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.

The Judas’ Ear fungus is one that I was on the lookout for, and came across it by accident. It’s quite unique looking and has been used in food and medicine for a very long time.

Judas’ Ear on Elder

Other Names

The common, but now unacceptable name “Jew’s Ear” probably came about as a corruption of the original “Judas’ Ear”; Which in turn, was probably from the belief that Judas hung himself from an Elder tree. Nowadays, it is considered not politically correct, so it is often referred to as Jelly Ear or Wood Ear. Other names it has had include: Ear Fungus, Common Ear Fungus, Chinese Fungus, Pig’s Ear, Black Wood Ear, and Tree Ear.


Judas’ Ear is safe to eat, and has a mild, even bland flavour. It has a soft, jelly-like texture, although older specimens can become quite chewy.

The fruit is used quite widely in Asian cooking, because although it doesn’t have a strong taste, it absorbs other strong flavours quite readily.


In the UK, it is mostly found on Elder trees, but has also been found on Beech, Ash and Spindle Wood. It can grow both singly or in a group and it reacts to the weather; After rain, the fruit swell up and look their most ear-like; After a dry period, the fruit shrivel and are much harder to find.

Judas’ Ear Fungus

They can be pink, pale brown, often with a purplish hint when young, turning dark brown or even black when old. They’re between 3 and 8 cm, and ear shaped, sometimes cup shaped in young fruit. Often covered in downy hairs, sometimes the wrinkles resemble veins, making them even more ear-like.

They usually develop new growth in January, so late winter/early spring can be a good time to look for them; Especially after rain, as they tend to fill out a bit when wet.

Food use

Judas’ Ear has been recorded as having been used for food from ancient times in China, as well as other parts of Asia, Africa, and Poland. It is often cooked in soups and used dried to thicken stews.


This fungus has a much stronger background of folk medicine than as food. It has been used as a poultice to treat eye infections, and as a palliative to treat sore throats. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it would have been boiled in milk or steeped in beer to produce the throat medicine.

In China it was used as a soup to treat colds and fevers, and more recently, in Ghana as a blood tonic.

Some research has been done into the medicinal attributes of Judas’ Ear, the most noteworthy including: It was investigated for use as an anti-tumour, but the glucans extracted from it were ineffective1. However, a more recent study in the 1980s showed that they were effective2. A polysaccharide extracted from it has been shown to have a hypoglycaemic effect and could be used in treating diabetes. Other chemicals extracted from it have had anticoagulant abilities and have been shown to lower general cholesterol levels, particularly LDL cholesterol3.

Uses of Judas’ Ear

As a “trail food”, that is, something you can pick off a tree, clean and eat, it can be quite a good gum substitute, and the anti-cholesterol properties are not to be ignored.

Dried, it can be added to all sorts of stews and sauces to thicken them, as an un-processed alternative to flours, because of it’s absorbent abilities.

My favourite use, second to chewing on them raw, is as an ingredient in Hot and Sour soup. If I ever find enough of them in a place where I’m allowed to collect them, I’ll let you know how it goes…



  1. Misaki, A.; Kakuta, M.; Sasaki, T.; Tanaka, M.; Miyaji, H. (1981). “Studies on interrelation of structure and antitumor effects of polysaccharides: antitumor action of periodate-modified, branched (1→3)-β-D-glucan of Auricularia auricula-judae, and other polysaccharides containing (1→3)-glycosidic linkages”. Carbohydrate Research. 92 (1): 115–29. doi:10.1016/S0008-6215(00)85986-8. PMID 7196285.
  2. Ikekawa, Tetsuro; Uehara, Nobuaki; Maeda, Yuko; Nakanishi, Miyako; Fukuoka, Fumiko (1968). “Antitumor activity of aqueous extracts of ediblemushrooms”. Cancer Research. 29 (3): 734–5. PMID 5813100.
  3. Yuan, Zuomin; He, Puming; Cui, Jianhui; Takeuchi, Hisanao (1998). “Hypoglycemic effect of water-soluble polysaccharide from Auricularia auricula-judae Quel. on genetically diabetic KK-Ay mice”. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 62 (10): 1898–1903. doi:10.1271/bbb.62.1898. PMID 9836425
Large Birch Polypore

This polypore is quite an incredible fungus, well worth knowing how to identify it, and definitely worth harvesting for its health benefits (the usual rules of collection apply). The first time I was certain that this was what I was looking at, I was very excited and like most of these things, when you’ve positively identified it once, you see them all the time.

Other Names

Fomitopsis betulina – recategorised in 2016 as studies suggested that the species was more closely related to Fomitopsis than to Piptoporus.

Pitptoporus betulinus – Piptoporus comes from the latin meaning ‘pores cast down’ and betulinus from its host tree, the birch.
It is also known as birch conk, birch bracket, and razor strop fungus. The razor strop comes from the fact that it has been used as a tool to get that final extra sharp edge on your knife, and has been used by barbers for their cut-throat razors. The name polypore refers to its many pores, situated on the underside of the fruiting body from which the spores are released.


It is edible, but it has quite a bitter aftertaste so it’s not the most desirable for food, but it is not poisonous.


Birch tree with Birch Polypore
Dead Birch tree with Birch Polypore

Birch Polypore are brown on top, and white underneath with many spore holes. They grow on dead or dying Birch trees, and they erupt from the surface of the trunk. It has a rich, mushroomy smell, but opinions are divided on that – you’ll have to make up your own mind. I’ve also heard it said that infected trees smell strongly of green apples, but I have yet to experience that. The birch polypore grows from a single lateral attachment point on birch trees, being a small white ball at first, then expanding to a bracket measuring approximately 10-20 cm across. It is white to begin with, the cap changing to a beige/tan colour and then darkening or greying with age. The underside is white and contains many pores which release their spores into the air.

