If you get to the Wednesday Downtown farmers market too late, you will likely miss your chance to try one Cliff Kane’s fastest selling products: lion’s mane.

In the wild, the mushroom lives up to its name with cascading white fibers that engulf the side of trees. In contrast, whether bunched in small trays or filling a large box, Kane’s homegrown variety is reminiscent of puppy paws rather than the king of the jungle. While they may be smaller, the medicinal mushrooms promise the same power used in Chinese medicine for centuries.

“The fibers are like crab meat. They can get pretty shaggy in the wild. It looks really crazy,” Kane said on a recent Wednesday as customers who know him by name chose from a variety of oyster, shiitake, pioppino and lion’s name gourmet mushrooms. Kane grows a half dozen varieties throughout the year on his farm in La Habra Heights. The former teacher purchased his property with an avocado orchard in 2011. All products from Kane’s Family Farm are 100 percent natural, hand grown, hand picked and free of chemicals and pesticides.

Over the past six years, Kane has been slowly expanding his mushroom selection. Three years ago he grew his first lion’s mane. Now, he barely keeps up with demand.

“I kept coming by but he hasn’t had any the past three weeks,” said customer Eme Koffman, who recently featured the white mushroom on her Instagram “cooking with my guru.” Koffman cut the mushrooms into medallions, then sautéed the white fibers until they were golden brown and mixed them into vegan crab cakes. With the mushrooms back in stock, Koffman left Kane’s stand Wednesday with a pound ready for her next batch of cakes.

“Right now my (grow) room is doing really well because it’s not as cold as it was a couple weeks ago,” Kane said, explaining the weather can impact indoor crops like mushrooms.

Lion’s mane is popular because it is associated with cognitive and neurological benefits. Several recent studies have documented their positive impact on the brain and nerve regeneration. For example, a double-blind placebo-controlled study of 50-80 year old Japanese men and women diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment showed marked improvement in cognitive function, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Restorative Medicine.

“In another trial, administration of (the mushroom) at 2 grams per day (in cookies) over four weeks showed a reduction in some symptoms of anxiety and depression in menopausal women,” wrote the paper’s author Dr. Kevin Spelman in 2017. Kane says his mother takes capsules of lion’s mane from the health food store every day to help with nerve damage caused by back surgery. You can buy the capsules in health food stores and online but Kane’s stand is the only place you’ll find them at the farmers market.

If you’d like to taste the mushroom for yourself, you can find Kane’s booth at both the Wednesday downtown farmers market and Saturday Virginia Avenue Park market. Go early for the best chance of grabbing a tray before he sells out.

Once the furry mushrooms make their way into a sauté pan at home, Kane advises his customers to cook the mushrooms in thin slices, low and slow.

“It needs to cook longer than most mushrooms because it has more moisture in it and the flavor develops as it cooks,” Kane said.

Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press