If you read all there is on the internet about Chickweed, you could be forgiven for expecting to trip over the stuff every few minutes. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but apart from having a tiny patch pointed out to me in January, I’ve seen none of it.

Chickweed spotted

On my way to Mudchute park today, I spotted it growing in several places by the side of the road. Fairly easy to spot when there actually is some!

Why sneaky?

Simple, because on the way back from Mudchute park, I found its hiding place:

Growing half-way up a London Plane tree

Halfway up a London Plane tree!

I’ve been on the lookout for pesky Alexanders for a while now. Mostly because I’ve read about how widespread they are, and about how they came to the UK with the Romans as a food stuff. Anyway, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve thought I have them, but then I’m not sure. The difficulty is that they’re not in flower until April, maybe late March, but definitely not in January and February.

Alexanders in Mudchute Park

So anyway, I was reading about making Gin Alexanders and getting irritated this weekend. After I’d given up I was reviewing my photos from last week, where I’d laid a broken ash twig on some weeds as a contrasting background. Guess what those weeds were? That’s right, and a great big pile of them too; And I’d seen them growing in quite a few different spots in the park.

Ash Twig on on Alexanders

In my garden

As if that weren’t frustrating enough; I was chasing our pet rabbits away from the flower bed, as usual, and guess what I spotted growing in the corner behind the Elder tree? Yep, pesky Alexanders again!

It could have been worse, at least I know I can find it now.

On one of my now frequent visits to Epping Forest, I had no intentions of foraging, just out for exercise; However, I just happened to come across quite a lot of tree fungus in Epping forest this time. Both easily identifiable, and (at least for me) unidentifiable.

Birch Polypore

So the first thing I cam across was a dead Birch tree, which had quite a lot of Birch Polypore (Pitptoporus betulinus). Piptoporus comes from the latin meaning ‘pores cast down’ and betulinus from its host tree, the birch.

Birch tree with Birch Polypore
Dead Birch tree with Birch Polypore

It’s easy to identify. It’s brown on the top, and white on the bottom. From the name, unlike other mushrooms, it doesn’t have gills on the bottom for spreading its pores, it has lots of tiny holes instead. It’s only found on dead or dying Birch trees, and it erupts directly from the truck in a bracket shape (also a horseshoe shape at one stage in its development).

It turns out that Birch Polypore is an amazing resource when it comes to found food; It is edible, but can be a little bitter, however, it is much more useful as a medicinal item. The Birch Polypore makes an immune tonic which is anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, anti-parasitic, anti-septic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, styptic. I’ve written a separate and full article about the health benefits here…

Jew’s Ears

I’ve been keeping an eye out for these for ages now, and not had any luck. They grow on Elder, and my favourite garden plant is our Elder tree. I’ve had plenty of use out of the flowers and berries. Also, on my first guided foraging walk, the instructor showed them and told us all about them. On top of all that, I knew that there were a fair few Elder in and around Epping Forest.

I was actually rushing back to the car, having stayed a little longer than expected, so I apologise for the poor quality of the pictures.

Jew’s Ears on Elder

Apparently, the politically correct name for them now is Jelly Ears,  but I know them as Jew’s Ears so that’s the name that I’ll be using.

Like the Birch Polypore, this one is quite easy to identify and not easy to confuse with anything else. It has a slightly rubbery, jelly-like texture, and turns in on itself like an ear. It’s a sort of leathery-pink colour (a bit like skin) and as far as I’m aware, it’s mostly found on Elder trees, so that’s a good giveaway.

Jew’s Ear Fungus

If you’ve ever eaten Chinese food, there’s a good chance that you’ve eaten these in a meal. They can also be picked, wiped clean and eaten raw. They’re fairly tasteless, and a little chewy, so quite useful as a natural gum to chew on. I’ve done a more in-depth article about them here…

Not so easily identified

On a huge fallen oak, I saw this rather unattractive fungus.

Black Witches Butter

I’ve marked it as Witches Butter, and I think that’s probably correct, but it could be either Exidia Glandulosa (Black Witches’ Butter, Black Jelly Roll, or Warty Jelly Fungus), or possibly Exidia Nigricans (Witches Butter). Either way they’re pretty disgusting looking. Apparently, they are edible similarly to Jew’s Ears in that they absorb flavours quite well in cooking. It could be a while before I give it a try.

Ascotremella faginea – Jelly Brain Fungus

This Jelly brain-like fungus on the same fallen oak, is also pretty nasty looking. I found a reference to a Ascotremella faginea, and that seems to match a lot of the pictures that Google has. There doesn’t seem to be too much information on the internet for it, so I’m going to steer well clear!

unidentified polypore? brackets on Oak

I suspect that these bracket fungus on an Oak tree were easier to identify a while ago before they started to break down.

Moon poo?

There was a small pile of this in the leaves next to the tree. Probably an old Moon poo (yes, that’s really a thing!), but too far gone now to be sure.

Not sure

Unfortunately, the picture is a little out of focus, and you can’t see the caps of these. All I can really be sure of is that they are not polypores, because I can see the gills! Looking at the tree bark, it could be some kind of Cherry maybe? A varied, maybe Oak leaf litter around the base. Possibly Oyster mushrooms, if so that would be great, but I can’t be sure from the picture. I may have to go back and have another look, or bring one home with me.

On a recent trip to Epping Forest, I came across some bracket fungus growing on an old log pile. I didn’t know what it was at the time, so I took some pictures with the intention of identifying it later.

Turkey Tail Fungus
Turkey Tail Fungus on old logs

So here I am and it looks like it was Turkey Tail Fungus, one of the polypore mushrooms. It has many pores on the underside instead of gills to distribute its spores.

Can you eat it?

I’ve done a bit of research and I’ve found that whilst it’s not dangerous to eat, it is tough and tasteless, so not worth the effort.

So is it any use?

Well, according to many reputable sources, Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor) is very useful as a medicinal. A simple internet search brings up many brands of Turkey Tail fungus extracts for multiple ailments all around the world.

Cancer fighting

The big news appears to be that Turkey Tail fungus could be useful alongside conventional therapies for fighting cancer (https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/251632/). Apparently it has good immune system boosting properties. However, due to the fact that it has been used widely for a long time, it is unlikely that it could be patented, therefore the pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t be able to make money out of it, so research is unlikely to continue to be funded.
Some websites claim that studies in Asia have found that it can double the life expectancy of cancer patients, but they don’t cite their sources so it’s hard to verify.
Huffington post has an extensive article if you want to know more – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stamets/mushrooms-cancer_b_1560691.html

How is it used?

Nowadays, you can buy extracts from organically grown Turkey Tails. Traditionally, it was either boiled into a soothing tea, or chewed like gum! I may well give the tea a try, but I won’t be using it as gum! Boiling will kill any contaminants (including bugs), soften the flesh and extract the soluble polysaccharides (which are the medicinal compounds).


This site has some well structured information for identification etc. but basically, it has the multi-colour, fan shaped upper side that you can see in the pictures above. It has a white underside, with barely visible pores (up to 3 per mm), and white flesh. If it doesn’t have the white underside, it could be Velvet-Toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis) with a violet, toothy underside, or the False Turkey Tail ((Stereum ostria) but that is more petal-shaped, hairy, and has a brown underside.