Meet Hericium erinaceus, also known as lion’s mane, or less frequently, the bearded tooth. In recent years this elegant fungus has elicited lots of attention in the medicinal mushroom scene for its ability to stimulate the production of Nerve Growth Factors in the brain that can improve cognitive performance and even reverse neurodegenerative diseases. It has a long history of use in East Asia, where it was traditionally used as an aid for digestive health. Nowadays, many mushroom farms have added this species into their portfolio, and you will be hard-pressed not to find a lion’s mane supplement in any health food shop. Needless to say, it is becoming an increasingly popular and important mushroom for human health.
But Lion's Mane is threatened with extinction in the wild and is under the highest form of protection in the UK, where no foraging is allowed whatsoever. Its natural habitat of ancient beech woodland has seen a steep decline in the past century, and there may be only a few dozen individuals left.
Inspired by the work of the ecosystem restoration movement, rewilding, my personal experience with lion's mane, and the traditions of land stewardship of indigenous cultures across the world, Project Hericium harks back to the very beginnings of Myceliate when I first discovered the conservation threats of this magnificent and important fungus. Myceliate was born from the idea of mutually assured sustenance, by combining an ancient human practice – outdoor mushroom cultivation – with our global need for wildlife restoration.
Symbiosis is a mutualistic association between species where each party provides for the other what they could not provide for themselves, thus assuring the survival of both. When we cultivate medicinal mushrooms, not only do we sustain ourselves, we also give these species a chance to grow, expand their habitat range, and spread their spores in the wild. By cultivating the right strains of threatened species, we give them a chance to pull back from the brink of extinction. Through this new citizen science project, we can all play our part in the restoration of our wildlife we all yearn for.
This project will operate at multiple levels of organisation – from the data gathering of wild specimens, to the practical cultivation level, to the long-term monitoring process and outreach level.