Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus) in the wild is either beautiful or troubling to look at, depending on your perspective. That outgrowth you can't help but notice on your nature walk? As you draw closer it looks like a beautiful fountain, frozen mid-cascade, or a white hemisphere of what appears to be finely combed hair. No, this isn't a daydream - that is a Lion's Mane mushroom; the gorgeous fashion-plate fungus that looks down on the merely gilled mushrooms that surround it in the wild. Lion’s Mane is found bulging from the sides of decaying and fallen hardwood trees throughout the Northern United States and Canada. It is something to see, and unmistakable. In a horror-movie, the stuff would detach from the rotting trunk, fly through the air and cling hideously to your back. In real life, fortunately, Lion’s Mane fungus is better than benign—it may hold the answers to questions that have been vexing brain researchers for decades. You can even fry it up, eat its dense meat like a delicious fungal steak, and send its biochemical magic down the gullet to roam the interior where it will amiably, but determinedly, police your cellular neighborhoods.
Though Lion's mane has been a medicinal and culinary staple in the Eastern traditional medicine for several thousand years, Western science is just now catching up with traditional user experience—catching up in a jiffy, it must be said. For once Lion’s Mane began to yield up its secret medicinal identity in controlled studies, western science begun plumbing its depths in avid earnest. Clinically reported health-related properties of the mushroom include antibiotic, antisenescence (anti-dementia, that is), cardioprotective, hepatoprotective (liver-loving), anticarcinogenic, antidiabetic, antifatigue, antihypertensive, antihyperlipodemic ("bad" cholesterol-whipping), nephroprotective (kidney-kindness), and, notably, its neuroprotective (brain food!) properties. Research is being done on this unusually potent fungus across a wide range of study areas. So far about 70 bioactive metabolites inherent to Lion’s Mane are being pursued for their possible roles in battling progressive neurological diseases. Yes, the scientists are all over this one. To our common benefit.
Traditional Asian culture has long made manifold use of the Lion's Mane as an ulcer-fighting, stamina-gifting, cancer-battling, immune system-buffing, mind-sharpening superfood (though they would not have phrased it that way). Today, Lion's Mane is under the modern microscope for everything from Alzheimer's research to cancer therapy studies. Which is to say, this Lion has been making noise for several millennia, to those who had ears to hear. Now that modern Western science is paying scrupulous attention to all that this weird-looking new partner-in-healing has to offer, the music of nature's salving roar is can be heard in the distance. May we open our hearts, cells, and minds to nature’s pharmacopeia. It really is time, isn’t it?
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