Three Names for this Unique Mushroom, and Three Reasons to Add it to Your Diet
We’re all familiar with the white button or portobello mushrooms sold in stores everywhere.
But what about the more unique varieties with memorable names, like the Monkey Head mushroom? This fungus is known by several different labels, and it’s worth remembering them all. That’s because many health benefits make it worth adding to your favorite recipe.
Let’s take a look at the different aspects of this special fungus.
What Should You Call This Mushroom?
The mushroom classified by the genus Hericium Erinaceus is known by several different names. You can call it whatever you like, but here are the most common terms:
1. Monkey Head Mushroom: When it is sold in its dried form, the mushroom resembles a monkey’s head. It also “bears” a resemblance to another animal, so it’s sometimes called a Bear’s Head. Some people even call it the Pom-Pom mushroom. These different names are based on the fact that they look bulbous, furry, or resemble a small bath sponge or loofah.
2. Lion’s Mane Mushroom: When fresh, these edible mushrooms are white and fleshy and the fruiting bodies resemble a mass of icicle-like spines. Those drooping spines are what cause people to call it the Lion’s Mane.
3. Bearded Tooth mushroom: This fungus belongs to the genus of mushrooms called bearded tooth, part of the family known as Hericiaceae. The tooth fungi are so named because they produce spores on tooth-like projections.
Why Is This Mushroom Good For You?
Whatever you choose to call the Hericium Erinaceus, you should find it easy to remember the health benefits it can provide. It has been used to treat cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s because it contains compounds that may stimulate the growth of brain cells, and it may help to protect against memory loss.
Here’s a brief look at three health benefits provided by the Monkey Head Mushroom, Lion’s Mane Mushroom, or Bearded Tooth Mushroom:
1. Treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, the principal cause of dementia: The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease increases with age, and it has been found that altered antioxidant systems and inflammation play a role in these types of neurodegenerative disorders. Researchers studying this mushroom have found that its extract has “protective effects on behavioral alteration” associated with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as regulating cellular brain stress. Another study concluded that the extract could protect and repair the brain cells, and therefore “has great potential as a raw material for neuroprotective health products.”
2. Treatment of depression: studies have shown the potential benefits of Hericium erinaceus as a treatment for depressive disorder. Its antidepressant-like activities mean it could play a potential role as a complementary and alternative medicine for the treatment of depression.
3. Prevention of deterioration following brain injury: Researchers found that Hericium erinaceus and Coriolus versicolor (or turkey tail mushroom) could be used as nutritional products for the prevention of neurodegeneration that follows traumatic brain injury, which can lead to Parkinson’s disease.
The Lion’s mane mushroom has also been shown to provide the following health benefits:
- Antioxidative effects
- Antidiabetic effects
- Anticancer effects
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Provide benefits to the digestive tract
There are also indications that it can help shrink the size of colon tumors, fight off leukemia cells, and help prevent heart disease.
Where Can You Find This Mushroom?
The Monkey Head or Lion’s Mane mushroom is native to North America, Asia and Europe. They are typically found on hardwoods, growing in a single clump of dangling spines. In the wild, these mushrooms are common during late summer and fall.
Monkey Head mushrooms are usually considered saprophytic, meaning they feed on dead and decaying wood, helping to speed the decomposition of the plant and breaking it down to convert it into nutrients. But the Monkey Head can also be found on living trees, so it could also be endophytic or parasitic.
Foragers sometimes mistake them for other species of Hericium, which means hedgehog in Latin, such as the coral spine fungus found in Europe. While Lion’s Mane doesn’t have any poisonous mushrooms that look similar to it, you still need to be cautious with any mushroom you find if you’re foraging in the wild. Consult a local expert or make sure you know exactly what you’ve found before you eat a mushroom that grows in the wild.
How to Cook This Unique Mushroom
What does Monkey Head or Lion’s Mane taste like? The flavor and texture of Lion’s Mane is sometimes described as similar to lobster meat: meaty and stringy, with a sweet and savory taste. It also means it’s great as the basis of a meal, rather than as part of a complex recipe that may hide the flavor.
This mushroom is also extremely absorbent, so you may not want to add it to a dish like soup or stew. Of course, some people like to dehydrate them to preserve them and then do just that: throw them in a soup.
For your first-time cooking, you can simply saute them with butter or oil, or use them in a recipe instead of a more common mushroom like a button or cremini mushroom. Lion’s Mane can be used in risotto, for instance, or in a stir-fry.
Another unique way to use them is in “crab cakes,” using the Lion’s Mane in place of crab meat. Their flavor and texture make them ideal as a replacement for meat in vegetarian and vegan recipe variations. Some cooks even use them as a pork substitute, shredded into a “pulled pork” sandwich, or cooked into a vegan sweet and sour “pork” recipe.
If you prefer not to eat Lion’s Mane, but you still want to access the health benefits, you can also purchase capsules, powders or extracts.
Mushrooms are a powerful and healthy addition to your diet, and a wide variety of mushrooms can keep your recipe choice varied and interesting.
The Hericium erinaceus goes by several names, including Monkey’s Head mushroom. Now that you know the three most common names and at least three health benefits it can provide, you can search out the Lion’s Mane mushroom and add it to your grocery cart on your next trip to the store.