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Hericium - for a balanced gastrointestinal system and strong nerves
July 22, 2021
Dr. Dorothee Bös et al.
Many people in Asia take the traditional vital mushroom Hericium erinaceus to support their health. Its two main areas of action are the gastrointestinal tract and the central nervous system. In a gentle way, it relieves chronic discomfort associated with irritable bowel, irritable stomach, ulcers and chronic inflammation. Quite wonderful is also its beneficial effect on memory and concentration in dementia.
History and mycology
What is Hericium?
Hericium mushroom is a commonly known vital and medicinal mushroom. In addition, it is also a tasty edible mushroom. In our latitudes, its use in the kitchen is rather atypical. In Asia, on the other hand, it is a regular ingredient in the cooking pot.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have been gathering positive experiences with Hericium for centuries. One of the oldest mentions of this medicinal mushroom comes from a medical book written in the 16th century. Therefore, we know that the areas of application of Hericium have always included a wide variety of diseases of the stomach and intestines, as well as various nervous disorders.
The home of Hericium extends throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Here it is found growing wild in Europe, Asia and America. The best breeding ground for it is old – mostly dead – hardwood. In general, it prefers beech, oak and elm trees in our latitudes, although it may well thrive on the wood of walnut or fruit trees. If it does settle on living trees, its spores injure the tree. In the resulting wound, it then finds its preferred growth conditions.
Due to the strict thinning of German forests, which was common for a long time, the Hericium is very rarely found in our country. If you want to go in search of this extraordinary edible and vital mushroom, you have the greatest chance of success in forests with moist soil. Due to the very peculiar appearance of the mushroom, the risk of confusion when collecting is relatively low. If other mushrooms resemble him, they are exclusively spiny beards.
The name “Hericium erinaceus” is derived from the Latin name for hedgehog “Erinaceus europeus”. In German, it is therefore also called Igelstachelbart mushroom. Other names include lion’s mane, coral mushroom and pom-pom blanc. Hericium owes all these titles to its peculiar appearance. The Chinese name “Hou Tou Gu” also refers to it. It means in German approximately “monkey head mushroom”. The Chinese refer to an endemic species of monkey whose face is barely visible because of its fur. The Japanese have also had many experiences with Hericium and commonly call it “Yamabushitake”.
In our latitudes, the fruiting body forms between September and the beginning of winter. From a distance, the hedgehog spiny fungus then looks like a shaggy white ball. Its shape may well be oval, sometimes even heart-shaped. While the young mushroom shines in pure white, it turns cream-colored to reddish as it ages. The stalk, if present at all, is very short.
An adult mushroom measures between 20 and 40 centimeters in diameter. The two to five centimeter long spines fall down on all sides. They are soft and do not pose any risk of injury. Their task is also not so much to defend the tasty edible mushroom as to increase the surface area of the mushroom body. Thus, the spines are covered all over with tiny white spores.
Hedgehog spine beard in the kitchen
While the Hericium because of its effect in Europe is used primarily as a natural remedy, is cooked in the kitchens of East Asia with pleasure with the fresh mushroom. At the same time, it is excellent for both frying and cooking. During preparation, it should be noted that only fresh mushrooms with white meat are put on the plate. Older mushrooms that show reddish discoloration are not suitable for consumption.
The taste of Hericium is reminiscent of poultry and seafood. This is joined by an aroma of lemon and coconut. The consistency is similar to that of veal. In Asia, in addition to the whole mushroom, cooks also like to use its dried and ground fruiting body as a seasoning.
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"Anyone who has heartburn all the time knows how I suffered. In addition, the permanent use of acid blockers has damaged my liver. After only a short time of taking the Hericium mushroom capsules, I felt much better. I haven't had stomach pain or esophageal problems since." .
Micro and macronutrients
Please understand the following information on the macronutrients of Hericium only as rough orders of magnitude. In fact, the exact ratio always depends on the nutrient medium as well as the overall growing conditions:
- Carbohydrates: 30%
- Protein: 20%
- Fat: 5 %
- Dietary fiber: 35
- Minerals: 10 %
With regard to micronutrients, it should be noted that in the hedgehog spiny beard vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B5. It also has numerous essential amino acids. Furthermore, depending on the substrate, the following minerals can be found in the medicinal mushroom:
- organic germanium
The ratio of relatively high potassium to low sodium is particularly favorable.
