Losing Your Nerve – Making Lion’s Mane Double Extract

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This article is a version of a more expanded, in-depth article on medicinal mushrooms and lion’s mane double extract altogether which I contributed to Essential Herbal Magazine; published for the issue that came out for April 2014!

Lion's Mane Mushroom | Iowa Herbalist
It has been my pleasure to purchase this locally-grown batch of Lion’s Mane mushrooms from friendly farmer Todd Mills down at Mushroom Mills, located near Oxford Junction, Iowa!

During the summer, you can find these gourmet delights and others at the Iowa City Downtown Farmers Market.  Mushroom Mills sells a variety of other mushrooms, most notably several beautiful strains of oyster mushrooms.  I have been busy dehydrating them in preparation of making a Lion’s Mane double extract.  Thank you, Todd!

Lion's Mane | Iowa Herbalist

So here’s a little interval of time where I focus on medicinal fungi.  While most probably wouldn’t consider them “medicinal herbs” – I do.

What more, they blow most herbs out of the water with how potent they are.  Lion’s Mane is no exception: studies these days are going crazy about medicinal mushrooms, with Lion’s Mane appearing in that spotlight frequently.

Lion’s Mane is also known by different names, such as Monkey Head, Satyr’s Beard, and Deer Tail to name a few.

Healing, Nutrition, and Phytonutrients of Lion’s Mane

So what’s the scoop on this leonine mushroom? Here’s what studies and research have unveiled so far.

  • Studies have shown that daily (or frequent) consumption of Lion’s Mane improves general stress, anxiety, and depression, while touting “neuroregenerative” effects. That is, eating the mushroom over time strengthens, tonifies, repairs, and improves function of the nerves in your body. In general, Lion’s Mane has notably and unmistakably improved cognitive capacity and memory in humans and animals.
  • On a more exciting level, Lion’s Mane is looking very promising for the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, old age onset dementia, and senility.  It has also been noticeably beneficial to nerve damage as the result of physical trauma or injury.

The Herbalist’s Approach

Herbalists using mushrooms in their practice? Best get use to it!

Many traditional and clinical herbalists both already use reishi. But the more we learn about mushrooms, the more we’re going to see them used therapeutically and nutritionally, that much is certain. Lion’s Mane is likely to be one of the first among those ranks.

  • Very fittingly for its name, Lion’s Mane is a nerve tonic to the highest degree – you could call it a “Nerve Adaptogen.”  As a signature, Lion’s Mane and its effects are all about “getting your courage back.” Good mnemonic device, right?
  • This bizarre-looking, lionized mushroom is perfect for those dry, brittle, spread-thin and nervous “Vata” people who can’t afford to lose a drop of nutrition, especially when most herbal nervines (passionflower, kava kava, motherwort, valerian etc.) tend towards drying, diuretic, depleting action.  These favorites do tend to soothe it’s true, but also increase output of nutrients in your urine.  Lion’s Mane is high in protein (about 20%) and is not diuretic, so this does not pose a problem.
  • Its effects are not immediate, and it is not an instant nervine like Motherwort or Lemon Balm.  Since it is a tonic, it is to be taken daily or on a regular basis, improving overall function over time while not compromising nutrients at all. In fact, this mushroom is a nutritious food, even for those who aren’t concerned about health.

So it is a bit like getting some “lion’s courage.”  It steadies and improves the nerves over time, dispelling anxiety and stress.  

Studies have also shown that it even increases “bravery” in some test subjects – stressed mice who were fed Lion’s Mane as part of their diet were more likely to recover, and then explore and investigate unknown or new territory of their environments.   Talk about losing your nerve, and then getting it back!

You can eat and prepare Lion’s Mane like any other mushroom, but if you want to focus on its medicinal effects it may be a better idea (and save you money) to make a double extract.  

