Here is an easy to identify edible mushroom. Here in New England, there are no confusing look-a-likes; everything in this genus, Hericium, is edible–however, it is always worth going through the practice of doing a thorough identification before you consume anything wild (more on identifying members of this genus here). This particular mushroom also has a variety of other common names besides lion’s mane: bear’s tooth, sheep’s head, and boar’s head to name a few.

Here's the Hericium I ate  the other night--I have definitely found them bigger, but this one wasn't bad!
Here’s the Hericium I ate the other night–I have definitely found them bigger, but this one wasn’t bad!

I have eaten this mushroom in a variety of ways; it has a flavor and texture reminiscent of crab. I first had it in a “shepherd’s pie”–except instead of the meat that usually goes into that dish, I used chunks of this mushroom. The other night I incorporated lion’s mane mushroom into the wild rice stuffing for an acorn squash. Whenever I’m trying an edible mushroom for the first time, I always only eat a small amount to make sure it agrees with me for the next 24 hours. As with any food, certain mushrooms agree more or less with different people. I also eat new mushrooms using very simplified cooking methods so that I can fully grasp the flavor and texture potential. Paul Stamets suggests cooking lion’s mane in olive oil until it is crispy around the edges; otherwise, it can taste bitter. I have never tried that, but I will have to next time!

Beyond lion’s mane tasty culinary applications, there is growing research about its use as a neuroprotective agent with applications especially for Alzheimer’s patients and others with neurodegenerative diseases. In one telling experiment, two groups of mice afflicted with a version of developing Alzheimer’s disease were challenged to complete a maze they had memorized. One group of mice was fed a normal diet, while the other group was fed a diet including lion’s mane mushroom. As their disease developed, the group being fed the normal diet lost their ability to complete the memorized maze. The group being fed lion’s mane completed the maze significantly better than their counterparts despite their worsening disease–this group not only regained some of their cognitive abilities after consuming lion’s mane mushroom for a few weeks, but also gained an unexpected quality–that of increased curiosity.

For more information about this and other studies, check out this informative article by Paul Stamets in the Huffington Post. He also cites some great sources for further research, if you’re interested: Lion’s Mane: A Mushroom that Improves your Memory and your Mood?