Physiologically active ingredients
With regard to the ingredients that decisively influence the effect of Hericium on the human body, the secondary fungal substances should be mentioned in the first place. These include the nucleotides, hericenones, erinacins, hericerins, resorcinols, sterols, and the mono- and diterpenes. In addition, experience with Hericium shows that its alkaloids, polypeptides and glycoproteins also have a positive effect on health. As with many other vital mushrooms, beta-glucans from the group of polysaccharides play an important role in this one. They have been shown to have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, neuro-protective and antioxidant effects.
Hericium: indications and effects
While Hericium has been known as a medicinal mushroom in Asia since ancient times, it has only recently made a name for itself in Europe as a supporter of health. Since the 1990s, researchers in Germany have been investigating the exact relationships between the substances in Hericium and its effects. In the international database for scientific research articles, Pubmed, there are currently just under 250 articles on the keyword “Hericium” – in Google scholar, Google’s science search, there are 17,000. A large part of it deals with the two major areas of application that we would like to briefly introduce to you here: Gastrointestinal problems and nervous disorders.
How does Hericium affect the gastrointestinal tract?
The hedgehog spikenard mushroom has a supportive effect on the stomach and intestines in many ways. Numerous healers of traditional Chinese medicine have had experiences with the administration of Hericium that suggest an increase in the health of gastric and intestinal mucosa. Thus, the medicinal mushroom promotes their structure as well as regeneration. At the same time, Hericium has an anti-inflammatory effect especially in the gastrointestinal tract. It also promotes the diversity of “good” intestinal bacteria. It is thus a preserver of the intestinal flora.
Healthy mucous membranes against allergies
The mucous membranes within our digestive system form a barrier between the inside of our body and the outside world. If this barrier is permeable, harmful and irritating substances can penetrate. The consequences are allergic reactions, asthma, skin diseases such as neurodermatitis, food intolerances and a weakness of the immune system. By ensuring healthy and strong mucous membranes, Hericium mushroom prevents such diseases. Even if you have been suffering from allergies, skin rashes and frequently recurring infections for a long time, Hericium can provide you with relief with its effect.
Stabilization of the digestive system
Due to its health-promoting function in the gastrointestinal tract, alternative medicine includes Hericium in the following areas of application:
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
- Gastric ulcers
- chronic inflammatory bowel diseases
- Reflux (backflow of acidic stomach contents into the esophagus)
The causes behind all these clinical pictures are complex. Many connections have not yet been fully clarified. However, at the beginning there are usually certain unfavorable influences that then throw the previously functioning system out of balance. Such damage can be caused, for example, by drugs, bacteria, stress, malnutrition or autoimmune processes. As a result, the balance shifts between the factors that protect the mucous membranes and those that attack them. Protective factors include, for example, mucus and mucilage, fiber, and favorable intestinal flora. Allergens, pathogenic germs and inflammations, on the other hand, can have a negative effect.
Due to its stabilizing effect, the hedgehog spiny beard is often used as an adjunct to conventional medicine in chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. In addition to protecting the intestinal mucosa, its anti-inflammatory effect is the main factor in alleviating symptoms. Even if the problems occur only intermittently, a continuous intake of the vital mushroom is recommended as a rule. For a precise recommendation on dosage, it is best to discuss your individual case with one of our experts.
The anti-inflammatory action of Hericium also plays a key role in combating discomfort in the gastric mucosa. This alleviates inflammations in which, for example, Heliobacter pylori may be involved. Scientists suspect that this strain of bacteria is responsible for the development of both stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. Thanks to its antibacterial ingredients, the hedgehog spiny beard also acts directly against harmful bacteria. Thus, the Hericium fights completely without side effects, but with double efficiency not only bacterial inflammation of the mucous membranes.
