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Lucky Lion’s Mane Find Spawns Native Fungi Cloning Project

lion's mane mushroom health benefits

lion's mane mushroom health benefitsHenry Jephson was wandering around the countryside near Bristol during a Covid lockdown when his eye was caught by the ghostly appearance of a lion’s mane mushroom, its shaggy fronds hanging across a tree trunk.

Jephson, the head of research at the Bristol Fungarium, knew he was looking at something rare and special. A staple of traditional Chinese medicine, the lion’s mane is also native to the UK, but is under threat. The “absolutely enormous” specimen spotted by Jephson was the first to be seen in south-west England in eight years.

Little did he know then that the fungus would change the focus of Jephson’s work. He is now working with Natural England and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to get native mushrooms back into England’s woodlands. He helps run a mushroom farm, which has pivoted from growing oyster and shiitake mushrooms for restaurants, to conserving native fungi and creating health supplements from them.

Lion’s mane is so rare that it is illegal to collect it from the wild, and it must be left undisturbed. Jephson was happy to admire it on his walks around the farm where he found it, pleased it was thriving in the wild.

So he was shocked one day to see the landowner had felled its host tree. Speaking at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, he said: “The mushroom was smashed all over the ground in big soggy pieces. And so finding ourselves in a slightly unique situation because they’re illegal to collect, we picked up a solid lump of lion’s mane and took it back to the mushroom farm and started trying to get a clean culture of it.”

Jephson has cloned the mushroom and is keeping its culture going at the farm. He also spoke to the landowner, who was unaware of the rare nature of the fungus, and he has left the tree stump alone, with lion’s mane still growing on it.

This led the fungarium down the path of keeping native mushrooms alive. “It was finding the lion’s mane that really got us down that path of cloning rare mushrooms. And now people have been approaching us wanting natural strains.

“Natural England and RHS Wisley [have] slightly different projects, and are using our strains to experiment. Wisley are interested in the insects that feed on mushrooms, so have been growing our strains at their site on logs in their garden to monitor the insects which come.

“Natural England have several strains of native mushrooms that they want to be putting into woodland. They want to track how spores are travelling through woodland, but also to encourage deep rot fungus. So certainly mushrooms break down different parts of the trees, and we want, in order to encourage biodiversity, to have mushrooms that are good at breaking down.”

Rare fungi are not just at risk from unwitting landowners and their axes – there are fears that spores from commercial farms could be spreading into the wild and affecting native mushrooms.

“Mushroom farming is getting more and more popular, which is great,” Jephson said, “but all these commercial strains coming in, all these spores being put out in the environment, we just don’t know what they’re doing to local ecology.

“I was talking to someone at a truffle festival a few months ago, and they were saying they found yellow oyster mushrooms. And they started in the summer growing on a hay bale. And yellow oysters are an exotic species. They are just not endemic, it was in the middle of nowhere.

“She didn’t know if there was a mushroom farm nearby, but I bet there was one somewhere around there, or even a grow kit that someone had been growing in a windowsill, and these yellow oyster spores found their way out into the environment, on to a hay bale.”

Native, wild mushrooms could be better for people’s health than commercial strains, Jephson said: “The commercial strains have been selected for high yield, fast growth. Our mushrooms are the opposite. They’re growing in ugly lumps. They grow incredibly slowly. They’re really picky about conditions. But they taste amazing, and our UK strain of lion’s mane has been tested for medicinal compounds in it, and the wild clone has 30% more beta glucans than the commercial strains.”

Originally published by By Helena Horton |Jan. 15th, 2024

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