Category Archives: Fungus

The Fungus sub-category includes all posts to do with Fungi, Mushrooms or Mycelia.

Edible/Inedible

All posts are included whether edible or not. I will do my best to make sure that all information is accurate and up to date, but you should be 100% sure yourself before picking mushrooms.

Tree Fungus in Epping Forest

On one of my now frequent visits to Epping Forest, I had no intentions of foraging, just out for exercise; However, I just happened to come across quite a lot of tree fungus in Epping forest this time. Both easily identifiable, and (at least for me) unidentifiable.

Birch Polypore

So the first thing I cam across was a dead Birch tree, which had quite a lot of Birch Polypore (Pitptoporus betulinus). Piptoporus comes from the latin meaning ‘pores cast down’ and betulinus from its host tree, the birch.

Birch tree with Birch Polypore

Dead Birch tree with Birch Polypore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s easy to identify. It’s brown on the top, and white on the bottom. From the name, unlike other mushrooms, it doesn’t have gills on the bottom for spreading its pores, it has lots of tiny holes instead. It’s only found on dead or dying Birch trees, and it erupts directly from the truck in a bracket shape (also a horseshoe shape at one stage in its development).

It turns out that Birch Polypore is an amazing resource when it comes to found food; It is edible, but can be a little bitter, however, it is much more useful as a medicinal item. The Birch Polypore makes an immune tonic which is anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-parasitic, anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, styptic. I’ve written a separate and full article about the health benefits here…

Jew’s Ears

I’ve been keeping an eye out for these for ages now, and not had any luck. They grow on Elder, and my favourite garden plant is our Elder tree. I’ve had plenty of use out of the flowers and berries. Also, on my first guided foraging walk, the instructor showed them and told us all about them. On top of all that, I knew that there were a fair few Elder in and around Epping Forest.

I was actually rushing back to the car, having stayed a little longer than expected, so I apologise for the poor quality of the pictures.

Jew’s Ears on Elder

Apparently, the politically correct name for them now is Jelly Ears,  but I know them as Jew’s Ears so that’s the name that I’ll be using.

Like the Birch Polypore, this one is quite easy to identify and not easy to confuse with anything else. It has a slightly rubbery, jelly-like texture, and turns in on itself like an ear. It’s a sort of leathery-pink colour (a bit like skin) and as far as I’m aware, it’s mostly found on Elder trees, so that’s a good giveaway.

Jew’s Ear Fungus

If you’ve ever eaten Chinese food, there’s a good chance that you’ve eaten these in a meal. They can also be picked, wiped clean and eaten raw. They’re fairly tasteless, and a little chewy, so quite useful as a natural gum to chew on. I’ve done a more in-depth article about them here…

Not so easily identified

On a huge fallen oak, I saw this rather unattractive fungus.

Black Witches Butter

I’ve marked it as Witches Butter, and I think that’s probably correct, but it could be either Exidia Glandulosa (Black Witches’ Butter, Black Jelly Roll, or Warty Jelly Fungus), or possibly Exidia Nigricans (Witches Butter). Either way they’re pretty disgusting looking. Apparently, they are edible similarly to Jew’s Ears in that they absorb flavours quite well in cooking. It could be a while before I give it a try.

Ascotremella faginea – Jelly Brain Fungus

This Jelly brain-like fungus on the same fallen oak, is also pretty nasty looking. I found a reference to a Ascotremella faginea, and that seems to match a lot of the pictures that Google has. There doesn’t seem to be too much information on the internet for it, so I’m going to steer well clear!

unidentified polypore? brackets on Oak

I suspect that these bracket fungus on an Oak tree were easier to identify a while ago before they started to break down.

Wood Cauliflower?

There was a small pile of this in the leaves next to the tree. Probably an old Wood Cauliflower, but too far gone now to be sure.

Not sure

Unfortunately, the picture is a little out of focus, and you can’t see the caps of these. All I can really be sure of is that they are not polypores, because I can see the gills! Looking at the tree bark, it could be some kind of Cherry maybe? A varied, maybe Oak leaf litter around the base. Possibly Oyster mushrooms, if so that would be great, but I can’t be sure from the picture. I may have to go back and have another look, or bring one home with me.

