Wood ear mushroom, Auricularia auricula-judae, is a wonderful wild food that can be hugely beneficial for our immunity. It is easy to find around the Taranaki region, growing on rotting trees in damp, shady areas. I love spending time foraging in the native bush on our property to harvest wood ear. Simply being in the bush has profound effects on our health, with the plant chemicals we breathe in being shown to lower stress, improve immunity and enhance heart health. Harvesting food and medicine from this healing place feels extra potent.
Wood ear mushroom is particularly therapeutic for our immunity. Studies have shown antibacterial effects as well as high levels of polyphenols, potent antioxidants that protect us from disease. Wood ear is also rich in prebiotics such as beta glucan, feeding our beneficial gut bacteria that are an important part of our immune defense. Wood ear has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to nourish the lungs and the blood. Modern research has shown it to be effective against cancer, and significantly improving heart health. Nutritionally, wood ear is rich in nutrients such as vitamin B5 which is important for our adrenal health and selenium, a valuable antioxidant mineral that supports good detoxification.
Preparing Wood Ear Mushroom
Wood ear has a jelly like, crunchy texture that works well in lots of dishes, including soups, stir fry's and salads. Neutral tasting in itself, wood ear or black fungus absorbs seasoning and can become a delicious part of your meal! If you can find it fresh, harvest the younger fungi as this is more tender.
To prepare, rinse and cut off the fibrous part where it was attached to the log. Cut into smaller pieces, cover with water and boil for ten minutes. Boiling the mushroom actually increases the antioxidant effects and kills off any bacteria that may be present. Drain and rinse. From here they are ready to add towards the end of a stir fry with a savoury sauce or soup. Add towards the end of cooking to preserve the crunchy texture. A stir fry sauce that works well with wood ear is 2 T tamari, 2 T rice wine, 2 t sesame oil, 1 tsp coconut sugar. Thicken the sauce with 2 t corn starch mixed with 1/4 C water. In the photo below I added it to our gluten and dairy free pizza's for some fusion cuisine! Delicious.
Whenever harvesting from the wild, be absolutely sure you can identify what you are harvesting to avoid poisoning! Fortunately wood ear mushroom is easily identified by it's ear like shape, and the other similar looking mushrooms are generally also edible. These include black fungus and cloud ear mushroom. You can also purchase these mushrooms in dried form at Asian food stores. Soak the dried mushroom in warm water for 30 mins before cooking.
I have been inspired by the shifting I see in our global community as we reflect and begin to reimagine our world and what we wish to create. What if our model of health was one of these areas we re-vision? What would it look like to support our natural self healing mechanisms, to strengthen our body and spirit so that we can respond to pathogens and other health challenges in the best way possible? I am excited to think of a time when this becomes our primary approach to health, instead of simply the treatment of disease.
Yes natural therapies have many effective remedies that can act against pathogens and heal diseases - but that is just a part of what a natural approach to health offers. To shift into a natural health model means to foster our well being, to strengthen our resistance to disease rather than simply treating diseases once they are established. Such an approach empowers us to be proactive with our health, to consider and nurture that which needs support so that we can allow our natural self healing mechanisms to be restored rather than just fixing what has been broken.
I invite you to deepen your connection with your well being during this time. What areas are calling for nurturing in order for you to thrive? Are there mental or emotional blocks you notice to bringing in this nourishment? Do you know that you are worth it? Worth the time, worth caring for and providing the right resources for? Do you recognise that your body is a wise organism capable of self healing? Or do you feel fearful with your health, not knowing that it is possible to be vibrant and well? Let’s take this time to re-vision our approach to our health together. Let’s foster our wellness in a proactive and nurturing way. Let’s take care of ourselves and each other as we move consciously into this new world.
This recipe offers a vibrant, tasty way to get nutrient rich greens into our day. Fresh herbs are high in vitamin C, chlorophyll and beta carotene which are important antioxidants that protect against pollution, stress and pathogens, making this a great recipe for enhancing our immune resilience and well being. The World Health Organisation acknowledges environmental pollution as the underlying cause of 80% of all chronic degenerative diseases, so this is a great recipe for preventative health.
The nuts and seeds in this recipe contain important antioxidants such as zinc (pumpkin seeds especially), selenium and Vit E, further enhancing our immunity. This recipe is also rich in stress supporting nutrients such as magnesium, calcium and vitamin B5 that can support our immunity through calming and replenishing our nervous system and adrenals.
Herbal Pesto Recipe
Naturally gluten and dairy free
Place garlic and salt in a blender with close fitting blades and whizz until finely cut. If your blender doesn't have close fitting blades, simply chop garlic by hand first. You can also lightly saute garlic in oil to offer a more mellow flavour.
Add herbs, oil, nuts, salt and lemon juice and blend together.
Great to serve as a dip with chopped vegetable sticks or seed crackers, toss through pasta or slather on top of roast potato or kumara. Any extra can be frozen in small jars topped with a little olive oil.
ThetaHealer, Naturopath, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Wholefood Cook and Mother.