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Lion’s Mane Mushroom Lookalikes: Picking the Right Mushroom

By November 2, 2022No Comments
Lion's Mane Mushroom Lookalikes: Picking the Right Mushroom cover

Did you know that the scientific name of the lion’s mane mushroom, Hericium erinaceus, literally translates to hedgehog in Latin?

This is because it’s thought to look like a faceless hedgehog.

Perhaps you might think this mushroom looks more like a lion’s mane, as it’s commonly referred to. Or do you think it looks more like a beard, or a monkey head, which are all names synonymous with Hericium erinaceus?

Today, we’ll delve deeper into the unique characteristics of lion’s mane mushroom and explain how there’s more to this fungi than the brain-supporting properties it’s known for. We’ll also explore:

  • Lion’s mane mushroom lookalikes
  • How to identify the real lion’s mane mushroom while foraging
  • Other sources for acquiring lion’s mane mushrooms
  • How to pick the right lion’s mane supplement for the first time

Two Lion’s Mane Mushroom Lookalikes

As mentioned earlier, Hericium means hedgehog in Latin. Mushrooms in the genus, including the lion’s mane mushroom, have icicle-like structures that resemble a hedgehog’s spines, making them easy to misidentify.

Other than Hericium erinaceus, mushrooms in the Hericium genus include:

  • Hericium americanum (Bear’s head tooth)
  • Hericium coralloides (Coral tooth fungus)

Features of Hericium Americanum – Bear’s Head Tooth

The bear head tooth fungus grows on living or dead hardwood species and softwood trees as well.

Bear's head tooth mushroom - Hericium americanum
Bear’s head tooth mushroom is one that can be easily mistaken for lion’s mane.

Hericium americanum has the following main features:

  • Clusters of branches bearing spines
  • Spines look like dripping candle wax
  • Up to a 12-inch wide fruiting body
  • Spines are between 1–4” long
  • It’s white when fresh but turns yellow as it ages.

Features of Hericium Coralloides – Coral Tooth

This mushroom is also known as the coral tooth fungus and bears a resemblance to a branched hard coral—hence the name.

Coral tooth mushroom is in the same family as lion’s mane. It can be distinguished by its similar appearance to branching coral.

Hericium coralloides has the following features:

  • Grows on hardwood species such as oak, silver maple, and sugar maple trees
  • White when fresh but turns tan as it matures
  • Fruiting body has multiple irregularly shaped branches of varying lengths
  • Branches fork off from the stem and from other branches
  • Short spines averaging ⅓” long grow from the branches

Now that we’ve learned about the two lion’s mane mushroom lookalikes, let’s explore how to identify the lion’s mane mushroom and what distinguishes it from these doppelgangers.

Identifying the Lion’s Mane Mushroom in the Wild

A freshly foraged lion’s mane mushroom. Found by Real Mushrooms team member, Sarah, high on a tree trunk in the Pacific Northwest.

The lion’s mane mushroom grows on decaying or live deciduous trees and can also be found on beech and oak trees. It appears widely throughout North America, Canada, Europe, and Asia.

This mushroom can be found on fallen logs or much higher on a living tree’s trunk. It’s a cool-weather mushroom and can be found in late summer and fall in North America or in winter and spring in warmer climates.

It has the following characteristics:

  • White while fresh but turns yellow as it matures
  • Large fruiting body of up to 16 inches in diameter
  • Rounded mass of icicle-like spines
  • Long spines of up to 2 inches long

Other Names for Lion’s Mane

Let’s now take a look at how all the other common names for H. eracineus describe its features.

  • Lion’s mane mushroom: While growing, its long spines look shaggy and resemble a lion’s mane.
  • Monkey head mushroom: Its large fruiting body and hair-like structures bundled together look like a monkey’s head.
  • Bearded tooth mushroom: The lion’s mane mushroom spines are also referred to as teeth, a mushroom structure unique to Hericiums. Bundled together, the teeth, which are longer than 1 inch, look like an old man’s beard.
  • Faceless hedgehog: When the lion’s mane mushroom is young, it is shaped like a snowball and its spines are relatively short. At this stage, it looks like a faceless hedgehog.
  • Pom pom mushroom: The round, shaggy look of lion’s mane resembles a cheerleader’s pom poms.

Key Distinguishing Characteristics and Differences Between Lion’s Mane Mushroom Lookalikes

The key identifying feature of the lion’s mane mushroom is its snowball-like shape, from which the spines emanate.