Jew’s Ear Mushroom (Auricularia auricula-judae)

The Jew’s Ear fungus is one that I was on the lookout for, and came across it by accident. It’s quite unique looking and has been used in food and medicine for a very long time.

Jew’s Ear on Elder

Other Names

The name “Jew’s Ear” probably came about as a corruption of the original “Judas’ Ear”; Which in turn, was probably from the belief that Judas hung himself from an Elder tree. Nowadays, it is considered not politically correct, so it is often referred to as Jelly Ear or Wood Ear. Other names it has had include: Ear Fungus, Common Ear Fungus, Chinese Fungus, Pig’s Ear, Black Wood Ear, and Tree Ear.

Edibility

Jew’s Ear is safe to eat, and has a mild, even bland flavour. It has a soft, jelly-like texture, although older specimens can become quite chewy.

The fruit is used quite widely in Asian cooking, because although it doesn’t have a strong taste, it absorbs other strong flavours quite readily.

Identifying

In the UK, it is mostly found on Elder trees, but has also been found on Beech, Ash and Spindle Wood. It can grow both singly or in a group and it reacts to the weather; After rain, the fruit swell up and look their most ear-like; After a dry period, the fruit shrivel and are much harder to find.

Jew’s Ear Fungus

They can be pink, pale brown, often with a purplish hint when young, turning dark brown or even black when old. They’re between 3 and 8 cm, and ear shaped, sometimes cup shaped in young fruit. Often covered in downy hairs, sometimes the wrinkles resemble veins, making them even more ear-like.

They usually develop new growth in January, so late winter/early spring can be a good time to look for them; Especially after rain, as they tend to fill out a bit when wet.

Food use

Jew’s Ear has been recorded as having been used for food from ancient times in China, as well as other parts of Asia, Africa, and Poland. It is often cooked in soups and used dried to thicken stews.

Medicinal

This fungus has a much stronger background of folk medicine than as food. It has been used as a poultice to treat eye infections, and as a palliative to treat sore throats. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it would have been boiled in milk or steeped in beer to produce the throat medicine.

In China it was used as a soup to treat colds and fevers, and more recently, in Ghana as a blood tonic.

Some research has been done into the medicinal attributes of Jew’s Ear, the most noteworthy including: It was investigated for use as an anti-tumour, but the glucans extracted from it were ineffective (1). However, a more recent study in the 1980s showed that they were effective (2). A polysaccharide extracted from it has been shown to have a hypoglycemic effect and could be used in treating diabetes. Other chemicals extracted from it have had anticoagulant abilities and have been shown to lower general cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol (3).

Uses of Jew’s Ear

As a “trail food”, that is, something you can pick off a tree, clean and eat, it can be quite a good gum substitute, and the anti-cholesterol properties are not to be ignored.

Dried, it can be added to all sorts of stews and sauces to thicken them, as an un-processed alternative to flours, because of it’s absorbent abilities.

My favourite use, second to chewing on them raw, is as an ingredient in Hot and Sour soup. If I ever find enough of them in a place where I’m allowed to collect them, I’ll let you know how it goes…

References

http://www.wildmushroomsonline.co.uk/Identifying-Edible-Mushrooms-The-Jews-Ear/1.php

  1. Misaki, A.; Kakuta, M.; Sasaki, T.; Tanaka, M.; Miyaji, H. (1981). “Studies on interrelation of structure and antitumor effects of polysaccharides: antitumor action of periodate-modified, branched (1→3)-β-D-glucan of Auricularia auricula-judae, and other polysaccharides containing (1→3)-glycosidic linkages”. Carbohydrate Research. 92 (1): 115–29. doi:10.1016/S0008-6215(00)85986-8. PMID 7196285.
  2. Ikekawa, Tetsuro; Uehara, Nobuaki; Maeda, Yuko; Nakanishi, Miyako; Fukuoka, Fumiko (1968). “Antitumor activity of aqueous extracts of ediblemushrooms”. Cancer Research. 29 (3): 734–5. PMID 5813100.
  3. Yuan, Zuomin; He, Puming; Cui, Jianhui; Takeuchi, Hisanao (1998). “Hypoglycemic effect of water-soluble polysaccharide from Auricularia auricula-judae Quel. on genetically diabetic KK-Ay mice”. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 62 (10): 1898–1903. doi:10.1271/bbb.62.1898. PMID 9836425