Lion's Mane Mushroom Look-Alikes

The lion’s mane mushroom is not just a sight to behold, with its distinctive light fur-like appearance. It is also one of the most potent and useful medicinal herbs in existence and has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years.

You would think that such a unique and unmistakable mushroom would be impossible to mix up. Unfortunately, you’d be off by just a tad. The lion’s mane evokes imagery of noble wild cats strutting about the African savannah with its lush, voluminous growth. 

But, as luck would have it, so do many other species of fungi. And to a layman, telling these apart can be quite a challenge! That is why we have compiled this helpful guide, which will teach you in no time how to successfully identify lion’s mane and tell it apart from its relatives.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Identification

The lion’s mane mushroom belongs to the genus Hieracium, and all species within this genus share some common traits. For one, they are all saprophytes, meaning they grow on the bark of live and dead trees.

Other mushrooms might look outwardly similar to the lion’s mane at first glance, but if you find them growing out of the ground, you can be sure that they are completely unrelated.

To tell apart lion’s mane from some of its closest relatives, you’ll need to look at the mushroom’s body. The first thing you will probably notice looking at a lion’s mane is the thick web of fur-like strands hanging down from its base. 

These are called the teeth, and they are how the lion’s mane propagates its spores. On a real lion’s mane, the teeth will be white, rather long – more than a centimeter on average – and hanging down with gravity, not facing upwards.

Bearded Tooth Mushroom vs. Lion's Mane

Many people mistakenly assume that the bearded tooth mushroom is one of those sneaky lion’s mane lookalikes, with its long white downwards-facing teeth.

In truth, however, what you’re dealing with here is a simple misunderstanding: bearded tooth mushrooms are lion’s mane.

The lion’s mane goes by other nicknames as well. For example, in some guidebooks, you might see it being referred to as the Hedgehog Mushroom.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Spore Print

If you really want to, you can make a spore print of a lion’s mane quite easily to determine its exact sub-species. For most, this will not be necessary. 

There are a few closely-related species of Hieracium that we consider to be lion’s mane since they all share very similar physiology and health effects.

To make a lion’s mane mushroom spore print, take a sample of the mushroom back home with you and place it on a dark background. This will make the white spores stand out easily.

Let the mushroom sit like this for at least a few hours. If you wait long enough, you will quickly see a sheet of white, round spores deposited on the surface. 

To make extremely fine determinations of species and subtypes, you’ll need to analyze these spores under a microscope. But if everything up to this point fell in line with what you see in the mushroom you picked, you should be fairly safe in assuming it’s lion’s mane.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Host Trees

As mentioned previously, lion’s mane is a saprophytic mushroom that only grows on trees.

If you want to ensure that the fungus you’re looking at is a lion’s mane, one good thing to know is which particular trees this mushroom prefers to take as hosts.

Unfortunately, the answer is fairly broad. Depending on the climate, the lion’s mane can be found on many different kinds of trees. 

However, it should be noted that the fungus does show up more often on hardwoods. This includes oak, birch, and aspen trees.

When To Find Lion’s Mane Mushrooms

The lion’s mane mushroom has a pretty consistent life cycle. You should find it most easily during the peak foliage season in autumn. Of course, when exactly this will depend on your climate.

For example, if you live in the Northeastern US, you might receive below-freezing temperatures as early as October. In this case, lion’s mane will be the easiest to find from August to September. 

In other places, you might have a more prolonged, milder fall and early winter season to contend with, which can make things easier.

Where To Find Lion’s Mane Mushroom

Lion’s Mane grows almost exclusively throughout the northern hemisphere, particularly in Asia's colder, semi-humid forests, Northern and Eastern Europe, and North America. 

Despite claims to the contrary, lion’s mane isn’t rare. A nice walk through your nearest forest during peak fall, keeping your head held high and on the lookout for odd growths on the sides of tree barks should suffice to spot at least a few.

Of course, thanks to the lion’s mane’s enormous popularity as a medicinal herb, you don’t have to venture out into nature to find them these days. They can be just as easily ordered online!

These are some of our absolute favorite lion’s mane products available today.

Capsules

The Lion’s Mane Brain and Focus Supplements by RealMushrooms contain just about everything you could ask for from a high-quality, mushroom-based dietary supplement. 

RealMushrooms Lion's Mane supplement.

The extract is grown organically, sustainably, and 100% from natural mushroom fruiting bodies. You get full nutritional info on the back of the bottle, including a certified beta-glucan count. They are fitted in generous, efficient packaging.

