Witches’ Butter

(Note- this page was blogged as a post in February)


The pristine white snow that clung to the trunk of this Beaked- Hazelnut tree melted to reveal a yellow, jelly-like substance which seems to ooze out of the bark.


This bright tree attachment is a jelly fungus that appears to grow on the bark of the tree.  However, the fungus is actually parasitic on other wood decay fungi that grow under the bark and cannot be seen. This jelly fungus is most noticeable in wintertime when it grows on hardwood trees. Wet weather causes this fungus to swell into a jelly-like consistency. During dry spells it shrivels into a a hard orange bracket that is difficult to spot on the host wood.

The common name for this parasitic fungi has a sinister name- Witches’s Butter (Tremella mesenteric). Folk legends of Eastern Europe associate Witches’ Butter with the hex of a witch. It was believed a spell was cast when the fungus appeared on the gate or door of one’s home. According to this superstition, the only way to have the spell removed was to pierce the gelatinous talisman with a pin and to let it drain. Once drained, the Witches’ Butter would be dead … and the spell … broken

On the not so sinister side, Witches’ Butter is considered by many to have food and medicinal uses.* Although this jelly fungus is considered edible, Witches’ Butter has a bland taste and is usually added to soup for texture. Even so, these fungi are considered a luxury food item in China and Japan. Jelly fungi have been used for medicinal purposes to stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and have been useful in the treatment of allergies and diabetes.

It will be interesting to continue observing the Witches’ Butter (Tremella mesenteric) that grows on our Beaked-Hazelnut tree.  I wonder, how will it change when the weather dries out again.

(*Experts should determine whether fungus is safe to consume as some fungus is toxic or lethal.)

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