Hericium erinaceus, known also as lion’s mane mushroom or monkey head mushroom, is an edible mushroom native to North America, Europe and Asia. This particular mushroom isn’t just fascinating for its look, characterized by long and white spines, but also thanks to its healthy properties demonstrated by scientific studies.
This mushroom is indeed antioxidant, it is able to stimulate the immune system but shows also a neuroprotective effect connected to the enhance of a protein, NGF or nerve growth factor, that plays a pivotal role in neuron survival and in the brain plasticity, namely the ability to evolve and change in response to external stimuli (Sheng et al, Food Funct, Mar 2017 – Hou et al, Mol Med Rep, May 2015). Nowadays (Zhang et al, Int J Mol Sci, Aug 2017) it seems more and more evident that a stimulating action on substances such as NGF may represent a possible treatment for the degenerative illnesses Alzheimer and Parkinson. In the light of this observation it is clear why hericium erinaceus is now the subject of several scientific studies in order to test its properties and a possible future application in medicine. Other researches will be required in order to prove the effects also on humans, but there are studies (Brandalise et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, Jan 2017 – Mori et al, Biomed Res, Feb 2011) that have observed that supplements with hericium erinaceus are able, in animals, to increase the cognitive functionalities in healthy subjects but also to act in case of brain illnesses. The mushroom indeed has been demonstrated to be useful to prevent a weakening in spatial and recognition memory caused by accumulations of beta amyloids proteins, as it happens in Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, hericium shows also an antidepressant and anxiolytic action. But the monkey head mushroom is also useful in case of stomach ulcer, since studies have demonstrated that its extract acts by reducing the area interested by ulcer (Wang et al, Int J Med Mushrooms, 2015) and, thanks to its anti-inflammatory, prebiotic and protective action it plays a role in soothing and treating inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease (Qin et al, Int J Med Mushrooms, 2016). Then, don’t forget also that hericium erinaceus is able to lower the blood sugar levels, it keeps at bay cholesterol and triglycerides (Liang et al, BMC Complement Altern Med, 2013) and shows an anticancer action (Kim et al, Food Funct, Jun 2011 – Li et al, J Ethnopharmacol, Apr 2014).
Finding this mushroom as an ingredient for cooking is rare, but it may be found as a supplement. Hericium erinaceus is considered safe because scientific studies haven’t observed side effects (Park et al, J Acupunct Meridian Stud, Dec 2008). However, pay attention if you are taking medicines or if you suffer from diabetes because interactions may be observed.