Lions mane is a simple-to-identify edible and medicinal species you will want to add to your wild food repertoire. Generally, “Lions Mane” means Hericium erinaceus, and this is a cultivar cultivated as both culinary and medicinal species. But there are two other closely related species of hericium you are far more likely to encounter while tramping through the forest: Hericium coralloides and Hericium americanum.
Lion’s Mane Look-Alikes Bears Head Tooth (Hericium Americanum)
This is a species that is quite close to true lions mane — and, indeed, is considered to be the same species by many mushroom hunters. The main difference is that rather than having a single, snowball-like structure, the Bears Head Tooth has many shorter branches tightly clustered together.
You will find this mushroom growing on dead logs during late summer and fall. It may also be found growing on wounds of dying or dead trees. Hericium americanum grows most often in hardwoods, though sometimes on conifers.
Bears-head-tooth is a tasty edible mushroom, though due to its shape and the way that it grows, it is often messy and hard to clean. That is, if you do find one covered with mud, you can just rinse it in cold water to remove any muck before cooking. Some people claim the taste is slightly fishy, but from my experience with any Hericium species, it actually tends to simply pick up the flavors of whatever it is cooked in.
Coreal Tooth Fungus (Hericium Coralloides) is Another Look-Alike
Although it is still within the Hericium genus, it certainly looks significantly different than Bears-Head-Tooth and True Lions Mane. Instead of teeth growing out from one center spot, H. corraloides grows a wide array of irregularly-shaped branches of different lengths. The spines coming out of the branches are, however, long and thin, extending down to the ground.
Hericium corraloides is, in my experience, more abundant than any other species of Hericium, so this is a good species to be aware of. Also, if you do find a fruit, you have got a very good chance of finding many others, so make sure you are looking around. I often find multiple log fruits of this mushroom in the immediate vicinity.
Lion’s Mane Lookalikes
Hericium species are easily identified by their cascading white spines, reliance on growing on hardwood logs, and how they grow as single clusters. It can be difficult to distinguish different species of hericium, particularly in young age, but they are all considered good edibles without any real appearance.
There are, however, a few non-edible mushrooms which can look superficially similar to lions mane, so they are best avoided unless you are 100% certain. As with any wild mushroom, it is always best to either work with a specialist or check with your local mushroom society to get the proper identification. Lions mane (Hericium erinaceus) is a SUPER delicious mushroom, and it is not much different from its close cousin.
If you can find a wild specimen in relatively good condition, just wash it under cold water, cut into slices, and roast in the oven. Some people claim these mushrooms taste like seafood, but they generally just sort of pick up flavors from whatever it is cooked in. The texture is sort of meaty, not unlike lobster.