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.
ThetaHealer, Naturopath, Ayurvedic Practitioner, Wholefood Cook and Mother.