Foraging Guide: Jelly Ear Fungus

Usually found growing on dead or decaying elder trees, this distinctive mushroom can be foraged throughout the year. And though it sounds unusual, they make delicious soft-centred liqueur chocolates.

1st January 2024 | Words by Dave Hamilton

Looking like a cluster of small brown ears, the Jelly Ear or Wood Ear Fungus is one of the most instantly recognisable mushrooms found in the wild. You’ll find it growing right through the year, only proving a bit tricky in prolonged dry weather when it shrivels up into a brown crust.


This fungus is well-named. These mushrooms actually do look a lot like human ears, and this makes them easy to identify. They are a bracket fungus, growing in clusters from trunks and branches. With a cup or earlike form, they typically display the same bends and folds as the inside of an actual human ear. Size wise, they are normally a little smaller than an adult ear, but they can grow over twice the size if conditions are good, such as in periods of exceptionally wet weather. With the texture of cartilage, this fungus is both flexible and jelly-like. The inside of this mushroom is glossy or a little shiny whilst the outside tends to have a darker brown, matt texture.

Jelly Ear fungus

The only real lookalikes are fungi in the Peziza order, which include the orange peel fungus. However, these are often brittle, breaking at the slightest touch, rather than flexible and elastic like the jelly ear. Although Peziza fungi will occasionally grow on deadwood, it will rarely turn up on elder, preferring instead to grow on decaying matter in the ground, especially dung piles. The form is different too. Peziza form an upward facing cup, whilst Jelly Ear tends to form a downward facing one.

Jelly Ear Fungus

Where to find them

The Jelly Ear Fungus is unusual in that it grows almost exclusively on the dead or dying wood of an elder tree. Very occasionally you will find it on healthy elder wood. Even more occasionally it will grow opportunistically on ash, spindle, oak and even lilac or buddleia if there are no elder trees around. However, this is the exception rather than the rule and if you are looking for them, focus your attention on elder rather than any other kind of tree. Elders tend to grow in hedgerows and unmanaged thickets, such as the edges of parks, on roadsides and near footpaths. It’s one of the most common shrubby trees found in the Northern Hemisphere, and Jelly Ear is also one of the most common edible fungi, so it should not be hard to find this unusual looking mushroom.

How to prepare them

Although Jelly Ear lacks any dangerous poisonous lookalikes and grows abundantly, it is seldom eaten in the Western world. Perhaps it is the cartilage-like texture which many find off-putting, or maybe it is the mushroom’s gelatinous properties which keep it off our menus. However, this is to do a very versatile mushroom a disservice. In the Far East it is much more ubiquitous. A near relative, referred to as Wood Ear, which to most palates is inseparable, is a regular addition to Chinese soups and stews.

It can be added to stir fries, though unless you cut the mushroom into thin strips and keep it pressed down with a spatula, the fungi will spit and jump in the pan when fried. It is far easier and better to stick to more liquid-based dishes. The mushroom will take on the essence of any sauce or seasoning it is cooked in and will especially soak up umami flavours such soy sauce, miso, and chilli.

Dried Jelly Ear mushrooms are particularly useful, as they are easily reconstituted in any flavoured liquid, whether sweet or savoury. You can simmer them in a miso soup or soak them in a peppermint tea. Either way you’ll end up with something tasting quite different from the original mushroom.

Jelly Ear Fungus

Soft-centre Jelly Ear Chocolate Recipe

But by far the most appealing use for these strange fungi is to turn them into soft-centred chocolates. Though it sounds unusual, they are delicious. You will need to factor in some time to dry out the fungi and then reconstitute them in an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. A dehydrator will take a few hours to dry out the fungi or simply leave them on a windowsill for a couple of days until they have become completely desiccated. Drinks with strong flavours such as orange liqueur or ginger cordial work well, as does cherry brandy.


  • 100g fresh Jelly Ear Fungus 
  • 100g bar of dark chocolate 
  • 75ml of fruit brandy or liqueur such as Cointreau, or a soft drink such as ginger cordial 
  • A sheet of greaseproof paper


    1. Dry the Jelly Ear in a dehydrator, on a windowsill or on top of a radiator.
    2. Once completely dried out, place them in a bowl and cover with the fruit liqueur or cordial of your choice. You could even make a selection of different flavours in separate bowls. 
    3. Break up the chocolate and either melt in the microwave or on the hob by placing a bowl over a pan of slowly simmering water, stirring continually until melted. 
    4. Coat the Jelly Ear in the melted chocolate. 
    5. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper on a plate and top with the Jelly Ear chocolates.
    6. Refrigerate for a couple of hours or until the chocolate is set. 

Jelly Ear Fungus

Dave Hamilton is the author of Where the Wild Things Grow: the Foragers Guide to the Landscape, published by Hodder and Stoughton. He has led the Guardian Masterclass in foraging and currently works as an instructor for Britain’s leading foraging course company, Wild Food UK.

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