This beautiful mushroom, also called Yamabushitake (Latin name Hericium erinaceus) is well deserving of it’s hype as a powerful nootropic.
While many supplements do exists, Lion’s Mane is also an edible mushroom and can be found at Asian supermarkets, farmers markets and sometimes I’ll find it at my local health food store (ex. New Season) here in Portland, OR.
What is a nootropic?
Nootropics are “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers that are drugs, supplements and other substances that may improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation.
While all edible mushrooms do contain immune supportive beta glucans in varying concentrations, Lion’s Mane’s specialty is it’s affinity with the nervous system. Nervous system health (or lack thereof) is associated with age-related cognitive decline, memory, mood and feelings of mental sharpness. And these are the areas where Lion’s Mane shines.
Mood and Depression
So about this year so far…I think that we are all reevaluating out mental space and can hopefully give more time and energy to those areas of our life that bring true fulfillment while minimizing areas that do not. Suffice to say, safe and healthy methods to boost mood are needed.
A 2019 study (here) shows promising research for therapeutic use of Lions Mane for depression, stating “It has been used to treat cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Bioactive compounds extracted from the mycelia and fruiting bodies of H. erinaceus have been found to promote the expression of neurotrophic factors that are associated with cell proliferation such as nerve growth factors. … H. erinaceus may be a potential alternative medicine for the treatment of depression.”
Another study (here) also shows a reduction in both depression and anxiety in people taking Lion’s Mane for four weeks (compared to a placebo).
These uses correlate well with traditional uses of this mushroom, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are also used frequently in Japan and Korea as both a food and as medicine for a wide range of complaints.
Mental Clarity, Focus and Memory
We all want to be sharp. One way that Lion’s Mane may promote mental acuity is by stimulating nerve growth factor. There are promising animal trials (here) as well as human studies. This study shows promising results for age-related cognitive impairment and memory in older adults. Another recent pilot study shows encouraging data with possible prevention of Early Alzheimer’s.
One area of interest that I think that will be explored more is if the combination of nerve-supportive properties of Lion’s Mane is further enhanced because of it’s immune balancing properties, since calming an overactive immune system may lower general inflammation (along with it’s high antioxidants content). This is more of my own Herbalist brain trying to connect dots, but there is a lot of exciting research on the horizon!
Lion’s Mane is native to North America, Europe and Asia, though I’d suggest finding a sustainable source or growing them at home to use. When eating mushrooms, don’t forget to cook them or process to get past their sturdy cell walls and access all their healthy goodness!