Sunday, 26 February 2012

Make No Mistake

Whilst walking through the woods with my daughter today, she began then inevitable "what's that?", "can you eat that?" stream of questions. Although she knows many wild edibles, we tend to avoid talking about fungi as it's a topic within wild food which should be metered when working with children since it's one where getting it wrong through misidentification can have have deadly consequences. However, this time, she pointed to these, which were worth pursuing.

The Jew's Ear (or Jelly Ear) fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae) is rather unique in the world of fungi as it's edible, easily identifiable and have no confusion species. This is why when running general survival courses, it is the only fungus I allow students to use.

High in iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc and very high in numerous B vitamins as well as Selenium, this foodstuff is an very useful component of a survival diet for those who have no meat or handy guide to wild fungi (see below).

This fungus must be cooked thoroughly, so no munching on the trail. Although used extensively in Chinese cuisine, I think it tastes rubbish, as do most Westerners, so it's one of "throw it in the stew" foods. I suggest shredding as the texture us not my favourite either. My daughter quickly went off the idea of eating them after touching one and the topic soon changed back to wild greens and flowers, such as gorse and primrose, which are presently out here in Devon.

Jew's Ear has to be dried if you wish to store it, and at about 90% water, it shrinks down quite a lot. They can often be found on trees in this dried state (photo to follow) in the summer or early autumn. However, in this context, there is a distinction between dried and dead; and you don't want to be eating dead ones. Thankfully, there is an easy test; just pop them in some cold water and if they swell, they were dried and if not, they were dead, and should be discarded.

In summary, this fungus is a no brainer. You can't really get it wrong in terms of identification, it's easy to cook and can be stored. As it's generally found on dead elder, more specifically dead and not rotten elder, it's an indicator for easy firewood also.

Please note that this article has been written from British perspective and although I am aware that there are confusion species internationally, I am unaware of any in Britain or if any of the international confusion species are poisonous. Please complete local research before foraging.

Remember, there is no "safe food test" for fungi, so positive identification is essential. Never ever take risks with fungi, even a tiny bit of some of them can send you loopy or even kill you. For those interested in learning more about fungi identification and uses, there are a few good books about. Mushrooms by Roger Phillips is considered one of the best for us Brits.

Another post on the topic of confusion species: Caveat Comestor.

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