Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) isn’t your average medicinal mushroom. Most mushrooms are famous for their therapeutic effects on the immune system—this odd-looking fungus does more. Lion’s mane may boast brain-boosting abilities. The mushroom contains several bioactive compounds that may support a healthy brain and nervous system, making it a popular natural wellness supplement. But, the rising popularity of lion’s mane comes with a new challenge for consumers: an overwhelming selection of products. So, how do you distinguish treasure from fool’s gold? Here’s everything you need to know before you buy lion’s mane capsules.
Is Lion’s Mane a Nootropic?
Lion’s mane might be particularly good for your brain: The mushroom contains natural nootropics. Natural nootropics are complex classes of plants and fungi—and the compounds within them—that have potential brain-boosting abilities. Early research suggests that Lion’s Mane capsules may stimulate neuronal growth factor (NGF), which can encourage the growth of neurons in the brain.
The main active constituents of Lion’s Mane are erinacines and hericenones, natural compounds that come from the fruiting body and mycelium of H. erinaceus. These compounds promote neuronal growth factor synthesis. Hericenones and erinacines are small molecules that readily cross into the brain, allowing them to reach key regions. However, there are many more compounds in lion’s mane that may contribute to its effectiveness.
Early studies suggest that lion’s mane may promote healthy brain aging by:
- Reducing inflammation, which helps protect cells from damage.
- Mitigating the accumulation of beta-amyloid plaque. Beta-amyloid plaque is a protein plaque found in the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
The active components in lion’s mane reach the central nervous system (CNS)—the brain and the spinal cord—which is important to remember, The CNS is where cognitive function occurs—you know, all that heavy thinking. The CNS controls memory, processes sensory stimuli, and sends motor signals to your organs and muscles. Should early research prove correct, lion’s mane may improve brain fog and memory, reduce anxiety symptoms, promote relaxation, and protect the brain from everyday stressors.
Lion’s Mane Capsules Basics
Lion’s mane capsules often contain powdered mushroom and mycelia. Capsules are frequently combined with mushroom extracts to ensure appropriate amounts of active constituents such as phenols, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid. Be sure to review the ingredients of your capsules to ensure they contain both mycelium and fruiting bodies—each part of the fungus contains different bioactive compounds.
Mycelium is the vegetative component and the root-network structure; the web-like fibers that grow underground. Mycelia absorb nutrients from surrounding organic matter. In humans, lion’s mane mycelia may provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidative activity in the brain in animal and human studies.
Lion’s mane fruiting bodies also contain a host of beneficial compounds. (Fruiting body is the mycological term for mushroom, the above-ground portion of the fungus.) Although, lion’s mane doesn’t look like the typical mushroom: They’re covered in a soft shag like a lion’s mane. These unusual mushrooms contain several natural antioxidants, which may help your body recover from stress and damage from free radicals: carotenoids, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, and lycopene, to name a few. Fruiting bodies also have higher phenolic content. Phenols are antioxidative compounds that scavenge free radicals. Free radicals are volatile compounds that damage cells.
Lion’s Mane Capsules vs. Extract
Lion’s Mane supplements are often sold as capsules, powder, or liquid extract, otherwise known as tincture. Herbalists make an extract by soaking ground plant material in a solvent. A solvent like ethanol, an alcohol made from grain, or simply vodka, is often used. Soaking fungal material in a solvent pulls active constituents from the mushroom and creates an isolate of those constituents for ease of dosing or controlling for potency.
Sometimes, lion’s mane extracts are double-extracted. A double-extraction extracts the fungal material twice using two solvents: First with alcohol and then with boiling water. This secondary extraction pulls the water-soluble constituents that alcohol misses. These extracts (alcohol and water-based) are combined to deliver a broad-spectrum product.
Extracts are often sold in dark glass dropper bottles. If you are purchasing a large amount of lion’s mane extract, it is important not to store your extract in a dropper bottle. A dropper is a convenient tool for dosing but not for long-term storage. The dropper allows for loss of potency and evaporation over time. A large, dark glass bottle with an air-tight cap is best if storing extract for longer than a month.