Both H. americanum and H. coralloides spines grow from branches that emerge from the stem or other branches. But, H. erinaceus doesn’t branch and its spines hang from a central stalk.

The following table highlights the differences between lion’s mane mushroom and its lookalikes.

Lion's Mane mushroom lookalikes table
The characteristic differences between lion’s mane mushroom and two of its primary lookalikes.

Expert tip: Though the genus name Hericium means hedgehog in Latin, only lion’s mane (H.erinaceus) is referred to as hedgehog mushrooms.

Note: There’s a completely separate mushroom known as the hedgehog mushroom that has a cap-and-stem mushroom shape with “teeth” instead of gills on its underside. However, this mushroom isn’t in the same family as the Hericium. It belongs to the Hydnaceae family instead. As a cousin of chanterelle mushrooms, it is likewise a delicious edible mushroom.

Hedgehog mushroom - hydnaceae
The hedgehog mushroom from the Hydnaceae family has teeth similar to those found on the lion’s mane mushroom.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Lookalikes Health Benefits

Fortunately, none of the lion’s mane mushrooms lookalikes are poisonous.

These three species in the Hericium genus are edible and they can be used for culinary purposes.

Nutritional Profile of Lion’s Mane and Its Lookalikes

Lion’s mane mushrooms are not only delicious but also have a rich nutritional profile, which makes them an ideal culinary mushroom.

Most people claim they have an earthy taste with a hint of seafood flavor, but apart from taste, what really matters is their nutritional value.

Like the other culinary functional mushrooms, such as shiitake and maitake, lion’s mane is an ideal source of protein, fiber, and other nutrients essential for a healthy diet [1].

Nutrition table - lion's mane mushrooms
The nutritional profile of lion’s mane mushroom. These mushrooms are naturally high in protein and fiber. They are also rich sources of antioxidants.

Comparative to lion’s mane mushroom (H. erinaceus), there is little research on the nutritional and medicinal properties of its lookalikes, H. coralloides and H. americanum. One exception concerns the antioxidant properties of these mushrooms. There is more than one study to confirm the high antioxidant content of H. coralloides and H. americanum [5,6]. In fact, one study found that H. coralloides has even higher levels of antioxidants than lion’s mane.

However, lion’s mane mushroom is the mushroom that has been extensively cultivated, so it is the Hericium mushroom that you can find and buy most easily. Take advantage of the accessibility of lion’s mane to tap into this rich source of antioxidants and nutrients.

SHOP LION'S MANE!

Brain-Supporting Properties of Hericium Mushrooms

Hericium mushrooms also contain compounds known as hericenones and erinacines [2]. The lion’s mane mushroom has been used extensively to study these compounds.

Studied effects of hericenones and erinacines:

  • Protect your body’s nerves and neurons [2]
  • Support healthy memory function
  • Shield your brain from the normal cognitive decline [3]
  • Support a positive mood and relieve oxidative stress [3]

So, are these lion’s mane mushroom benefits from the hericenones and erinacines interchangeable with the other mushrooms in the Hericium genus? There is very little research yet to guarantee that this is true.

However, one study identified compounds unique to H. coralloides that appear to have qualities that induce nerve growth and brain-derived neurotrophic factor [4]. The compounds in lion’s mane are similar and induce the same kinds of effects. Both these mushrooms’ compounds have implications for supporting brain and nervous system health. The study’s findings further support Hericium as a genus of mushroom that has brain-boosting properties.

Sources of Fresh Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Fortunately, foraging is not the only way to get fresh lion’s mane mushrooms because they are sold in grocery stores and farmers’ markets. You, however, have to ensure you buy organic mushrooms.

Mushrooms are very absorbent and will soak in pesticides and pollutants when grown inorganically. These chemicals are almost impossible to wash off once absorbed by the fungus, and you might end up ingesting them in your cooked lion’s mane mushrooms.

To ensure you buy organic fresh lion’s mane mushrooms, check food markets that sell organic foods.

If you’re in the United States, ensure that the mushroom packaging has an organic seal from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This proves that the mushrooms are organically farmed, have passed inspection, and were grown using natural processes.

Alt: fresh lion’s mane from grocery store with organic seal

If you can’t find fresh lion’s mane from grocery stores in your area, consider growing your own. You can easily order lion’s mane mushroom growing kits online.

