There are plenty of beneficial and health-giving funghi out there if you take the time to look. One of the most recognizable, and therefore surely desirable, is the funghi known as Jew’s or Sow’s Ear. Once located, the reason why is clear. The cold, soft, velvety texture is uncannily like an ear and always a source of intrigue, passed around friends with exclamations of delight and disgust.
Abundant in summer and autumn, when it is constantly respawning young and tender, it can be found during all seasons, only it is liable to be dried up and tougher. Simple soaking in water for an hour will restore it to its supple form, as the photo shows. Jew’s Ear grows on dead elder, with some citing its name as a derivative of Judas’ Ear (who hung himself on elder). Pick sparingly from a wide selection of trees to ensure no impact to the ‘plant’.
In the east, Jew’s Ear (known as Wood Ear in China and Japan) is much prized for its medicinal benefits. Hailed as an anti-inflammatory, it is eaten to relieve tonsillitis, swelling, etc, but is also regarded as a powerful anti-carcinogen, used to prevent, treat and stop tumours.
In the west, the influx of eastern restaurants, thai in particular, means that you have probably eaten it before, though you may not have recognised it. Chains like Wagamamas and Busaba use Jew’s Ear in their soups, but it takes on a black translucent nature when cooked.