Birch Polypore Underside

Spores land on exposed areas of birch trees, where branches have broken for example, and  grow hyphae which spread to form the mycelial network through the tree. It is considered weakly parasitic on birch trees, a healthy tree will be able to contain the spreading hyphae; but in one that is aged or diseased the fungus will begin the gradual process of breaking it down. The fruiting bodies are annual, unlike some of our other common bracket fungi which may live for years, but they are often gnawed by insects before the end of this period so they are better picked young.


Birch polypore grows freely in the temperate forests of Europe and also North America and its ethno-botanic uses have been wide and varied. From medicine to tinder, knife sharpener and sweat band, this fungi has been employed in many more ways than your average mushroom. Like the more famous tinder fungus, Fomes fomentarius, it is able to carry a spark from one campsite another, easing the task of firelighting, and in more recent times it was cut into strips and used to sharpen knives, especially by those who could not afford leather, giving it its common name, the razor strop fungus.

Otzi birch polypore

It became very well known after it was found on the body of Ötzi’, a 5300 year old mummy found preserved in the ice in the Italian Alps. Amongst his kit Ötzi’ carried two strips of hide onto which had been threaded pieces of birch polypore. As he was later found at autopsy to be infected with intestinal parasites against which the birch polypore is active, it has been theorised that he was carrying them as treatment and also as a possible anti-septic incase of minor injuries.

Medicinal Uses

As I’ve already said, medicinally, this is an amazing polypore. Its properties as an anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-bacterial and styptic properties alone make it really good for making a immune tonic or tea to be taken once a week to boost your immune system. Birch polypore contains primary metabolites (polysaccharides) and secondary metabolites (such as triterpenes) that are beneficial for health. Research also backs up its traditional uses.

However, research has also shown that the natural compounds in this fungus can be effective in fighting HIV and Cancer! Yes, really.

It has been shown to be a useful support in the treatment of cancer in a number of ways. Alongside providing general support to the immune system, it also inhibits angiogenesis, the formation of new blood cells which occurs in tumour growth. In one study anti-cancer effects were “attributed to decreased tumor cell proliferation, motility and the induction of morphological changes. Of note is the fact that it produced no or low toxicity in tested normal cells.”

(1) Another in vitro study on colorectal cancer showed that “Studied extracts highly decreased the viability of cancer cells, slightly inhibiting proliferation and tumor cell adhesion in a time- and dose-dependent manner.” (2) It also found that the extracts studied had very low toxicity to normal cells making it a safe and effective treatment.

One facet of the birch polypore’s healing actions is the concentration of betulinic acid which it potentiates from it’s host tree. Betulinic acid has been shown in various studies to initiate apoptosis, or death of cancer cells. (3) In 2001, an extract of birch polypore containing betulinic acid showed useful antiviral action against HIV by blocking its reproduction. (4)

How to use Birch Polypore as an immune boosting tonic/tea


Mushrooms don’t keep for very long once you’ve picked them, so how you keep them is important. Drying is the best method to keep them for longer and have them still be useful. Once dried you can keep them in a paper bag, or a sealed jar in a dry place, out of direct sunlight.


My favourite way of using Birch Polypores is in a tea, which can also be frozen so I’ll usually make up a load of it, and put some into ice cube trays to use in the future.
Being a fungus, and not tea leaves, it’s not enough to put some pieces on hot water. Therefore, you need to put your fungus into gently simmering water for an hour. You can make 1 cup of tea/tonic with 6 to 8 grams of mushroom; So weigh your polypore pieces and adjust accordingly to make a batch.
Sometimes, the taste can still be a little bitter, so why not freeze the extra into ice cubes. You can drop these into soups, stews, gravy etc. to disguise the taste but still get the health benefits.

Other uses

As well as a razor strop and sticking plaster, as mentioned earlier, apparently it has also been used for the fine polishing of metals, making ink blotters, and for mounting insect collections. One use that would have been important in ancient times, is that it takes a spark well, and can be used to carry fire over long distances. Therefore allowing people to move around without the hassle of fire-lighting from scratch.



  1. Lemieszek et al – Anticancer Effect of Fraction Isolated from Medicinal Birch Polypore Mushroom, Piptoporus betulinus – Int. Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 2009; 11(4): pages 351-364.
  2. Cyranka M et al –. Investigation of antiproliferative effect of ether and ethanol extracts of birch polypore medicinal mushroom, Piptoporus betulinus Int. Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 2011;13(6): pages 525-33.
  3. Fulda S – Modulation of Apoptosis by Natural Products for Cancer Therapy -Planta Med 2010; 76(11): 1075-1079.
  4. Kanamoto T. et al –. Anti-human immunodeficiency virus activity of YI-FH 312 (a betulinic acid derivative), a novel compound blocking viral maturation –. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 2001; 45(4): pages 1225-1230.
  5. Kawagishi H. – Novel hydroquinone as a matrix metallo-proteinase inhibitor from the mushroom, Piptoporus betulinus – Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2002; 66(12): pages -2748-2750.
  6. Kemani Wangun et al. – Anti-inflammatory and Anti-hyaluronate Lyase Activities of Lanostanoids from Piptoporus betulinus – The Journal of Antibiotics. 2004; 57 (11): pages 755-758.
  7. Kamo T. et al – Anti-inflammatory lanostane-type triterpene acids from Piptoporus betulinus – Journal Nat Prod 2003 66 (8): pages 1104-1106.

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.