Hericium erinaceus, or Lion's mane mushroom, is a potent medicinal fungus(1) and a culinary delight. Some people enjoy the challenge of going to the forest and bringing back wild Lion's mane mushrooms.
But the catch is you've never seen them before! So what do these mushrooms look like? Or smell like? And are there any Lion's mane look-alikes that might confuse your foraging? These are just some obvious questions that could run through your mind when planning your Lion's mane foraging for the first time.
Lion's mane mushroom is a distinct shaggy-looking mushroom that resembles a Lion's mane! In this guide, we will get down to the nitty-gritty to help you understand the mane mushroom.
This article will guide you on the correct Lion's mane identification and distinguishing wild poisonous Lion's mane mushroom look-alikes. Let's get those foraging baskets out!
Lion's Mane Mushroom Identification
One of the most important things to understand before foraging wild mushrooms is to know how to identify Lion's mane mushrooms.
We will explore the critical features of Lion's mane mushrooms below and give tips on distinguishing the mushroom from other look-alikes.
What Does A Lion's Mane Mushroom Look Like?
Lion's mane mushrooms have an unmistakable long white shaggy spine, hence the name of Lion's mane. The spines can also be compared to icicle-like teeth.
One of the best edible mushrooms, you'll often find them growing on dead logs in the woods in late summer or fall in North America or Canada. Lion's mane mushrooms grow on birch, beech, walnut, and maple trees. The delicious edible mushroom is a globe-shaped fungus.
Read More: Learn about the health benefits of Lion's mane that prompt foraging.
When trying to find Lion's mane mushrooms, you should know that the younger versions look different from the matured bearded tooth mushroom. The spine or tooth is relatively short when the mushroom is young, which can grow up to two inches long by the time the mushroom hits maturity.
The mushroom mainly consists of a mane, and a small, bulbous little body is revealed when you open it. When Lion's mane is fully grown and intact, each can be nearly as large as a dinner plate. This suggests that a Lion's mane that has gone through its growth process can easily prepare a full meal for you.
Read More: Planning to turn raw Lion's mane into a meal? You can use our detailed Lion's mane mushroom recipes.
The mane of the mushroom is generally white—for this reason, when mushroom foraging, stick to closely observing white mushrooms. However, it may sometimes be tinged with pink or yellow.
Some of Lion's mane medicinal mushrooms may even start with a tinge of pink before changing to white in time. When a Lion's mane mushroom is past its prime and has "lost its roar," it will turn entirely yellow.
Eventually, the mushroom will discolor to a faded orange color. It would help if you tried to avoid wild mushrooms that have grown beyond their usual recommended age of consumption.
Read More: For maximum health benefits, you need to eat Lion's mane of the highest quality. Learn what to look for when buying Lion's mane mushrooms.
The aroma does not help identify Lion's mane mushroom as it has a relatively bland smell. Moreover, not everyone agrees on what it smells like.
When cooked, this mushroom tends to have a sea-food-like flavor.
It is important to note that you do not have to rely on the raw mushroom to enjoy the benefits of Lion's mane. For people who do not have the time to go out and collect the functional mushroom in the forest, Lion's mane mushroom organic powder can be a solution.
What Are Lion's Mane Look-Alikes?
One good thing about Hericium erinaceus is that there are no Lion's mane poisonous look-alikes. That is why this mushroom is perfect for first-time foragers. Lion's mane mushroom is one of the safest wild mushrooms to forage and consume.
Even if you bring the mushroom's look-alike after finding it on the decay sitting on an oak tree, you won't have to worry about negative effects. While some of Lion's mane look-alikes may cause some discomfort, this discomfort should not last long.
That being said, you need to keep an eye on two other related mushrooms:
- Hericium coralloides (also known as coral tooth fungi).
- Hericium americanum (or bear's head tooth fungus).
These are the only other mushrooms that may appear similar to Lion's mane mushrooms.
So, here's how you can distinguish these three Hericium mushrooms.
Its short (about 1 cm in length) spines that hang in rows in delicate branches separate Hericium Coralloides from Hericium Erinaceus. They sometimes form huge patches that can be seen from afar.
The mushrooms can be found in late summer and fall or over winter and in spring in warmer climates. H. coralloides are widely distributed across North America.
This is the only Hericium species combining long spines with a branched fruiting body. They can be found in late summer and fall, and most tend to grow on evergreens, especially Douglas firs. They are also sometimes on the wood of conifers.
Hericium Erinaceus (Lion's Mane)
Mature mushrooms do not branch, and the spines form a compact mass. The manes are round and bulbous.
