Lion's Mane Mushrooms
Dried & Soaked Lion's Head Mushrooms [Pom Pom Mushroom, Bearded Tooth Mushroom, Satyr's Beard, Bearded Hedgehog Mushroom; Hóu Tóu Gu (China, lit. "monkey head mushroom"); Yamabushitake (Japan, lit. "mountain priest mushroom"); Nam Dau Khi (Viet, lit. "monkey head mushroom"); Norugongdengi-beoseot (Korea, lit. "Deertail Mushroom"); Hericium erinaceus]

These mushroom, native to temperate zones of North America, Europe and Asia, are edible and highly medicinal. They are under study for treatment of a number of serious conditions, including some cancers, Alzheimer's and nerve damage. They grow on hardwood trees, especially Beech, as irregular spheres with no stem, covered with long thin soft spines. Fruiting bodies are are rather rare in the wild, and are Red Listed in much of Europe, but are amazingly easy to produce in cultivation.

They are grown commercially on sterilized sawdust logs and similar substrates and harvested young, when the spines are still short. The largest of the photo specimens was 2.7 inches wide and weighed 0.32 ounces (9 gms). The soaked one was much like the dried one in the lower right in size and appearance. It weighed 0.18 ounces (5 gms), and after soaking and wringing out weighed 1 ounce (28 grams).

More on Mushrooms.

Living Lion's Head Mushrooms
Cut Soaked Lion's Head Mushroom To the far left is a mature living specimen growing on a tree. The spines are for spore production, but commercially they are cloned from particularly good specimens.   Photo by SKas distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

To the near left is the soaked specimen from the photo above cut in half to show internal detail. These mushrooms are of considerable culinary interest in China. In the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine they sometimes replace pork in recipes.

Their mild sweet taste is said to make them suitable to replace lobster in recipes. Now the flavor is intriguing, but I'm not about to tell you they taste much like lobster. They are quite spongy and absorb a lot of water, so absorb a lot of flavor from the recipe if you wring them out before adding them. They are a little tough, though, especially near the attachment point, so are best cooked sliced fairly thin.

Buying:   These are fairly popular in Asia, so are available in some of the larger Asian markets here in Los Angeles, at around 2016 US $1.28 / ounce.

Storing:   Dried and kept in a sealed container, they should last at least a year, though their medicinal properties may decline (data deficient).

Prep:   Soak for about 30 minutes in warm water. Wring them out after slicing if you want them to pick up a lot of flavor from the recipe. Of course, the recipe must have enough liquid for them to absorb.

Cooking:   The recommendation of North American mushroom hunters is to wring them out dry, then sauté in butter with some garlic until lightly browned around the edges. In China they are used mainly in soups, where they are prized as a textural element. They are also used in a vegetarian mixed mushroom stir fry.

Health & Nutrition   This mushroom is about 20% protein and is safe to eat, as are its near relatives. It has many medicinal factors - the most studied are its ability to protect and help regenerate damaged nerves. It also appears to be useful in cases of Alzheimer's disease and other neuro degenerative situations - but dosage must be continued as the effect fades in a few weeks. It has also shown effectiveness as a mood improver for women suffering from PMS, and is probably effective against some cancers. This is looking to be a very useful mushroom, particularly in that it's so easy to cultivate.

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