Ears Grow on Trees

By Selina Haefeli

This mysterious ear-shaped fungus has a history stooped in folklore and controversial science.

Auricularia auricula-judae—which is Latin for Juda’s ear but more commonly called ear fungus or jelly earis a type of edible fungus that grows on wood in temperate regions worldwide. Though, not all specimens are as perfectly reminiscent of an actual ear as the one in the picture above.

The species was first described in 1753 by the taxonomist Carl Linnaeus in his work Species Plantarum. But it was only in 1888 that it was given its rather awkward name Auricularia auricula-judae by the German mycologist (which basically means fungi expert) Joseph Schroter, who controversially associated the species with Judas Iscariot.

During the Middle Ages the fungus was used as an ingredient in folk medicine. It was believed to treat inflammation of the eye and a soup made with A. auricula-judae boiled in milk was given by physicians to alleviate a sore throat. Recent scientific research has shown that the fungus contains chemicals that can lower cholesterol and possibly help symptoms of diabetes too.