OFTEN known as the ‘jelly ear’ – or ‘wood ear’ as I prefer to call it – the magnificently ugly auricularia auricula-judae is a great edible fungus to find throughout the seasons.
If you look closely on lower branches of elder – particularly at this time of year you should find it in abundance.
While it may not appear too appetising, it is perfectly edible (although a little chewy and bland) and will deliver a welcome hit of calories while out in the field during a season that has few foraging opportunities.
It’s highly prized in many Asian countries where it is ground to a powder and used as a thickener. So high is the demand that countries like Australia export many thousands of tonnes of wood ear to Asia.
For me though, the greatest quality of the wood ear is that it is unmistakable. It can’t be confused with anything else (apart from its close cousin auricularia fuscosuccinea – but that is also edible) so there’s little danger of getting yourself into trouble through mis-identification, as is the risk with most fungi.
However, do not eat it raw. It must be washed and cooked thoroughly before consuming. Alternatively, dry it out and stuff it in your pack. It’ll pad out any stew over the fire at your next camp.
Oh, and one tip learned through experience… do not fry it – they have a tendency to explode in a frying pan!
Video: auricularia auricula-judae… Auricularia auricula-judae – wood ear – jelly ear – YouTube
FURTHER READING… February foraging notes