It's always an added bonus when delicious ingredients also happen to be functional foods that bring more benefit to your meal than just an expansive flavor profile. Fungi rightly contributes to a balanced and nutritious diet, but it's worth exploring the more niche variations to spice up your meals and inject your cooking with some unique health benefits. So, have you heard of lion's mane mushrooms?
What are lion's mane mushrooms?
Lion's mane mushrooms are large white mushrooms that, according to registered dietitian Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN, have a "shaggy, mane-like appearance." Often used in salads, sauteed as a delicious side, or steeped in tea, as you can guess, these mushrooms get their name entirely based on their appearance. But just like many other forms of mushrooms, lion's mane can also provide some significant benefits for your body.
4 health benefits of lion's mane mushrooms.
There's a pretty good breadth of research on the benefits of lion's mane mushrooms, and while the studies largely involve cell or animal trials rather than human studies, the impact of this ingredient appears to be wide-reaching. "Hericium erinaceus, or lion's mane, have a long history in Chinese medicine and Oriental medicine due to their myriad of nutritional benefits," notes Leah Johansen, M.D., staff physician at Lifeforce:
Stimulate brain cells.
Supporting brain health through your diet is not a new concept, and lion's mane mushrooms may actually be able to aid in keeping your mental function up to par. "Animal, test tube, and human studies have shown supplementation with lion's mane mushroom extract or powder may benefit brain health by stimulating growth of brain cells and nerve cells1 by protecting those cells from damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, boosting mental functioning, and promoting recovery from nervous system injuries," explains mbg Collective member and registered dietitian Jess Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN.
Support mental health.
Additionally, research has found that lion's mane extract helped reduce anxiety and depression in mice due to the anti-inflammatory impact it can have (more on that below).
Outside of the brain-boosting benefits of lion's mane mushrooms, there's also evidence that these fungi may also have anti-inflammatory properties4 that can support your entire body. "Researchers believe the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of lion's mane mushrooms may be part of how they work to benefit health, but more research is needed to further understand these mechanisms," notes Cording.
Support gut health.
When it comes to gut health, there are a wide range of foods and habits that you can follow to keep things on track. Now you can add lion's mane mushrooms to the list. "They are considered a 'functional food' and can act as a 'prebiotic,' supporting the gastrointestinal tract microbiota (gut flora) due to their beta-glucan polysaccharide component," explains Johansen.
More specifically, studies have shown that lion's mane mushrooms may be able to limit the growth of the bacteria H. pylori5, which is considered to be responsible for causing ulcers in the stomach. However, as of right now, this has only been seen in a test tube and not an actual stomach, so more research is needed.
How to use + dosage.
When it comes to incorporating this bold mushroom into your daily diet, the options are endless. "I like to sauté them in olive oil with some shallots and garlic," suggests Cording. "They also crisp up well and make a delicious soup or salad topper. You can also find it in some functional food products, like mushroom coffee.
Although there is no specific, set dosage for lion's mane mushrooms, Knudsen notes that they can safely be consumed in high quantities, particularly in mushroom extracts. "When extracts from the mushroom are incorporated into supplements, they are usually done so in high quantities, much higher than what you would get from consuming the whole mushroom," she explains.
With supplements, powder form is the most common. You can add it to coffee, tea, a smoothie, or soup. Just make sure you're heating them thoroughly, recommends Johansen. "You need to heat to release their nutritional benefits."
Of course, more research should be conducted before looking to lion's mane mushrooms as the ultimate solution for any health concern; however, there is enough promising evidence that this functional food can have a positive impact on your well-being from a nutritional standpoint.
Perfect to accompany any recipe that would incorporate mushrooms to begin with, cooking with lion's mane mushrooms is a great way to diversify your diet and add a range of nutrients to your meals that you may not get otherwise. Sauté them in your next stir fry, throw them into a pasta dish, or even add to any soup for a rich flavoring and the knowledge that you're fueling your body well.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.