This is the general approach to crafting a tincture out of most medicinal mushrooms like Reishis and Shiitakes, as only some of the important constituents are alcohol-soluble– while others are hot-water soluble and sensitive to alcohol.  So here I’ve provided this excellent medicinal mushroom extraction method from Guido Mase’s book The Wild Medicine Solution, and rhapsodized it as it applies to Lion’s Mane.  (I would also recommend you buy the book; it is a treasure trove of information!)

Two-Phase Extract

  • Dried Lion’s Mane
  • High Proof Alcohol (I use 151 Everclear)
  • Glycerin (though I consider this optional)
  • Water

-Take your dried mushrooms, divide the into two equal parts and chop them well.  Using the first part, prepare a tincture by covering the mushrooms with a solvent of 75 percent alcohol, 15 glycerin, and 10 percent water (if opting out on glycerin: 90 percent alcohol, 10 percent water.  Glycerin is meant to help with the emulsion).  Set tincture aside, and let it steep for four weeks, shaking it occasionally.  Then strain it and measure its volume.

-After you’ve strained the tincture, take the second part of the dried mushrooms and simmer them for at least one hour, preferably two or more, in twice as much water as you used for the total solvent volume.  Keep adding water, if necessary.

-At the end of the simmering, strain the mushrooms out and reduce the volume of fluid you have left by boiling it down so that it equals the volume of strained tincture.  Take this off the heat and allow it to cool completely.

-Combine the simmered broth and strained tincture, mixing well with a whisk.  Make sure you are adding the tincture to the broth and not vice versa to reduce the amount of concentrated alcohol the constituents in the broth have to endure.

-Bottle and store, preferably in a dark-tinted glass bottle or container.

Dehydrating Lion's Mane | Iowa Herbalist

References:   Paul Stamets/Huffington Post.  Wild Medicine Solution by Guido Mase.  PubMed.gov.  Personal Experience.

Nettle for your Mettle! – Black Strap Nettle Syrups

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Stinging Nettle | Iowa Herbalist

This article is a version of an expanded article on Black Strap Nettle Syrup, which I contributed to the Essential Herbal Magazine for publishing June 2014!

Winter time does not just have to be about fighting off the sporadic illness with acute cold remedies.  During cold and flu season, we can also focus on keeping our immune system on its toes.

There are  several immune-boosting tonic herbs out there you can turn to, like Reishi, Astragalus and Licorice being popular ones; while pulling out your plants high in Vitamin C like Elder, Rose hips and Sumac berry give you an added edge.

But generally, and particularly for some of us, it is good to get as much nutrition in as you can, really.  During winter some of us struggle with getting enough of any vitamins and minerals in our diet, especially Vitamin D, which we principally receive through sunlight.

If you buy seasonally or grow your own vegetables, winter can be the doldrums when it comes to naturally vitamin-rich food.  As someone of the above ilk, and also tending towards the more wan and iron-depleted “Vata”  disposition , this is something I have to think about seriously– or winter quickly becomes my least favorite season.

For people like us, this also effects our immune systems and cold-fighting capabilities in turn.  Really, we can take all that we can get.

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica, Urtica urens), the feared and overlooked “super-food” of our time, is an ethical and easy solution to this fix.  There is indeed a big stigma on this plant because of its name and its sting, and yet there it still stands– one of the most nutritionally rich plants in North America.

Nettle’s nutritional value has been compared to that of most seaweeds and kelps.  It grows everywhere in thick clumps, and yet we continue to struggle with poor diets in this country!

Nettles are the highest land-bound source of protein from wild plants in the U.S., but also incredibly high in iron, calcium, vitamins A and B, and magnesium.  This plant is arguably more nutritious than spinach, kale, or asparagus.  It is prolific here in Iowa, and I am happy and grateful for its presence in these sparse wild places!

Nettle and Deer Skull | Iowa Herbalist

The only obstacle: they die back in winter.  The tender tops are picked in spring until they flower, when the plant’s chemistry becomes more hostile and abrasive in the interest of producing and protecting its seeds.   How do you manage to access this treasure trove of nutrition when the plant is dead?  