Hericium as benefactor of the intestinal flora
As you have just read, Hericium may also have an antibacterial effect. However, unlike the classic antibiotic, it can distinguish between “good” and “bad” bacteria. In doing so, it not only leaves the good bacteria of the intestinal flora in peace, but even promotes their growth. It mainly ensures the proliferation of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids. Healthy intestinal flora is ultimately also reflected in good blood values. Thus, regular intake of Hericium can lead to an improvement in uric acid, creatinine and LDL levels.
In addition, the application is also recommended as an adjunct to antibiotic therapy. Here, Hericium can alleviate the side effects while supporting the intended effect. Besides antibiotics, the yeast Candida albicans is one of the biggest threats to our intestinal flora. But here too, the Hericium mushroom proves to be a protector and preserver, efficiently curbing the growth of the yeast fungus.
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Hedgehog spiny beard against cancer
Hericium mushroom has been shown to be an effective adjunctive therapy for various cancers of the digestive tract. It exerts its antitumor effect on two different levels:
- It stimulates the immune system and supports it in the fight against cancer cells. One of the reasons for this is that it keeps the intestinal mucosa healthy. This produces various defense cells, which later become active throughout the body and so naturally in the area of the digestive organs. In addition, Hericium specifically increases the activity of T and B lymphocytes, macrophages and other immune cells. In any case, a stable as well as active immune system has the best chance of successfully fighting cancer cells.
- The ingredients ergosterol and lectin are also able to directly inhibit tumor growth. Besides the tumor itself, possible metastases are also slowed down in their growth by the Hericium.
Studies found a significant antitumor Hericium effect on the following cancers:
- Stomach cancer
- Colon cancer
- Esophageal Cancer
- Sarcoma 180
Beyond that the vital mushroom seems to be also a meaningful companion of the conventional cancer treatment with chemo or radiotherapy. Thus, patients report that fewer side effects occur when taking Hericium than without accompanying medicinal mushroom therapy.
What does Hericium do for stress and nervous disorders?
The hedgehog spiny beard unfolds its health-promoting effect especially also in the area of the central nervous system. In this way, it can alleviate various nerve disorders, even if their causes are still largely unclear, as in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, for example. In addition, Hericium develops an effect that can be described as calming and balancing. For this reason, it enhances both physical and psychological well-being in many ways.
Help with irritable stomach and irritable bowel syndrome
At this point, the two central Hericium application areas of nervous and digestive systems overlap. Both irritable stomach and irritable bowel usually have to do with nervous overstimulation. The intestine is traversed by a dense network of around 100 million nerve cells. This makes it a central organ in the control of stress responses. On the other hand, like the stomach, it reacts directly to stress. Therefore, it is beneficial for both that Hericium counteracts mental restlessness on an organic level and has an overall balancing effect. It noticeably reduces the experience of stress on a psychological level.
Hericium for a better mood
For centuries, TCM healers have had experiences with Hericium that suggest a mood-lifting effect. This not only reduces stress symptoms such as restlessness and sleep disorders in their patients. Even depression and anxiety decrease in intensity by taking Hericium. Therefore, the vital mushroom is also often used as a tonic during menopause. Thanks to its balancing effect, hormone-related mood swings are significantly reduced.
Support for nerve growth
To understand the following Hericium application areas, it is helpful if we look at how exactly the ingredients of the vital mushroom influence our nerves. In this context, laboratory research has found that primarily the hericenones and erinacins stimulate nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF plays a crucial role in regeneration after nerve damage. These can result, for example, from trauma or certain metabolic processes. NGF promotes the reconstruction of myelin sheaths. These are cells that wrap around the nerve cells. They are responsible for both the supply and protection of the nerves.
In a laboratory study with rats, scientists have come even closer to understanding this process. Thus, it is probably primarily the oligodendrocytes whose formation is stimulated by Hericium. Oligodendrocytes, in turn, are responsible for myelination of nerves in the central nervous system. This means that the more oligodendrocytes there are, the better the nerves can do their job. In addition, Hericium also ensures that sufficient myelin basic proteins are synthesized. Without these basic building blocks, the body cannot produce myelin sheaths.