Cooked vs. Extracted: Best Way to Take Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Organic lion's mane mushroom farm
Lion’s mane mushrooms growing at Real Mushrooms’ organic farm.

While adding fresh mushrooms to your diet is a good way to get their nutritional benefits, you won’t be getting all of the lion’s mane mushroom health benefits this way. Your body can’t absorb most of the active compounds from the cooked mushrooms.

Active compounds such as hericenones, erinacines, and beta-glucans are responsible for most of the lion’s mane mushroom health benefits, like its brain-boosting traits.

These compounds need to be extracted with the use of specific mushroom extraction processes suitable for lion’s mane.

Extract powders have a higher bioavailability of active compounds, which means your body gets all the benefits of these functional mushrooms.

However, you should exercise extra caution when you are buying a lion’s mane supplement since not all supplements are made equal.

Some are made from non-organic mushrooms, while others are made from mycelium (the “root system” of the mushroom). Using a mycelium-based supplement means you get more starch than health-benefiting compounds.

Consider the following while picking a lion’s mane supplement for the first time:

  • Is the supplement made from the mushroom (fruiting body)?
  • Does the product label indicate a beta-glucan content of at least 15%?
  • Are the supplements extracted using hot-water extraction?
  • Is the supplement organic and tested for purity?

This buying guide for lion’s mane mushroom powder extracts provides more details on why each of the above factors is crucial. Following it will ensure you get a lion’s mane powder extract that has the beneficial compounds you require to reap the lion’s mane’s broader health advantages.

SHOP LION'S MANE!

Boost Your Mental Focus and Clarity With Real Mushrooms’ Lion’s Mane Supplements

Real Mushrooms provides Organic Lion’s Mane Extracts in powder and capsule form.

We use the hot water extraction method to ensure our supplements have a high beta-glucan content of more than 25%. Beta-glucans are the primary compounds in mushrooms that account for most of their health benefits.

These qualities make our supplements the best on the market and efficient in boosting overall brain power, mental focus, and clarity.

lion's mane mushroom supplement for focus
Have you experienced the cognitive-enhancing effects of the Real Mushrooms lion’s mane mushroom supplement?

Order your first bottle of the Organic Lion’s Mane Extract Capsules, and enhance your brain power and memory.

More Articles About Lion’s Mane:

Resources

1. Vikineswary Sabaratnam, Wong Kah-Hui, Murali Naidu,and Pamela Rosie David (March, 2013). Neuronal health – Can culinary and medicinal mushrooms help? Retrieved Sep 2, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3924982/#ref4

2. Puei-Lene Lai, Murali Naidu, Vikineswary Sabaratnam, Kah-Hui Wong, Rosie Pamela David, Umah Rani Kuppusamy, Noorlidah Abdullah and Sri Nurestri A Malek ( June, 2013). Neurotrophic properties of the Lion’s mane medicinal mushroom, Hericium erinaceus (Higher Basidiomycetes) from Malaysia. International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. Retrieved Sep 1, 2022, from https://www.dl.begellhouse.com/journals/708ae68d64b17c52,034eeb045436a171,750a15ad12ae25e9.html

3. Spelman, K., Sutherland, E., & Bagade, A. (2018, December 6). Herbal Medicine for Alzheimer’s disease: Lion’s mane (hericium erinaceus). Restorative Medicine. Retrieved Sep 2, 2022, from https://restorativemedicine.org/journal/neurological-activity-lions-mane-hericium-erinaceus/#:~:text=In%20Chinese%20and%20Japanese%20medical,%2C%20general%20vigor%2C%20and%20strength

4. Wittstein, K., Rascher, M., Rupcic, Z., Löwen, E., Winter, B., Köster, R. W., & Stadler, M. (2016). Corallocins A-C, Nerve Growth and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Inducing Metabolites from the Mushroom Hericium coralloides. Journal of natural products, 79(9), 2264–2269. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jnatprod.6b00371

5. Atila, F. (2019). Comparative evaluation of the antioxidant potential of Hericium erinaceus, Hericium americanum and Hericium coralloides. Acta Scientiarum Polonorum. Hortorum Cultus, 18(6), 97-106.

6. Zhang, J., Zhang, J., Zhao, L., Shui, X., Wang, L. A., & Wu, Y. (2019). Antioxidant and anti-aging activities of ethyl acetate extract of the coral tooth mushroom, Hericium coralloides (Agaricomycetes). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, 21(6).

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