Jelly-like fungus of unsettling consistency, this fungus grows in crinkly cap shaped clusters. Brown and velvety on the outside, shiny and wrinkled on the inside – it does indeed resemble a wibbly wobbly ear.
It’s texture is rubbery and gelatinous, generally between 3-10cm in diameter growing in clusters. It’s tiny spores are sausage shaped, with a white spore print.
Although available year round, they generally prefer cooler temperatures and damp and shady conditions, therefore often found in woodlands.
Jelly fungus are saprobic, which means they live on dead or dying matter. Whilst primarily spotted on elder wood, they can be found on other hardwood including ash, sycamore and beech. To be 100% sure you’re picking the right fungus, we recommend solely picking jelly ear from elder trees.
You’ll find clusters of jelly ear fungus growing on decaying branches, fallen branches, old logs and tree stumps. If you spot it on a living tree, it means that the tree is decaying and sadly at the end of its life.
In dry weather, the fungus shrivels up and goes almost black, waiting for the rain when it can rehydrate and go back to full form and continuing to grow!
The jelly fungus is more than happy to live through a frost, it’ll freeze solid and then happily thaw and continue to grow.
Extremely popular in Chinese medicine and cuisine, jelly ear fungus are packed with high protein and iron, and low in calories, carbs and fats.
In Asian supermarkets, you’ll find large bags of dried jelly ear fungus (commonly known as wood ear within the Asian community), which are reconstituted in liquid prior to cooking. The Chinese highly commend the jelly ear’s somewhat slippery yet crunchy texture, and this ‘rubber factor’ is an important element within Chinese cuisine.
In terms of flavour, when eaten alone their flavour is subtle. The beauty of the jelly ear is that when rehydrated in liquid with strong flavour, it absorbs so much of the flavour.
They must be cooked prior to eating, and shouldn’t be eaten raw.
Here are a handful of ideas:
– finely sliced and tossed through homemade pasta, we have a great pasta recipe featuring chestnut flour, combined with a creamy mushroom and parsley sauce.
– soaked in a wild fruity liqueur and then covered in dark chocolate, they make a rather quirky sweet treat, such as in this chocolate coated miso jelly ear recipe.
– the most popular Chinese dish featuring jelly ear fungus is in a salad.
– their jelly like texture mean they can be candied, like in this candied jelly ear recipe.
– infused in a simple asian noodle broth, such as this recipe
Thought to improve breathing, lower cholesterol, control blood sugars and to support overall wellbeing, and still a pivotal ingredient in Chinese medicine today.
In Europe the jelly ear fungus was used until the mid 1800s, thought to have the ability to cure body parts that the fungus looked like! It was used in the treatment of eye conditions (as its gelatinous qualities looked like an eye!). Also recommended by herbalists as a remedy for sore throats (by soaking the fungus in milk).
They contain an acidic polysaccharide which gives it anticoagulant properties, therefore it is not recommended to be consumed by anyone on blood thinning medication.
Also called a judas fungus as it grows on the elder tree, which Judas Iscariot was said to have hung himself on. This is a somewhat questionable story, considering elder trees are generally quite weak – and would thus be unlikely to be able to support the weight of a human!
Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds. With mushrooms, we’d recommend consulting multiple resources. Here, you’ll find some of our favourite mushroom foraging books.
Jelly ear fungus must be cooked before eaten, don’t eat them raw.
Both parts of its genus name (auricilaria auricula), are derived from the latin name meaning ‘ear’.
Jelly ear fungus may be confused with other cup fungus varieties, however all other fungi of this type have cups that grow upwards, whereas the jelly ear is downward facing.
If you solely pick jelly ear fungus from elder trees, it’s a little more certain that they won’t be mistaken.
Bay cup fungus is similar, however this fungus grows on the ground, whilst jelly ear fungus always grows on decaying wood.
Another possible confusion is the tripe fungus, however this has a body that is much smaller, paler and hairy.
If in doubt, always leave it out. We highly recommend using multiple resources for identification.
Many of our Cookery Courses include a short foraging walk as part of the day, introducing you to a handful of commonly found wild ingredients.
Essential if you’re picking on private land. As with everything, respect is key and goes a long way.
If in doubt, leave it out.
Why rush? Nature isn’t going anywhere! Take time to ensure you safely identify your finds.
One step at a time.
No one becomes an expert overnight. Build up your identification skills and your confidence will grow.
Enjoy the process.
Foraging is not only about what you pick but the experience – Immerse yourself in nature and appreciate the little things. The fresh air, birds chirping, a light breeze or the feel of soil beneath your feet.
With an abundance of forage at your doorstep, why not start local?
The 10% rule.
Only take what you need (or 10% of what is available). This not only means that you leave plenty for other foragers, but also local wildlife. We want to enjoy our ecosystem not damage it.
Leave room for regrowth.
Never uproot a plant so that it is always able to regrow after you have foraged from it.
Wash before consumption.
Always give your foraging finds a good wash before consuming, especially when picking on busy routes/path.