In addition to NGF and oligodendrocytes, Hericium additionally promotes neuronal differentiation. The researchers hold a certain polysaccharide responsible for this, which occurs in the hedgehog spiny fungus. In addition, various studies indicate that the intake of the vital mushroom is associated with a longer life of nerve cells as a whole.
Alleviation of dementia, Parkinson's disease and other neuropathies.
The mechanisms just described make Hericium a particularly valuable medicinal mushroom for the following diseases and problems:
- Dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease)
- Parkinson’s disease
In trauma, strokes and neuropathies, it seems obvious that a good supply of nerve cells and rapid regeneration are an advantage in the course of the disease. In Parkinson’s disease, the connection is also quite clear: Behind the typical symptoms such as tremor is the gradual loss of nerve cells in certain regions of the brain. As a result, there is a lack of dopamine, which in turn causes disorders of the musculoskeletal system. If now the Hericium has an effect that at least slows down the loss of nerve cells, this means a clear advantage for those affected.
The exact nature of the alleviating effect in dementia and in Alzheimer’s disease in particular is still largely unclear. However, this is also because researchers are still not sure what causes the creeping mental decline in the first place. In Alzheimer’s, they suspect a mixture of plaques deposited in the brain, accompanied by the death of nerve cells. Since conventional medicine is still in the dark here, it is all the more valuable that those affected have positive experiences with Hericium.
For example, a study from Japan examined the cognitive abilities of people between the ages of 50 and 80 who had mild dementia. They compared the memory performance of a group that took 750 mg of Hericium powder daily with that of a placebo group. The Hericium group performed significantly better than the placebo group. It was also shown that the effect became greater with the duration of intake. Four weeks after discontinuing Hericium powder, both groups again showed similar cognitive performance. Other studies also give evidence of an improvement in concentration and spatial orientation when taking Hericium.
At this point we would like to mention another Hericium experience in the field of nervous disorders. It is about the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis. Here, the Hericium mushroom has been shown to positively regulate TH1 and TH2 immune responses in the central nervous system. The course of the disease can thus often be slowed down and those affected notice a decrease in their symptoms in the course of taking Hericium.
Support for the metabolism
In connection with the protective effect on the gastric mucosa, we have already mentioned that the Hericium mushroom has a positive effect on various blood values. Thus, its intake reduces total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. This in turn translates into a lower risk of atherosclerosis and high blood pressure.
In addition, according to experience, Hericium can support weight loss. In fact, like most vital mushrooms, it promotes detoxification and the elimination of toxins.
Hericium for diabetes
Since time immemorial, TCM experts have assumed that hedgehog spines have a regulating effect on blood sugar levels. More and more new studies confirm this experience. Thus, a study on rats suffering from diabetes showed that the medicinal mushroom can have a positive influence on the crucial blood values and neuropathies. In contrast to the control group, the Hericium group had lower blood glucose levels, lower serum triglycerides, and lower total cholesterol. Among other things, Hericium ingredients can inhibit alpha-glucosidase, an enzyme that converts starch into sugar.
When can I still take Hericium?
In addition to all the above-mentioned positive effects on the human body, Hericium mushroom repeatedly proves to be a supporter of the immune system. It sustainably strengthens it and supports it in the fight against flu and other “common” infections. Even with hospital germs and Lyme disease, Hericium increases the chances of recovery.
Furthermore, there are reports of positive influences of Hericium on:
- ADHD symptoms
- Menopausal complaints
- Wound healing
Buy Hericium and take it correctly
Because sufferers are always asking questions like “Where can I get the best Hericium preparation?” or “What is the best way to take Hericium?”, we have compiled some more information for you here that deals with the use of Hericium as an alternative medicine therapeutic.
Where can I buy Hericium?
Since in our latitudes there is virtually no hedgehog spiny beard mushroom from wild collections, the options for purchase are limited to cultivars. Here, in any case, it is important to rely on an experienced grower who makes his cultivation methods transparent. Due to the different laws and regulations in different countries, you are on the safe side with German mushroom growers.
