushrooms in the genus Hericium. It can be found in the forests of Europe, Asia, and North America, growing on hardwood trees in the late summer or fall.
The Lion's Mane mushroom can stand on its own as a gourmet mushroom, but it's probably best known and most used as a brain supplement. We'll explain why in a bit, but it's important to keep in mind that in many parts of the world this isn't exactly news. For centuries in some Asian cultures, it has been used as both a food and a medicine, and its benefits extend to several different organ systems like the nervous, digestive, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems.
Lion's mane looks a bit like a cauliflower, and it feels like a plump sponge. Some people describe the flavor as something similar to crab or lobster once cooked, which is true enough, but we also feel that the lion's mane taste is in many ways like a blank canvas since it absorbs and retains lots of flavor from whatever other ingredients it's cooked with. The meaty texture is what really makes it truly special, and because of this it's an excellent substitute for meat in vegan and vegetarian dishes.
There are many ways to prepare Lion's Mane mushrooms in the kitchen, but the easiest and most common method is to cut them up or pull them apart and sauté them in a pan with oil or butter, and season them to taste. If you're feeling more adventurous, there are tons of cool recipe ideas online. Some really creative things we've seen from our customers include vegetarian "crab" cakes (replacing the crab with lion's mane), vegan carnitas (replacing the pork with lion's mane), vegan menudo (replacing the beef belly pancita), and our own personal favorite: Lion's Mane burgers and steaks.
When consumed regularly, it reportedly supports cognitive functions like concentration, memory, and clarity. It's also good for gut health and for chronic inflammation, and it helps to improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. So, you may be asking, what's actually going on behind the scenes?
Like most other plants and fungi, Lion's Mane mushrooms produce a set of organic compounds called terpenes. Terpenes and terpenoids are the largest group of secondary metabolites (meaning they are not directly related to growth or reproduction) found in natural organisms. These naturally occurring organic compounds are the reason why certain plants and mushrooms smell and taste the way they do, and so they comprise an area of extensive research.
Lion’s Mane mushrooms also contain a high concentration of a beneficial compound known as Beta glucans. These are a group of organic polysaccharide sugars or fibers which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Beta glucan has shown significant antimicrobial (stops the growth of microorganisms), anticancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-hypercholesterolemic (controls cholesterol levels) properties in countless clinical trials.
Back to the terpenes: the terpenoid groups that are unique to Lion’s Mane are called hericenones and erinacenes. These have been extensively studied and are reported to boost nerve growth factor (NGF) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), among other processes involved in regulating the growth and health of the nervous system. In other words, they help stimulate the growth of neurons in the brain and in some cases could also repair damaged nerves. Why is this important?
The nervous system includes not only the central nervous system (the brain & spinal cord) but also the peripheral nervous system (the sensory organs and the entire network of nerves that extends throughout your body). The nervous system is in charge of sensory processing & perception, communication between the brain & the body, and the cognition within our minds. Galen, one of the most respected and accomplished medical researchers from antiquity and the personal physician to several Roman emperors (including Marcus Aurelius), once said "Look to the nervous system as the key to maximum health". Once we come to understand the role and the purpose of the nervous system, this no longer feels like an overstatement.
Reishi, or lingzhi, is the common name for mushrooms in the Ganoderma genus. These are a type of polypore fungus colloquially called shelf mushrooms because they grow like shelves on dying trees. Reishi can be found in China, Europe, and also in North America, although scientists have speculated whether these were introduced by humans and acclimatized over time. The taxonomy for the genus Ganoderma has remained a bit confusing, and similar species such as ganoderma lingzhi, ganoderma lucidum, ganoderma sessile, ganoderma tsugae, ganoderma multipileum, and a number of other ganoderma species can sometimes be conflated with one another.
Reishi mushrooms are polypores, meaning they have pores or tubes on the underside instead of gills. They can grow out in conks from a short stipe, or like bonsai tree-looking antlers, and are usually a dark brown to red color with a bit of orange, yellow, and white near the new growth around the edges. Reishi has a very distinct aroma; it's rich and delicious, tart but earthy, like a sweet piney forest. As we learned before, this is probably due to the aromatic terpenoid compounds that it is packed with, more on this later.
The Reishi mushroom probably has an even longer history as a medicinal mushroom than Lion's Mane. In traditional asian medicine, it was used to treat many different ailments, and it earned the nickname the mushroom of immortality. It can be enjoyed simply in a tea, or it can be made more concentrated and bioavailable in dual extract form. Due to its tough leathery texture and its flagrantly bitter taste, it's not a top choice mushroom for cooking, and historically it has mostly been used for its medicinal benefits.
Very recently however, novel applications for this mushroom (and mycelium) are being developed, particularly in fashion, art, beauty products, textiles, and packaging materials. Reishi mycelium is quite resilient and flexible, so it can be molded and combined with other materials to make things like leather, furniture, or bricks. Pretty soon you might start finding some Reishi-based products in some surprising places!
On the medicinal side, Reishi is known for modulating and balancing the cells of our immune system. It actively fights viruses, bacteria, and even tumors. It also contains anti-aging properties, such as keeping our skin healthy, fighting inflammation, detoxifying heavy metals, and blocking the damage from free radical toxins. On top of that, it helps manage stress levels, supports calmer moods, and promotes an overall sense of well-being - so, one can understand why this mushroom has developed a reputation for being a panacea. Again you might ask, what's going on here? How can a mushroom do all that?
The research suggests that some of the terpenoids in the Reishi, especially the terpenoids known as Ganoderic acids, are what make it such an effective treatment for so many different things. These are thought to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-tumor properties, and an interesting thing about them is that they are not water-soluble. They must be extracted from the Reishi mushroom through an extra step, which is why an alcohol dual extraction method is so important in order to extract, concentrate, and make them more bioavailable.
We hope you've enjoyed reading about these two marvelous mushrooms. They hold a special place in our hearts because they were the first two mushroom species that we cultivated at our farm as One Up Mushroom Products, and the first two tinctures in our product line. We've been using them regularly for years and are thoroughly convinced of their healing and therapeutic potential. For more information on the scientific literature behind these mushrooms and their benefits, please visit our Resources page, where we link to a lot of reviews and clinical studies on this subject matter.