Mushrooms are quite unique in many ways, and one of the most special things about mushrooms is how they grow. First, spores inoculate a substrate, which then causes mycelium to grow. The mycelium are root-like structures, from which the actual mushroom eventually grows. The mushroom is what we call the fruiting body. It’s quite interesting to note that the mycelium, under the right conditions, can already contain some very unique bioactive compounds. In particular, a now quite legendary compound called erinacine A, is expressed in the mycelium but not in the fruiting body. This finding has been completely taken out of context though, in the mushroom supplements world.
Erinacine A, and other erinacines, do in fact occur in the mycelium of the mushroom. However, this compound is not always present in the mycelium, and is only expressed in high amounts when the conditions are perfect. However, this idea has led to the rising popularity of mycelium lion’s mane products. The issue with this trend is that the mycelium is not being produced properly for this purpose.
In order to cultivate fruiting body lion’s mane, you first have to inoculate a grain based substrate, with spores or even mycelium. These spores then start to form mycelium throughout the substrate. The myceliated substrate is then exposed to fruiting conditions, and the lion’s mane mushroom starts to grow. However, this process takes quite a long time, because lion’s mane is a relatively slow growing mushroom. The process can be cut short though, and this is what the mycelium on grain products do.
These products utilize the same process, they take grain substrate, inoculate it with lion’s mane spores or mycelium, and then they wait for the mycelium to colonize the grain substrate. Once there is a good amount of mycelium, the myceliated substrate is freeze dried and ground up. This means that a significant portion of a product like this, is simply just grains and not actual mushroom. In our opinion, this is simply a convenient shortcut that has been presented as the “next generation” of mushroom supplementation. This simply is not the case however, and all the research on lion’s mane, and the majority of human use of this mushroom, has all depended heavily on the fruiting bodies of the mushroom, not lazily produced mycelium!