Lion’s mane is the common name given to a number of mushrooms in the Hercium genus, namely H. erinaceus, H. americanum and H. coralloides. All three species are edible and taste slightly similar to shellfish. They also grow in similar habitats around the world. So, from a cultivation and culinary perspective, they can almost be considered as interchangeable. However many mycologists consider H. erinaceus to be the true lion’s mane mushroom, so this article will mostly focus mostly on this species.
What is Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
H. erinaceus was first documented in 1797 by French physician and botanist, Jean Baptiste François Pierre Bulliard, who named the fungus after the Latin name for hedgehog. In most languages, the common name usually makes some reference to the many beautiful long white spines that dangle below the fruiting body and release the mushroom’s spores. The Japanese name Yamabushitake (mountain priest mushroom) refers to the pom poms found on the clothing of solitary Buddist mountain priests. In Chinese, the mushroom is often referred to as Shishigashira, which translates to lion’s head.
Lion’s mane is found mostly in the northern hemisphere, most commonly in North America, Europe, Japan, and China. The mycelium grows on both dead and living hardwood trees, mostly on old oak or beech, where it produces mushrooms from late summer to early fall (though this may extend into winter and spring in warmer regions). Wherever it grows, lion’s mane may not fruit reliably every year, and its rarity in some countries has led to it becoming legally protected from harvesting, to encourage its growth.
As well as being delicious, lion’s mane also contains a biochemical cocktail of compounds that are attracting emerging interest from the medical community. These include β-glucans, hericenones, and erinacines, which are compounds of therapeutic interest for diseases like dementia, diabetes, and cancer, as well as conditions like inflammation and skin aging.
How to Grow Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Like many other fungi, lion’s mane mycelium easily grows on cereal grains like rye, wheat, and millet. Though lion’s mane mushrooms rapidly emerge from colonized grain, it’s predominantly a wood-loving fungus, so a bulk substrate with a high proportion of wood can really improve yields. Supplementing woody bulk substrate bags with extra nutrients, like bran or soybean hulls, can also help boost your crop.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Growth Stages
Despite its unusual appearance, Lion’s Mane follows a similar growth cycle to most commonly cultivated mushrooms. Spores released from mature mushrooms germinate into mycelium, which spreads out through the substrate in its search for nutrients. Once the available substrate runs out and environmental conditions are suitable, the mycelium bunches up in small clumps to form hyphal knots, followed by denser clumps of fungal tissue called primordia, which then go on to turn into the fruiting body—or what most people call mushrooms. As these mushrooms mature, they release the spores and the cycle begins again.
Lion’s mane can be white, pink, yellow, or brown depending on different growth and environmental factors. While a white color is most common, pink lion’s mane tends to grow at lower temperatures or when the mushrooms are exposed to direct sunlight. Mushrooms can turn brown or yellow as they become overripe, or if the humidity drops over the fruiting period.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Grow Kit
Cultivators face unique challenges when growing lion’s mane mushrooms. Lion’s mane has high moisture content and is a very delicate mushroom, particularly compared to other gourmet species like oysters, shiitake, or hen of the woods. As such, lion’s mane is much harder to find at your local grocers or farmers’ market; they are easily damaged in transit from farm to table. So, growing lion’s mane yourself may be the best way to access high-quality, delicious mushrooms for home cooking or do-it-yourself herbal supplements.
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- Lion’s mane spore- or liquid culture syringe
- Sterile grain jars
- Sterile bulk substrate bags of hardwood sawdust, up to 50% supplemented by dry weight with bran or soybean hulls
- Still air box
- Fruiting chamber
Unlike other homegrown mushroom species such as oysters or Psilocybe cubensis, lion’s mane prefers wood-based bulk substrates such as hardwood sawdust, which can be supplemented with additional nutrients like wheat bran or soya hulls. This supplemented substrate has a high nutrient content and lacks the beneficial bacteria found in coir or manure, so must be sterilized to prevent contamination.
Lion’s mane is easily grown indoors, using the standard equipment you’d use for any home mushroom grow. If you live in an area that’s suitable for outdoor mushroom growing, lion’s mane can also be grown in a damp, shady spot in your garden.
