If you’re just getting into mushroom foraging, you may have heard that the lion’s mane mushroom is a good one to start with. But if you’ve never seen them before, you are probably wondering how to identify lion’s mane mushrooms. What do they look like? Smell like? Are there any other mushrooms that are easy to confuse with lion’s manes? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions.
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How Do You Identify a Lion’s Mane Mushroom?
Lion’s mane mushrooms have several identifying features. The first and most obvious is their shaggy, white lion’s mane appearance.
These shaggy, globe-like mushrooms can be found growing on dead or decaying hardwood trees throughout the summer and fall. They often grow several feet off the ground on the sides of these trees.
These mushrooms can also be found in the wounds of live trees and trees that are slowly dying. They tend to come back year after year in the same areas, though they may grow from different spots on the same tree.
Sometimes you can even find them growing on dead logs. Lion’s manes are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere in temperate forests and woodlands.
These mushrooms are easiest to identify based on their shaggy appearance and native habitat, but you can also identify them by their aroma. They have a relatively mild smell compared to many mushrooms, but the aroma has an unmistakable seafood undertone.
What Does a Lion’s Mane Mushroom Look Like?
A lion’s mane mushroom resembles MGM’s lion’s mane in much the same way as NBC’s peacock resembles an honest-to-goodness peacock. Lion’s Mane Mushrooms do sport an unmistakable mane, although the long shaggy spines are white and can also be compared to icicle-like teeth.
This mane grows from a globe-shaped fungus. Each spine, or tooth, is relatively short when the mushroom is young, but they can grow to be up to two inches long.
A lion’s mane mushroom consists mostly of this mane–opening one reveals a relatively small, bulbous little body. When fully grown and intact, each of these mushrooms can be nearly as large as a dinner plate.
This mushroom’s mane, though generally white in color, can be tinged with yellow or pink; in fact, some start out with a pink tinge, only to become white in time. And when a lion’s mane mushroom has “lost its roar” and is past its prime, it will turn fully yellow, eventually discoloring to a faded orange.
If you’re new to foraging mushrooms, the lion’s mane is a good mushroom to start with because it’s very distinctive and easy to identify. Of course, if you’ve never seen it before, it may help to watch an identification video like the one below to get a solid visual of what it looks like.
What Does a Lion’s Mane Mushroom Smell Like?
Lion’s mane mushroom has a relatively bland aroma, and not everyone agrees on what it actually smells like.
Some people report a bitter smell in lion’s mane mushroom supplements–a smell similar to dark chocolate. This is indicative of a higher extraction ratio–the greater the concentration of the powdered mushroom, the greater the chocolate-like aroma aroma will be.
However, wild harvested lion’s mane rarely expresses this chocolate aroma. Most foragers agree that, while fresh in the wild, these mushrooms have a faint fish odor, suggestive of crab cakes or lobster.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom Look-Alikes
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, lion’s manes have no poisonous look-alikes. This is the most important reason these mushrooms are a great choice for beginning foragers–they are so easy to identify.
That said, there are a few other edible mushrooms that you may confuse with lion’s mane if you are just starting out. The closest lion’s mane look-alike is the bear’s head mushroom.
The bear’s head is in the same family as the lion’s mane, and it produces shaggy white fruits very similar to the spines of lion’s mane mushrooms. The primary difference between the two types of mushroom is that lion’s manes are more round and bulbous, whereas bear’s heads are branched.
Another key difference is that bear’s heads tend to grow on evergreens, especially Douglas firs. Lion’s manes are more commonly found on dead or decaying deciduous hardwoods such as oak and maple.
Bear’s head mushrooms are frequently described as having a nutty, earthy flavor with mild hints of seafood. Lion’s mane mushrooms have a slightly stronger fishy taste and smell.
Despite its similarity with the bear’s head, the lion’s mane mushroom is individual and one-of-a-kind, easily distinguished even from the bear’s head by those with any foraging experience. Lion’s mane mushroom hunters only need to identify this curiously unique mushroom by its shaggy mane or icicle-like teeth, it’s fishy scent and its deciduous hardwood habitat.
The lion’s mane mushroom is easy to find in the wild and can also be home cultivated, making this nutritional and medicinal member of the fungus family readily available and easily consumable.
These mushrooms are noted for their ability to protect against dementia, anxiety, and depression, their soothing effects on nerve damage, and for having anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune-boosting properties. And did we mention they’re tasty?
Maybe it’s time to take a stroll through some woods with dead trees or to consider raising some of these delicious and nutritious mushrooms at home!