Wood Ear or Jew’s Ear mushrooms are found on dead elder wood and are very common – in these politically more correct times they may also be called Jelly Ears. Most books will call them Jew’s Ears and the latin name is Auricularia auricula-judae.
I spotted this log by the side of a canal but once you have seen Jew’s Ear once you will notice it everywhere. It grows pretty much all year round and will be especially common after a spell of wet weather.
The fungus is best picked when pale and slightly velvety – gets quite rubbery and a bit slimy as it gets older. Use a knife or scissors to cut it away from the wood.
There is no getting away from the fact it is a bit rubbery and has quite a bland flavour but it is very common and free. I cook it up with onion and carrots and stock and make a milky soup out of it and whizz in a blender to reduce the rubbery texture!
It also has medicinal uses but not used as much these days as it used to be. In the old classic Gerard’s Herbal it was recommended to boil Jew’s Ear mushrooms in milk as a medicine for sore throats. It is still used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a range of health problems and you can buy it dried or even buy cans of Jew’s Ear Juice in Chinese supermarkets if you so desire!