For starters, you can turn to an herbalist’s methods of preparation and storage.  I pick and dry nettle tops for storage throughout summer, saving them for their most important use in winter.

Some herbalists keep it that way, using the dried herb for a big pot of infusion once in a while, but I have seen this as being somewhat inefficient myself.

Plus, not everyone has the time (or palate) for heaping cups of Nettle tea.  Tincture would seem like a more obvious choice for convenience of storage, even capsules too, and yet the doses are much smaller and less effective than you would think.

Syrups come into play here as an appealing option; not all herbal syrups have to be cough syrups, and honey has been found to be one of the best mediums for holding and preserving vitamins and minerals.  

Not to mention– honey (raw or organic) in small tablespoon doses, is high in its own mineral content.  Think of it this way: instead of making your big pot of Nettle tea and trying to down the wonderful green sludge throughout your entire day, you instead make a more concentrated infusion and fix it into a syrup.  Then you are just taking that amount as a tablespoon supplement, bit by bit, throughout your day.  You can mix it into your coffee, or tea.

Also– it is sweet!

Nettles are rich in vitamins, while black strap molasses is rich in minerals. The perfect herbal supplement and best way to preserve your nettles: in a black strap nettle syrup. Learn to make it here.
A perfect consistency black strap nettle syrup, foamy from the heated honey – Photo by Adrian White

This concept inspired in me the following recipe, Black Nettle Syrup, which involves crafting your own homemade Nettle syrup and mixing it with Black Strap Molasses for added nutritional benefit.  If you are one of those folks that hungers for iron (or high iodine content) in the winter or anytime, you should really try this recipe.

When you are done, you will have a beautiful, dark syrup that has just the right amount of sweet with molasses flavor, and actually tastes quite pleasant.

It is also chock full of nutrients– most notably iron, potassium, vitamin A and B, calcium, magnesium, folate (vitamin B9), and manganese.  This could come in handy as a supplement for just about anyone, but may also be of marked health benefit for those with moderate anemia, anxiety, digestive disorders and menstrual irregularities.

Add Dried Stinging Nettle to Water | Iowa Herbalist

Black Nettle Syrup

What You’ll Need:

  • Dried (or Fresh) Stinging Nettles (at least 1 cup OK)
  • 20-30 oz. honey (preferably organic; raw is ok)
  • 15-20 oz. Black Strap Molasses
  • Water
  • A few hours of your time

-Fill a small to medium pot with water on stove top.  Bring water to a gentle simmer, then add your nettles to create initial “infusion”.  Cover.  Let this go for a time, until water is a very dark green.  You can leave it to simmer, or just leave it on low heat.  The sludgier looking the better (more vitamins/minerals).  You may add more water if too much evaporates, and infuse as long as you prefer.  It may take a while.

Boiling Nettles | Iowa Herbalist

-Once you have created your desired infusion, strain out herb from the infusion and put in a new clean pot.  Add your honey and bring up to a simmer again.

-At this point, you are “simmering down” your syrup to the consistency you like.   This may also take  a while.  Stir a bit here and there if you want.  Some syrups can be runnier with more water content, others can be simmered down more to be a bit thicker.  It just depends up on the length of simmering.  A couple notes: syrups are runnier at a higher temperature, so it will be a bit thicker when it is cooled down.  Also, y0u have yet to add Black Strap Molasses, which may also add thickness.

Boiling Nettle Syrup | Iowa Herbalist

-Final step: once you have simmered down to your desired syrup consistency, add the Molasses to the mixture and stir while it is still hot.  Let cool.

-Add cooled Black Nettle Syrup to desired container, preferably glass and amber-tinted.  Make sure to store syrup in fridge when not in use.

References:   NutritionData.com.  The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood.  Charles Garcia/California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism.  Personal experience and knowledge.

Dried Stinging Nettle | Iowa Herbalist