Our FAVORITE Mushroom: Lion's Mane (with wild harvest video!)
Ohhh, Hericium species are the best. Ask any shroomer, myco-junkie, or experienced forager and Lion's Mane will be one of the most listed favorites. It is often referred to as Yamabushitake in Asia. Hericium erinaceus goes by many common names in the USA including but not limited to Lion's Mane, Pom Pom, Bear's Head Tooth, Icicle mushroom, Beard mushroom, Monkey Head Mushroom. Some of these make sense to me, other's I question what other mushrooms were being eaten when the name was pinned.
Lion's Mane mushrooms are parasitic on living oaks, beech, and maple. It can also be saprotrophic on dead trees of similar species. In the wild you will find it timidly growing from the heartwood which is their preferred substrate. With that being said they also cause heart rot in their living tree hosts.When we find them on living trees it is typically on the exposed heartwood where a limb had been removed at some point in the past. We have also found it growing randomly on cut firewood left abandoned. Regardless of when or where you find them, it is always a happy day.
They are a tooth fungi with a white spore print and no poisonous lookalikes. They are easily identifiable by their unique appearance with cascading white 'teeth' that resemble icicles. They may be clustered together forming a odd shape or just a single mushroom. Either way the spines/teeth are the identifiable feature you are looking for and will always be growing from wood (not the ground). They are best harvested when the dangling tips are just starting to lightly brown and the rest of the teeth are still fully white. They can range in size from quite small to quite large. To harvest cut them off at the base, close to the wood.
Culinary speaking this mushroom is tastes NOTHING like a mushroom, despite what you may read online. Seriously folks. If you don't like mushrooms then this mushroom is for you I still do not understand how in the world it didn't end up with a seafood type name as it tastes so much like crab or lobster meat! So much so that it can replace crab in many recipes, including crab cakes. I'll share with you our faux crab cake recipe soon enough, so be on the look out. The texture and flavor are both reminiscent of crab meat, especially when it's got a light sear from a cast iron pan...don't ask me why this makes a difference, I have no idea...I just cook and consume. Larger specimens like the one in the video/images lower down you can cook the stem/core and it reminds me a lot of scallops. Everything about this mushroom screams seafood...it even kinda looks like some kind of wild sea creature. They are incredibly easy to clean if harvested at the right time. You can actually squeeze them like a sponge and they bounce back to their original shape fairly well.
Medicinally, this mushroom is amazing. It is reported to have a wide range of health benefits. It is an great source of the potassium, iron, zinc, selenium, and all main amino acids. Lion's Mane also contains the special compounds of hericenones and erinacines which actually increase levels of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the brain which is involved in the regeneration, repair, and growth of neurons within the brain. Scientists have been researching the potential benefits of this amazing mushroom to help individuals with dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, epilepsy, etc. For our household this is a big deal, as my husband was left with a seizure disorder after suffering from West Nile Disease many years ago. I could go on and on about the potential health benefits of this mushroom but to save time I encourage you to do a quick search on Hericium health benefits and see all the amazing findings that are available.
This unique mushroom is such a joy to look at and even more a joy to eat. This is one mushroom we love so much that we cultivate it AND hunt it in the wild.
Our efforts in cultivating this special mushroom have been hugely successful. This is not a mushroom that you cultivate with plugs on logs as you would say with shitake...I mean, you can but it's not ideal. The best way to cultivate Hericium sp is with a totem method. I'll get in depth about this in a future post, no worries. This winter we will be increasing our totem count significantly and you'll probably get tired of reading/hearing about it. We are also currently experimenting with inoculating live trees, no doubt there will be a post in the future regarding those efforts.
For over a week we watched this lion's mane from a distance as we regularly stop at a rural intersection facing this tree. Earlier in the summer we also spied and harvested a large chicken of the woods at the base of the same tree! We watched it with anticipation as we eagerly tried to get in touch with the owners for nearly a week. Finally we got a response and permission was granted.
I took a little video for you of this mushroom being harvested. We have also noticed that when found in the wild it is not uncommon for them to be very high up in a tree...sometimes you just can't get to them. Had this one been another foot up we would have had to leave it.
This same specimen was of particular intrigue to us since we had not had rain in close to three weeks and it was still quite large. Our cultivated lion's mane had shriveled babies in bottom land beside a creek, whereas this specimen was in the open, exposed to some sun and STILL gorgeous (and delicious). As a result we decided to try our hand at taking core samples and attempt to clone it. It was anything but proper handling and absolutely not sterile conditions but I did video it and we are watching/waiting to see what happens. I'll share that in a later post.
This one mushroom weighed nearly two pounds despite drought conditions. I'm very curious to watch it next year in hopes of proper rainfall to see how large it will get. This time next year I hope to have a proper little lab set up to clone some of our wild finds like this one.
Next up you'll see this fella cooked up into faux crab cakes here!!
All images are taken by Eliana's Garden and copyrighted, even without the watermark....