What Mushrooms Should You Avoid When Foraging Lion's Mane?
Remember that not all mushrooms are edible. Below, we will look at several mushrooms that you should avoid consuming:
1. Toadstool Mushroom
Toadstool mushrooms are generally red and feature a cap and a standing stalk. These mushrooms usually grow in soil with decaying matter or on a decaying log.
While these mushrooms may be confused with other varieties, they are generally considered unhealthy for consumption—the mushrooms are poisonous.
2. Destroying Angel
You will also see the destroying angel when you look for the wild Lion's mane. Closely related to the death cap mushroom, the destroying angel is one of the most toxic mushrooms you will encounter.
Read More: Learn why more people are using Lion's mane pre-workout.
The destroying angel mushroom features a ring on its stalk and a big saclike cup that sits around the base of the mushroom. The mushroom generally boasts a curved to flat cap and may feature central swelling, a smooth margin, and a smooth texture that tends to turn sticky when wet. The mushroom is generally white.
This mushroom has earned its name of "destroying angel" because of its high toxicity levels. In addition, the mushroom may feature symptoms of poisoning that appear 6 to 24 hours after consumption.
The Missouri Department of Conservation(2) indicates that these symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps. Later, the symptoms may lead to liver and kidney damage and even death. In addition, research shows that animals, including livestock and pets, are not immune to the toxins in the mushroom.
3. Death Cap
Another mushroom you may come across when you are out looking for Lion's mane for brain fog, Death Cap, is another deadly mushroom that you should avoid. These mushrooms are highly poisonous and can easily lead to kidney damage and liver failure, and if not treated quickly, the mushrooms can cause death.
This mushroom is often yellowish and pale, with a huge cap and some skirting. Often considered the honey mushroom, the death cap has a faint, sweet smell.
4. False Morel
While people may eat the false morel (often called gyromitra ), it has to be dried and boiled before eating. The mushroom is poisonous and can be fatal if eaten without the proper preparation.
The mushroom carries a poison known as gyromitrin that can be dangerous when it is not cooked. When cooked, the mushroom can be hazardous, but only when consumed in large quantities.
Read More: Wondering how much Lion's mane you should consume? Read our detailed Lion's mane dosage guide.
These mushrooms appear in the summer and spring, growing directly on the ground in areas with enough water or moisture. The mushroom caps are reddish-brown, brown, and sometimes yellow.
The mushrooms can be wrinkled, rigged, wavy, or even smooth. The cap tends to have an irregular shape and looks like it has been stepped on.
5. Panther Cap
The panther cap has an ochre-brown cap that features remnants of a veil that forms on the mushroom due to patches of white on the cap. The mushroom's white and brown spotted appearance gives the mushroom the name panther cap—the mushroom resembles the panther's coat.
The panther cap is not considered an edible mushroom as it has been associated with a wide range of poisoning. Therefore, avoid a panther cap when looking for Lion's mane to take before bed.
Is Hericium Erinaceus The Same As Lion's Mane Mushrooms?
Hericium erinaceus is the Latin genus name for Lion's mane mushroom, which translates to "hedgehog" in Latin. This means that the medicinal properties of Hericium Erinaceus are precisely the same as those of Lion's mane mushrooms
The mushroom is also known by several other names, such as mountain-priest mushroom, bearded tooth fungus, yamabushitake, and Igel-Stachelbart.
Are There Poisonous Wild Mushrooms That Look Like Lion's Mane?
If you are worried about toxic look-alikes of Lion's mane mushrooms, the good news is that there aren't any. While other Hericium species and Hericium genus may not have the same benefits as Hericium erinaceus—like promoting the production of the nerve growth factor—they tend to have a seafood-like flavor and may not cause any side effects.
Why Does My Lions Mane Look Like Cauliflower?
If your Lion's mane mushroom looks like a cauliflower, this is a classic symptom of a mushroom growing in an oxygen-deprived environment. However, if you increase the oxygen when growing Lion's mane, the structure of your Lion's mane mushroom will improve.
Lion's mane is easy to spot in the wild. They are white pom-pom-like shaggy mushrooms found on dead hardwood trees.
There are no poisonous Lion's mane look-alikes. This means that you can hunt for the mushroom without worrying about the side effects of taking the wrong mushroom.
Have you foraged for Lion's mane before? What was your experience? Let us know your experience in the comments.
- Chemistry, Nutrition, and Health-Promoting Properties of Hericium erinaceus (Lion's Mane) Mushroom Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia and Their Bioactive Compounds, (1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26244378/
- Destroying Angel, (2) https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/destroying-angel