I don’t like that name It is a corruption of Judas’s Ear and comes from the idea that Judas hanged himself from an Elder tree. It is very unlikely that Judas did choose an Elder, they don’t grow very tall and they just don’t have the right growth habit for suicide.
I don’t think that there is any mention of an Elder Tree in the New Testament (Scholars of the Bible feel free to correct me). The idea that an Elder was involved stems from fourteenth century English literature. A time when it was the practice to malign trees as well as people. It was the oppression of Paganism because Pagans worshipped trees.
Now I am not Anti-Semitic and I quite like Pagans and their trees, so I have two reasons for not liking the name Jew’s Ear.
It is hard to escape though because the Latin name is Auricularia auricula-judae. From the Latin Auricula meaning “Ear,” It is an Ear Ear-Judas.
That Latin is in itself wrong because the rules of taxonomy (Binomial nomenclature) say that a species name can comprise of only two words but they have got around that by adding a hyphen. Some people still refer to this species as Auricularia auricula which is actually more correct and drops all of the oppressive connotations.
Other common names for this fungus are Jelly Ear and Wood Ear. It is a Jelly Fungus and it does grow on wood, so they are both good names.
Imagine finding Ears…
Well you will almost always find it growing on Elder. 90% of the time, it does grow on other wood like Sycamore, Beech and Spindle but nearly always you will find it on Elder.
It is saprobic, it mostly feeds on dead wood but occasionally parasitic too.
Technically it is edible but nobody eats it in the West. (it is a “wont’t kill you but is horrible” type). It has a history of use in Herbal Medicine where it has long been used specifically to cure sore throats (Boil in milk and gargle with it). I think that this is probably nonsense based on the idea that Judas would have had a sore throat when he hanged himself.
It is widely eaten in the East. There is a Chinese culture of serving medicines in food and a medicinal soup is made from this fungi to cure colds and fevers.
When the fruit dies it looks like this.