Hericium Erinaceus | What You Need to Know

Hericium erinaceus (also called Lions Mane Mushroom, Mountain Priest Mushroom, or Beard Teeth Fungus) is an edible mushroom that belongs to the fungus genus, dentalis. It is native to North America, Europe, and Asia, where it can be identified by the presence of a long (greater than 1cm) spine, a presence in hardwoods, and the tendency for the growth of a solitary cluster of hanging spines. The fruiting body can be harvested for food. Hericium erinaceus may be confused with other species of Hericium that occur in the same geographic region.

In the wild, these mushrooms are prevalent during the late summer and fall months on hardwoods, especially American beech and maple. Usually, H. erinaceus is considered to be a saprophytic, since it feeds mostly on dead trees. However, it may be found on live trees, and thus could be a parasite of trees. This could suggest a place of endophytism.

Common Names

Both Latin Hericium and species names Erinaceus mean hedgehog in Latin. This is also reflected by its German name, Igel-Stachelbart (literally, hedgehogs beard), as well as by some of its common English names, such as bearded hedgehogs and hedgehog mushrooms.

Morphology and Details

The fruiting bodies of H. erinaceus are large, irregular, bulbous tubercules. They are 5-40 cm (2-15.5 inches) across, dominated by clustered, hanging, spore-producing spines that are 1-2 cm in length or more. The fruit bodies and spines are white or cream, but may become yellow-brown with age.

Hyphal systems are monomitic, amyloid, consisting of thin-to-thick-walled hyphae about 3-15 um (microns) in width. The hyphae also contain cleaved septa and gloeopleous elements (filled with an oily, resinous substance) which may enter the hymenium as gloeocystidia.

The basidium is 25-40 um long and 5-7 um wide, contains four spores each, and has basal clamps. White amyloid basidiospores are about 5-7 um in length and 4-5 um wide. Spore shapes are described as subglobose to ellipsoid, with the surface of the spore being smooth to lightly rough.

Growth and Development

The fruit bodies of H. erinaceus are produced mostly from August through November each year in Europe. It has been observed that H. erinaceus can produce fruit periodically over a period of 20 years in a single dead tree. It was speculated that H. erinaceus might live 40 years. The mating systems of the species of H. erinaceus found in the United States have been shown to be bifactorially heterothallic. The growth of the H. erinaceus monokaryotic mycelium was slower than that of dikaryotes, with only 1% of the monokaryotic cultures producing fruit bodies.

Monokaryotic fruitbodies are also smaller compared to dikaryotic fruitbodies. Monokaryotic mycelium has been found to produce globoid-to-subgloboid Chlamydospores with sizes 6-8 x 8-10 um. These spores could remain viable for over seven years, stored in anaerobic conditions.

Germination of Chlamydospores takes between 30 to 52 hours, and the success rate for germination is between 32 to 54%. Spore production is highest in the middle of the day, relative to the temperature rise and the decrease in the relative humidity. Daily trends toward lower relative humidity may favour sporulation, however, levels of relative humidity too low are not conducive to higher overall spore production.

Where Hericium Erinaceus Can Be Found

Hericium species are found all over the Northern Hemisphere. Hericium erinaceus has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and production is widely distributed in Asia, mostly using wide-ranging harvesting techniques in logs or wooden stumps. Despite its widespread availability throughout Asia, H. erinaceus was first described in North America.

Its manufacture occurs there on a very small scale. Most is an intensive indoor production, with only a few small open fields in which it is grown in timber. Three species of Hericium are found in eastern North America, one is H. erinaceus, and the other two are H. americanum and H. coralloides.

Although native to Europe, H. erinaceus has been listed as endangered in 13 European countries because of its poor germination and persistence. This particular genus fruits in the UK from August through December, continuing to produce spores as late as February in the following year. It is capable of withstanding freezing temperatures and frost conditions. Hericium erinaceus is rare and threatened, and is one of four mushrooms that has the highest legal protection level in the United Kingdom, making it illegal for anyone to harvest or sell this mushroom.

Different Types of Hericium Erinaceus

In fungal cultivation, strains of the fungal organism are akin to varieties of plants in the cultivation of crops. Fungal strains consist of the clonal descendants of a single isolate from a single fungal colony, within the purified culture. As such, there are few commercially available strains in the United States or Europe, and few if any breeding efforts for higher yields or other beneficial traits have taken place.