There are very few competitors on the market today that can tick off all of these measures of quality and trustworthiness, which makes RealMushrooms a no-brainer to us.

The Genius Brand might very well be one of those very few. Sure, their Genius Mushrooms aren’t a pure lion’s mane supplement – they are also packed with extracts of reishi and cordyceps. 

The Genius Brand Genius Mushrooms.

But save for that and the accordingly somewhat higher price tag; you get the same measure of quality, responsible sourcing, and high potency. Perfect for those who want more than just a lion’s mane mushroom product!

And speaking of more, there’s only one serious choice out there if you seek the highest possible dosage, no excuses. Toniq’s Ultra Concentrated Lion’s Mane packs a whopping 18,000 mg of raw mushroom into each cap, easily defeating the competition! 

Toniq Lion's Mane Supplement.

We know of hardly any mushroom supplements as highly-concentrated and as potent as this one – and even if there are some, we doubt they could match Toniq’s demonstrated standards for extraction quality, refinement, and efficiency.

Tinctures

A liquid lion's mane tincture may be more convenient to take regularly than a capsule-based supplement. 

Whether you have trouble swallowing or would instead let your daily dose of lion’s mane blend in more smoothly with the rest of your diet, something like Uphoric Urth’s Lion’s Mane Extract could be a great choice.

Uphoric Urth Lion's Mane tincture.

It contains everything you need and not a drop more – just a super-high-quality, fresh mushroom fruiting body extract, straight from the lion’s mane!

Alternatively, Mary Ruth’s has always been a leader in quality tinctures, and their recent Lion’s Mane Supplement is no exception. A single bottle at the standard recommended dosage will last you two months, a great value proposition. 

Mary Ruth's Lion's Mane tincture.

Unlike some other brands, Mary Ruth’s bets on a slightly more expensive and complex glycerine-based extraction process. Compared to the more widespread alcohol-based process, this retains more of the crucial mushroom nutrients and active ingredients.

Powder

Out of all kinds of mushroom supplements, powders offer the greatest degree of versatility – and often the most excellent value.

Our longtime favorite remains the Lion’s Mane Certified Organic Powder by Om Mushroom Superfoods. Om is an industry leader in quality, accountability, and value. 

Om Superfoods Lion's Mane supplement.

For less money than many competitors ask for, you get more mushrooms – a standard bag contains 3.5 ounces, and the extract is very highly-concentrated.

Om’s Certified Organic fresh mushroom extract is also more nutritious and refined than that of most powders we’ve tested.

RealMushrooms also makes their own Lion’s Mane Powder, and it is no different in quality compared to their capsule supplements. If you’re a fan of the brand already, this might be a great choice.

RealMushrooms Lion's Mane powder.

Lion’s Mane Mushroom Benefits

The lion’s mane has been consumed for its nutritional benefits for literal millennia, but it is its hidden powers to supercharge our health that make it so unique.

Going over every proven health benefit linked to the lion’s mane would be too much for a simple guide such as this, so consider the following to be a basic overview.

  • Lion’s mane has the unique ability to moderate blood cholesterol levels, a trait that should make it particularly desirable for people with diabetes.
  • Known as the “smart mushroom,” lion’s mane has been linked to countless beneficial effects on the nervous system and brain health.
  • For example, it can assist in the regeneration of neurons and thus prevent the onset of conditions such as Alzheimer’s or assist in their treatment.
  • Likewise, the nervous stimulation that lion’s mane is capable of may help prevent and treat chronic anxiety and depression.

Lion's Mane Mushrooms Look-Alikes

If you are still looking to harvest some fresh lion’s mane in a forest near to you, keeping a list of the most common lion’s mane look-alikes and how to identify them would be a good idea.

You should have no trouble with most similar mushroom species as long as you stick to the general guide on identifying lion’s mane above. However, a few will eventually stick out. 

Let’s talk about them briefly here.

The comb tooth mushroom, or Hericium coralloides, can appear confusingly similar to a typical lion’s mane. It shares the color scheme, rough size, and fluffy, teeth-laden appearance. 

However, there are some small, key differences: the comb tooth only grows on dead trees, and its teeth tend to subtly divide into branches, whereas a lion’s mane will always appear like one solid mass.

Another mushroom is often confused with the lion’s mane due to sharing its alternative nickname, the hedgehog mushroom. 

Its scientific name is Hydnum repandum, and though its teeth can look very similar to the lion’s mane’s, it tends to display a very different color scheme, closer to orange or tan than white. 

Also, on closer observation, you are bound to notice that repandum grows a noticeable cap and stalk, like many other types of fungi, whereas the lion’s mane does not.