Mushrooms occupy a strange place in our palates. Neither part of the plant or the animal kingdom, they are a oft-feared addition to any meal. Yet the little decomposers beneath our feet have tremendous health benefits for our bodies and for our planet. In the spirit of reviving the good name of mushrooms everywhere, Dear Food presents an in-depth look at the good, the bad, and the just plain weird of the mushroom world.
Latin name: Hericium erinaceus
Other names: Old Man’s Beard, Pom-Pom Mushroom, Monkey Head Mushroom
The Lion’s Mane mushroom holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first mushrooms that I collected from the wild—and the first one that I ate. I found some of these guys growing a lot on an off-beaten path on campus, cautiously poked one (they do not look like mushrooms), went home to do a ton of research and eagerly returned to collect. In all, I wound up with quite a few pounds of Lion’s Mane and let me tell you: they were good.
When people think of mushrooms, the Lion’s Mane is probably not what most people think of. Because it grows on the side of hardwoods in a big ol’ mass with tiny icicle-like spines, it looks more like a weird sea sponge than your run-of-the-mill mushroom. But these guys are exciting business. Not only do they taste great (more on that later), some people think the Lion’s Mane might be able to regenerate neurons in the brain, among other benefits.
The Lion’s Mane has begun to be grown commercially so it’s possible to find them at a local farmer’s market (though I haven’t found any in my area yet). Or they can be found in the wild in most parts of America.
As for eating, most people compare the taste to that of seafood, perhaps because they look like seafood. I don’t know if I would say that, but I do know they taste quite good when sautéed with garlic and butter. A warning though: Lion’s Manes are super water absorbent, so much that you can wring them out like a sponge. I would recommend dry sautéing them for a while before adding any butter, or they will get rubbery.
Sautée them with green beans or asparagus, add them to stir frys, or use them in place of seafood. Have fun: you’re basically eating a tribble.