Production trials conducted in Egypt reported H. erinaceus yields of an average of 165g/kg medium.

Typical Uses

Hericium erinaceus produces edible fruit bodies, which are used for both food and in traditional medicine. Some guides believe that it is not edible. Hericium erinaceus is commonly used in fine dining. Younger specimens are considered to be best.

Along with Shiitake (Lentinus edode) and Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), H. erinaceus is used as a special mushroom. Its taste can be compared with lobster.

The U.S. specialty mushroom industry increased about 23% from 2010 to 2018, from 16 million to 20 million pounds (7-9 million kg).

The fruiting bodies of the species Hericium erinaceus have 57% carbohydrates (8% in dietary fiber), 4% fat, and 22% protein. Hericium erinaceus contains diverse phytochemicals, including polysaccharides, such as B-glucan, and the herbs hericenone and erinacine. From its essential oils, 77 aroma and flavour compounds were identified, including hexadecanoic acid (26% of the total oil content), linoleic acid (13%), phenylacetaldehyde (9%) and benzaldehyde (3%) as well as others, such as 2-methyl-3-furanthiol, 2-ethylpyrazine, and 2,6-diethylpyrazine. Low levels of ergosterol were present.

Hericium Erinaceus Ecology

Brennandania lambi (Acari: Pygmephoroidea) is a mite pest in fungus cultures in China. This mite can develop and breed on H. erinaceus mycelium.

Farm sanitation and heat treatments are the most important pest control strategies to implement against this acari. Hericium species are good competitors to other wood-colonizers. They demonstrate an ability to hold their position in the deadwood, even in face of second-stage colonizers such as Trametes versicolor and Stereum hirsutum. Hericium erinaceus has shown a slight edge in competition over other species of fungal teeth, including Creolophus cirrhatus and Hericium coralloides.

How to Grow: Cultivation

As a saprophyte found in deadwood, H. erinaceus requires suitable substrate factors, including a suitable source of carbon and nitrogen, a specific pH, and an ideal carbon/nitrogen ratio.

Many different substrates have been used successfully to grow this mushroom. Depending on the cultivation type, the substrate may be either solid (artificial logs) or liquid (submerged cultures and deep-sea cultures). The solid substrate is more often than not a mixture of hardwood or conifer wood chips with various additives, which can include wheat bran, wheat straw, soybean meal, corn meal, rice bran, and rice straw.

For instance, H. erinaceus strains have grown on a substrate consisting of hardwood sawdust supplemented with grain wheat bran (20%), grain rye (25%), soybean meal (7%), corn meal (10%), or mutton-bone meal (6%). An example liquid substrate composition might include glucose as a carbon source, soybean powder, maize powder, and wheat bran powder as an elaborate nitrogen source.

pH values that are best for optimum H. erinaceus growth are in the range 5.0-9.0, with pH 6.0 being the optimum. Artificial farming of H. erinaceus was first reported in China in 1988. It is grown using engineered wooden blocks, bottles, and polypropylene bags. However, this artificial method of cultivation is not suitable for industrialized production because of low production and a lengthy growing cycle.

Submerged culture is a type of artificial culture for H. erinaceus whereby the mushroom is grown in liquid media. A high amount of mycelia can be obtained rapidly using this technique. Bioactive compounds can be obtained from fruiting bodies, mycelial submerged culture biomass, or broth cultured in liquid. The culture media composition was optimized by the cultivation operators in order to achieve a high production of H. erinaceus mycelial biomass, exopolysaccharides, and polysaccharides at the same time. Submerged fermentation is preferred to yield both mycelial biomass and bioactive metabolites, in order to yield a more uniform biomass and extraction products.

Growth regulators, such as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and gibberellin, are observed to exert beneficial effects on the germination of the spores. Other technologies, such as low-intensity red and green laser light, induced germination of spores and also the vegetative growth of mycelium. Argon and Helium lasers also contributed by 36%-51% acceleration in the fruiting body development.

About the author

Bruce Wilson

I've studied Mycology and Forest Pathology and love creating content to help other learn more about my passion. Follow along as I continue to explore the amazing world of functional fungi!

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