Lion’s Mane Capsules vs. Powder
The content within the lion’s mane capsule is the same as powder. Powder is made of ground fruiting bodies, mycelium, and comes in larger quantities in containers like a plastic tub. Lion’s Mane powder is easy to add to food or drinks. The bulk format may be more cost-efficient than capsules.
Powders can contain lion’s mane alone. Yet, many powders are ingredient mixtures marketed to deliver specific benefits, like Memory-Boost or Stress Relief. Before you buy a lion’s mane mixture, check ingredients for things like caffeine, which may be stimulative and keep you up at night. It’s also essential to check for allergenic ingredients.
Lion’s Mane Capsule Benefits
Lion’s Mane capsules are convenient, easily portable, and come pre-measured. Capsules can also be opened up and added to food or drinks. Lion’s mane is a popular edible mushroom with a relatively mild taste. Still, the flavor may be an issue for some. Capsules offer a way to get your daily dose without tasting anything.
Lion’s Mane Capsule Side Effects
Generally, Lion’s Mane capsules are highly tolerable and have few side effects. However, those with a mushroom allergy may experience side effects such as skin rash, difficulty breathing, or stomach complaints. Those with blood clotting or bruising concerns may need to consult their doctor: hericenone may influence the blood’s ability to form clots. Take caution upon impending surgery or consult with your physician.
How to Take Lion’s Mane Capsules
Lion’s Mane capsules can be taken daily with water. Most dosages range from 250-750 milligrams; it is not recommended to exceed one gram per day. Lion’s Mane is safe to take with or without food. Studies show that daily oral consumption of Lion’s Mane may decrease neurodegenerative potential. The mushroom may improve nervous system health by promoting the growth of new brain cells. Taking consistent doses for consistent periods may help.
As with any supplement, starting with the lowest dose possible is best. Then, explore how your body tolerates the supplement, and ramp up from there. Lion’s mane is not a quick fix: The benefits of this mushroom come over time. Tracking your results in a journal or a notes app may help you assess your progress and whether or not the lion’s mane is working. Take note of your mental clarity—Are you feeling more relaxed? Do you have more focus throughout the day?
How to Find the Best Lion’s Mane Mushroom Capsules
A trusted source is key to quality with lion’s mane. Purchase capsules from an herbal supplier you already know and trust, or get a referral from a friend. Many experts in the field of mycology carry their own products. Starting with a lion’s-mane-only product instead of one with many ingredients may help you track your results with the mushroom.
Finally, before buying lion’s mane capsules, consider what’s important to you: Do you want a non-GMO product? A product made sustainably? Is it certified organic? Vegan? Where and how are the ingredients sourced? Always read the label before you buy.
Where to Buy Lion’s Mane Mushroom Capsules
You can buy lion’s mane capsules online and in-store. Online may be easiest because you can find product and brand information quickly and easily on the website, order it, and have it shipped directly to you. However, an expert at your local apothecary or herbal store may help you find the right product for your needs. A trusted herbalist can also point you to brands they like, or they may sell a brand that suits your needs.
How to Make Lion’s Mane Mushroom Capsules
Making your own Lion’s Mane capsules depends on how involved you want to be in the creation process. Here are a few options:
- Purchase Lion’s Mane powder from a brand you trust and fill your own empty capsules. Consider vegan or gelatin capsules.
- Dehydrate fresh lion’s mane mushroom, grind, and fill empty capsules. Dehydrating can be done in a dehydrator or your oven at very low temperatures.
- Purchase a pill filler that holds trays that seat several empty capsules. Fill with powdered lion’s mane. A top tray will house the empty side of the capsule, and the lid closes over the filled capsule and closes up the capsules.
We started DoubleBlind two years ago at a time when even the largest magazines and media companies were cutting staff and going out of business. At the time we made a commitment: we will never have a paywall, we will never rely on advertisers we don’t believe in to fund our reporting, and we will always be accessible via email and social media to support people for free on their journeys with plant medicines.
To help us do this, if you feel called and can afford it, we ask you to consider becoming a monthly member and supporting our work. In exchange, you'll receive a subscription to our print magazine, monthly calls with leading psychedelic experts, access to our psychedelic community, and much more.