The first mention of wood ear mushrooms come from the Tang dynasty around 618 – 907 BCE where it is heralded as the first species to be cultivated, however this mushroom is much more infamous thanks to a fable from biblical times; the legend goes that Judas Iscariot hung himself from an elder tree after betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, towns folk gathered around the following morning & to their astonishment they saw little rubbery ears growing from the base of the tree. It is believed that Judas’ wished to atone for his transgressions & thus left a piece of himself on earth in the hopes of one day hearing the return of his lord – and ask for forgiveness.
It it is renowned as a great edible in times of famine in places like Hawaii, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, China & Japan- all calling it different names but with the same meaning – ear. In folk medicine it was used to treat sore throats, sore eyes & jaundice – it was boiled in milk, beer, vinegar & taken for inflammation of the throat.
In Ghana it was correctly used as a blood tonic, but by far the majority of medical history comes from ancient Asia where it was & still is used to activate blood, stop pain, & assist circulation.
Wood ear mushrooms contain some interesting phytochemicals including beta glucans, proteoglycans, adenosine & various active polysaccharides such as heteropolysaccharide glucans & acidic heteroglycans. By far its most prized & unmatched potential lies in improving the cardiovascular system.
Adenosine in wood ears show a potent inhibitory effect on platelet aggregation, blood clotting, improved blood pressure & heart health. It inhibits ADP-induced aggregation of platelets thereby warding off cerebrovascular & cardiovascular diseases. Reduced levels of serum LDL cholesterol are also seen from this fungus. Long term uses has been verified to help to keep cholesterol levels in check & the various polysaccharides in this mushroom have a direct action on coagulation & blood clotting. This can help to improve circulation & may prevent heart attacks, strokes & arterial damage that can lead to heart disease. Various studies have proven that this mushroom decreases the atherogenic index by up to 40%.
This mushrooms cardio-protective effects were confirmed, thanks to a haematologist attending medical school in Minnesota – the student pricked his finger in a blood clotting test, when his blood failed to clot the ensuring investigation traced the cause to the wood ear mushrooms he had consumed the night before in a Chinese Szechwan restaurant.