It must be clear from the breeding methods that organic standards are met. Fungi attract toxins and pollutants like a sponge. That’s why all the chemicals and pesticides from cultivation ultimately end up in your body. Hericium also thrives best at around 23° Celsius and 90% humidity. Under these conditions, the risk of mold is relatively high. That is why it is imperative that it grows in a sterile environment. Various cellulose-containing materials can be used as culture media. For example, Hericium grows well on wood flour, wheat bran, and various agricultural residues such as straw or wood chips. However, the exact medium is not decisive for the quality as long as the other conditions mentioned are met.
In summary, you should choose a Hericium product from a German manufacturer that credibly adheres to organic farming guidelines. You are also on the safe side if you do not rely on the information provided by any Internet stores and dealers, but if possible buy directly from the producer.
How can I take Hericium?
If you want to treat a health problem with Hericium, you need to take the mushroom regularly. It is not enough to eat the fresh medicinal mushroom now and then as a side dish to the main meal. Most growers offer their vital mushrooms in a well preserved form like powder anyway.
In principle, the intake should be daily. It has proven useful to take the selected preparation in each case with some distance before meals. We also recommend the capsule form. The powder keeps longer in capsules than open. In addition, the powder contains the whole mushroom with all its ingredients and not just individual extracts. Make sure that the powder has been produced at gentle drying temperatures of maximum 40° Celsius. Higher temperatures could destroy important ingredients.
No general statement can be made about the dosage. In addition to the exact preparation, this always depends on your physical constitution and the specific problem. Feel free to consult our experts to find out the ideal dosage for you.
Learn more about the vital mushroom Hericium erinaceus and its positive properties on your health here in this video
How long should I take Hericium?
We also cannot make any general statements about the period of use. However, in any case, it is so that the use of vital mushrooms is always over a long period of time. This can be a matter of a few weeks or even years. Since Hericium does not cause side effects, this is not problematic at all. If you notice a reaction from your body to Hedgehog Spinebeard, it is more likely to be at the beginning of the intake. At this time, changes in digestion may indicate that the fungus is helping the body detoxify. Possible unpleasant phenomena can be quite easily remedied by temporarily lowering the dose. Otherwise, they also give themselves after a short time all by themselves.
How fast does Hericium work?
The effect of Hericium starts immediately with the first intake. However, since it is not a high-dose drug, but a natural remedy, the reaction in the body is relatively gentle and slow. Often a medicinal mushroom is used for problems that have already existed for a long time. Therefore, it also takes time to sustainably break through the causes and mechanisms of the disease. However, unlike conventional medicines, you do not have to expect side effects even if you take Hericium for a longer period of time.
For mushroom powders there are many suppliers
You will find trustworthy ones with controlled organic cultivation in Germany, but unfortunately also less recommendable importers of cheap goods. Read what is important when buying.
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The 14 most important vital mushrooms
Scientific studies / sources
- Takashi Mizuno et al: “Antitumor-active Polysaccharides Isolated from the Fruiting Body of Hericium erinaceum, an Edible and Medicinal Mushroom Called yamabushitake or houtou.”; Biosci. Biotech. Biochem., 56 (2), 347-348, 1992.
- Hiromichi Kenmoku et al: “Erinacine Q, a New Erinacine from Hericium erinaceum, and its Biosynthetic Route to Erinacine C in the Basidiomycete; Biosci.”; Biotech. Biochem, 66(3), 571-575, 2002.
- Eun Woo Lee et al: “Two Novel Diterpenoids, Erinacines H and I from the Mycelia of Hericium erinaceum; Biosci.”; Biotech. Biochem.; 64(11), 2402-2405, 2000.
- Stamets, P.: “MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms”; Myco Media, 2002.
- Prof. Dr. med. Ivo Bianchi: “Modern Mycotherapy”; Hinckel Druck, 2008
- Kawagishia, H. et al: “Anti-Dementia Effects of a low polarity fraction extracted from Hericium Erinaceum.”; Japan.
- – Wong K. et al: “Functional Recovery Enhancement Following Injury to Rodent Peroneal Nerve by Lion’s Mane Mushroom Hericium erinaceus .”; University of Malaya, Malaysia “Medicinal Mushrooms”, Botanica Press, 1995.