Growing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Indoors
Growing lion’s mane indoors follows many of the same steps of any typical mushroom grow. Yet, prior to starting, there is one important factor to note: Cleanliness is paramount when growing lion’s mane mushrooms indoors. Sterilizing your equipment and your workspace prior to spawning and fruiting mushrooms will help keep you and your mushrooms healthy as you cultivate. We cover sterilization in more detail in our How to Grow Mushrooms Course. Nevertheless, here are the basic steps to growing lion’s mane indoors:
Step 1 – Inoculation: Sterile grain jars are inoculated with spores or liquid culture, inside a still air box to minimize the risk of contamination.
Step 2 – Incubation: The grain jars are then incubated until filled with wispy white lion’s mane mycelium. Using a still air box, a small amount of colonized grain is then added to each sterile bulk substrate bag, before sealing and incubating once more.
Step 3 – Fruiting: Once your bags are colonized you can punch a few small holes in each one, then put them in your fruiting chamber (such as a shotgun fruiting chamber or Martha closet).
If you get your temperature, humidity, and fresh air exchange right, you can expect to be harvesting tasty fresh lion’s mane about a month after inoculation.
Growing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms Outdoors
If you live in an area where lion’s mane grows naturally, then an outdoor grow might be a good choice, especially if you have limited space indoors. When choosing a species to grow, do some research into which species grow most abundantly in your local area. If H. erinaceus doesn’t grow near where you live, check for similar edible species such as H. americanum or H. coralloides instead.
It is worth noting that due to its rarity, lion’s mane is a protected species in some regions of the world, with specific laws that may prevent harvesting. While it’s normally recommended that you source mycelial cultures from locally abundant species, legal restrictions on picking may make cloning wild specimens difficult. Such restrictions may not extend to spore collection, however, so you may be able to collect spores from wild specimens and purify cultures on agar (or buy from a trusted vendor who has done the same).
To grow lion’s mane outside, simply follow the same indoor growing process above, but place your bulk substrates outdoors when it’s ready to fruit. A humid and shady spot in your garden is perfect, though a bit of extra misting from a spray bottle will help encourage mushroom growth during dry spells.
Growing Lion’s Mane Mushrooms on Logs
As a wood-loving edible species, lion’s mane can also be grown on hardwood logs from trees like beech, maple, or oak. Growing on logs can take a little extra time and effort, but the results can be very rewarding. It’s best to use freshly cut logs, no older than about three months, to ensure they’re not too dry. If you live in an area where lion’s mane grows natively, it’s best to inoculate your logs during the wetter seasons of autumn and winter to give your logs plenty of moisture to help out the growing mycelium.
- A selection of hardwood logs, cut to manageable sizes
- Hardwood dowels colonized with lion’s mane mycelium, or colonized sawdust spawn and log inoculation tool
- A drill and drill bit the same size as your dowels or inoculation tool
- Food grade wax, such as beeswax or soya wax
- Paintbrush or cotton dauber
Step 1 – Inoculation: Drill a series of holes around a few inches apart, evenly across each log. Hammer in your colonized hardwood dowels, or fill each hole with sawdust spawn using your inoculation tool. Melt your wax (in an old tin can or crock pot), then paint each hole to seal it from bugs. Paint each cut end of the log with wax to keep in the moisture.
Step 2 – Incubation: Stack your logs somewhere shady, cool and damp to allow the mycelium to run through the wood. This can take up to a year or two, and it’s important to keep your logs hydrated throughout dry spells.
Step 3 – Fruiting: It can take a year or two for logs to start fruiting, depending on a range of environmental factors. Logs can either be left in place to begin fruiting, or stacked in ways to increase airflow and make harvesting easier. If you have a few logs you can try different configurations to see what works best, but keep them out of direct sunlight and well-watered to increase the chances of a bumper crop.
When to Pick Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Most growers like to pick lion’s mane while it’s still white and the teeth have become visible; they look like tight little pom-poms or clouds from a distance. If you leave lion’s mane mushrooms too long, they can start to turn golden brown and take on a shaggy appearance. This change in color and appearance indicates a lower quality, in terms of both taste and texture.
How to Harvest Lion’s Mane Mushroom
Lion’s mane can be easily harvested with a sharp knife, by cutting the mushroom off at the base, where it first emerged from the substrate. After harvesting, handle them carefully as they can bruise and begin to look less appealing to eat. However, if you do knock these mushrooms around a bit, don’t worry—they’re still perfectly safe to eat.