Hericium or lions mane mushrooms are a beautiful, edible mushroom that can resemble bunches of coral or furry pom pom balls. They're relatively common, easy to identify, harvest and cook. I'll describe where and when to find them, how to tell which one you have, and how to cook them.
These like to come up in the late fall in the Midwest, when the leaves start to drop from the trees, but they're choosy as to where they grow, and to me it seems like each mushroom eating the decomposing tree can have their own internal clock when it decides to fruit, similar to chicken of the woods, although this could easily be due to difference in the host tree species, I'm speculating a bit here.
I do know for sure that to find them you need to be in a place that has decomposing wood, not just old fallen trees, fallen trees that are well on their way to the next world, those sinking into the ground, and often in my spots, covered with moss. As a little tip too, if you're in the Midwest like me, I generally look for woods with old maple trees, which they seem to like.
If you get lucky you might come across one. Honestly I never really go out and say I'm "hunting Hericiums" like you might hen of the woods, or chanterelles. But during the fall, I usually have a tree or two in a hen patch that I know I should check.
You can hunt for these casually: just look around for blobs of white on black dead trees while you're looking for other fall mushrooms, since these are at their best, unpredictable. There are a number of different species too, and you might even see these in high end grocery stores since they can be cultivated.
Three Hericium Species I Pick and Eat
I know of three different species of Hericium to pick and enjoy, and they're really easy to tell apart. Here's the skinny:
These are the most commonly cultivated species, often called lions mane. Asian markets often sell them dried, which I don't really care for unless you're making stock and discarding them.
The coral tooth hericium. These are the most common that I see in the Midwest, and are great eaters. Note how the fingers branch unevenly like coral.
Another great eater, you can tell these apart from the other two as they are loosely clustered tufts of drooping teeth.
Cultivated hericium (I have only seen hericium erinaceaus cultivated and sold whole-sale so far) are a great idea, and will taste fantastic grown on a log in your back 40.
But, the ones I've tasted grown from mushroom socks and cultivating kits suffer the same problem as cultivated hen of the woods: they taste like their subtrate, which is a nice way of saying they usually taste near identical to white button mushrooms, just in a different form.
Choose hericiums that are bouncy, snow-white, and fresh looking, brown and/or wet spots can mean they're past-prime. If you're lucky, your Hericriums will be relatively clean and you can just throw them into the pan with butter.
If you've been out after a rain, you may have some work ahead of you. All of the little teeth and crevices can really hold debris, just like coral mushrooms. To clean especially dirty mushrooms, I like to swish pieces around in a sink of very cold water quickly, then remove them and put them on a clean towel to weep water.
If you wash the mushrooms a couple times and you're still getting grit in them, you can always pickle them and shake them around in the jar afterward to remove excess grit, although that's a bit of work to do for a dirty mushroom.
In the kitchen these are great. The flavor is slightly mushroomy, but with a hint of a shellfish quality Their flavor and texture have been compared to crab meat, and texture wise, that's right on. I've seen people make Hericium crab cakes, mock fish stew, all sorts of things. They are sweet, mild, and delicious. Substituting them for clams or fish in a recipe is very fun to do.
I'll be honest, these don't often last long in my kitchen. But if you want to preserve them, one great way is in a conserve, something halfway between a pickle and a marinade. I've posted a recipe for that below-it's my favorite.
Recipes I've made specifically for hericiums, or where they can be substituted
Sorry about the teaser, Mr. Farmer sent this morning. I guess I need to read your blog more. They sure were pretty. Still are, as they are still attached to the tree.
Danae, these are rare treats indeed. I haven't seen a hericium yet this year so good for you. Once upon a time these were a prize for me to show off to specialty chef's tables since they typically don't get so huge like hens. Maybe someday again.... You'll remember next time, I bet.
I get them on a yearly basis in one spot up to well 10 -15 pounds. If your interested j can get you some corralloides type depends on how much rain we have. Hands down my favorite mushroom for eating I live in the Midwest northwest Iowa.
They're great mushrooms.
I have found several kilos of this mushroom on a large dead log in a forest near Budapest, on one of the Pilis hills. They had different sizes and two exemplars had a diameter around 40 cm. It was really a great and lucky catch. It was on the north-east side of the hill, no sun and very humid, calcareous soil (i know that should not make any difference since they live in dead trees). These days has been raining quite a lot and was relatively warm (over 20 degrees Celsius).
How about a Hericium Ceviche recipe? I think it might be a good fit.
I have a couple of dead poplar or alder trees deposited in my back "40". There are 3 north pointing ends that are growing hericium. If I harvest will they come back next year? I live in north central Oregon. No rain from mid July to mid Sept but then it rains or snows until May/June. Can I leave the logs where they are? Should I harvest before the first freeze.
Thank you for your wonderful website
Hi Michele, by all means harvest as many of the Hericium as you like, the sooner the better. You're not harming the mushroom by taking it, it's more like taking an apple from a tree to use an analogy. Thank you, too.
Yes. They are a perennial mycelium. Roth.firstname.lastname@example.org . Im in Hood River
Rodger K. HAmilton
Here in Vermont Hericium varieties are found in September and October. They can be reliably sought after if you know a woods with old beech trees, specifically big dead beech logs.
If I have a goodly harvest, I dehydrate them and then powder them in my coffee grinder. Store in a glass jar, and use in sauces. Another way to enjoy them is to dip in tempura batter and deep fry. They also make a respectable faux crab cake - or mix them right into the crab cake mixture!
Happy hunting, and bon apetit!
Any suggestions on baking time prior to preserving/freezing?
I would not reccomend baking them. Dry heat of the oven will dry them out too much. I would sweat in butter, poach or blanch on top of the stove, then freeze. Cook time is relative to the size of the mushroom, a couple minutes for clusters the size of a nickel.
Rodger K. HAmilton
I have had great success dehydrating and powdering hericeum, storing in glass jars and using in sauces and soups. I also smoked them over cherry wood, which makes them tasty and preserves them dry and crumbly, but obscures the lovely natural flavor.
Just wanted to share my recent discovery that a Water Pik does a pretty good job of getting grit out of Hericium sp. (and onto the bathroom counter and mirror).
Any advice on the best way to store uncooked Hericum Corrolloides? My son found one today in our yard.
Hello. Love your advise. I do go hunting for the Tooth's and am moving from the cave country region of Kentucky (I lived next to Mammoth Cave National Park for 16 years) to western Kentucky. Just back from 6 weeks of camping and learned a tiny fraction of Land Between The Lakes area and found it is going to be a wonderful place to forage. I called Lions Mane a Bear Tooth...will recheck my Audubon guide. And 2 out 3 we're on live and healthy white shaggy oaks. One on a dead log. Been shrooming 7 years and had a mentor in the park. Look forward to following you, and hopefully you have a restaurant.
Hey Thanks Keith. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for diners, my last restaurant closed in 2018, and I couldn't be happier. Instead of working for a corporation or another master, I now work completely for myself and get to share 10x the information on here with readers that I was previously. That being said, if you're in the Midwest I do dinners and events on occasion and have a few coming up in the winter.
I humbly correct myself that the ones I found are the Bearded Tooth also known as a Hedgehog. I hope to meet you and we can see about one of those dinners. Thanks again, I will now attempt crab cakes.