Early societies embraced mushrooms not only as food, but also as a source of spiritualism and culture. Mushrooms held a richer meaning. They represented death and decay, but also rebirth and rejuvenation. In Europe, fairy rings were the signs of an otherworld: where Fae and fairy roamed. For the Egyptians, mushrooms were revered as a source of immortality. A sort of ancient superfood reserved only for the highest officials.
Photo by Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz. (Shutterstock).
The two mushrooms we’re comparing in this article both originally found acclaim in Asia. However, today, Maitake and Lion’s Mane mushrooms are becoming increasingly popular as a source of nutrition and for their remarkable health-enhancing effects. We’ll delve into these fruits of the forests, exploring their history, where they grow, and some of the mind-boggling properties they possess.
Let’s begin with the foot-loose fungi, the Maitake Mushroom.
In Japanese, Maitake means dancing. The remarkable mushroom is so renowned for its healing effects that it is said people would dance with joy whenever they found this rare beauty. In the West, they’re often known as “Hen of the Woods,” but other names include “sheep’s head,” “ram’s head,” and even “the king of the mushrooms.”
They’re wildly popular in Japan and China, being sought after not just for their invigorating vitality, but also, for their delicious taste. However, the mushroom craze is rubbing off on the West. Increasingly Maitake has been gaining popularity in the US in recent decades.
Most often they are found nuzzled in the damp woodland, growing in dusky brown fans from mossy logs and branches. They prefer to grow on Oak, Elm, and Maple trees, with their fungi bodies fruiting in the autumn months. You can grow them at home, but they prefer the wild woods. They’re a polypore mushroom. So, they don’t have the classic gills but instead spread their spores from tiny pores on their underside.
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If you were wondering how to add them into your diet, it’s easy. Throw them in a stir fry or enjoy them as a funky salad garnish. They’re also a perfect topping on a pizza, or fried in butter and mixed into an omelet. If you’re not used to mushrooms, be prepared for a rich, earthy taste. However, if you’re just after the fantastic health benefits, then you can get them in a capsule or any of our drinks! There are few things better than a delicious mushroom brew after a long day.
What are these benefits, you may ask?
Well, Maitake mushrooms have a growing wealth of studies documenting some pretty impressive effects. Firstly, it has been reported they can suppress tumor growth. Most of the research has been done on mice, but the results are believed to have significance for people. For instance, one study, in 2013, found that Maitake D-Fraction was effective at killing human cancer cells. Whilst another study in the same year reported that Maitake extracts could reduce cholesterol levels.
Even without these effects, they’re an impressive source of nutrition. The dancing mushroom is rich in antioxidants, vitamins B and C, copper, potassium, amino acids, and various other minerals.
Now we’ve given you the lowdown on the Hen of the Woods, how does it stack up against our courageous contender: The Lion’s Mane?
If your idea of mushrooms was the humble button, then you’re in for a big surprise. The Lion’s Mane couldn’t look any more different or unique. Essentially, it’s a palm-size fluffy snowball of a fungus. Like a giant pile of parmesan cheese, or as the namesake suggests, like the wind-rippled mane of a majestic lion. It’s little wonder it has such a creative array of names: “monkey’s head,” “old man’s beard,” “pom-pom,” and the “hedgehog mushroom.” However, the Japanese name is suitably poetic: yamabushitake, meaning “those who sleep in the mountains.”
Photo by Ringosounds. (Shutterstock)
Found throughout the United States, Europe, and East Asia, Lion’s Mane is a highly sought-after delicacy. Growing to around 40cm, the fluffy bundle of white fronds can naturally be found on dead or dying oak, or the stumps and logs of walnut, beech, maple, or sycamore trees.
Historically, it became known as one of the “four famous cuisines” of China, alongside such foods as bear’s paws and shark’s fin. In Asia, it was widely eaten for both its taste and health benefits. It can be eaten raw, cooked, dried, or once again, as part of one of our delicious, hearty drinks. Strangely, the taste is said to resemble crab or lobster, having a meaty texture combined with an earthy but fishy profile. For a simple starter, it is perfect with garlic and salted butter; gently fried till brown.
However, if the health benefits of Maitake mushrooms seemed impressive, Lion’s Mane is exceptional. What Maitake does for the body, Lion’s Mane does for the mind.
As the brain ages, new connections slow, our cognitive faculties inexorably fade. That’s where Lion’s Mane comes in. Its remarkable abilities include the stimulation of brain cell growth. Two chemicals are responsible for these effects: hericenones and erinacines.
ut the benefits don’t stop there! For patients with Alzheimer’s disease, Lion’s Mane offers neuroprotective benefits. Early studies suggest it can improve mental functioning, promoting nerve growth and slow cognitive decline. Meanwhile, for those suffering from nerve injuries, the shaggy fungus speeds recovery. This is as true for peripheral nerves, as for the brain: so, it can even help with the effects of a stroke.
In the body, Lion’s Mane prevents stomach ulcers by inhibiting the growth of the damaging bacteria H. pylori. Other effects include reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering triglyceride levels, helping to manage high blood sugar levels in diabetics, and even demonstrating cancer-fighting abilities.
The health benefits of these two mushrooms are remarkable. Their histories are long and fascinating. Together they can revitalize the body and soothe the soul. However, there can be no doubt which mushroom reigns supreme. The Maitake might be known as the king of the mushrooms, but there’s only one king in the jungle: The Lion’s Mane.
Have you tried either of these mushrooms? How do they stack up to you? Let us know in the comments!