Tremella mesenterica: Witches Butter Identification and Information

Tremella mesenterica (Witch’s Butter) is an edible jelly mushroom. It translates as a trembling or wobbling, middle intestine which sums up its jelly like appearance. This mushroom has been well known in the Orient for hundreds of years, maybe more.

Tremella mesenterica is a species that is common in America – in particular in the area of San Francisco Bay, in Europe, Australia and in Taiwan (in the high mountains). It can bear fruit at any time of the year, but it is commonly found in Autumn and Winter. It is also known as yellow brain or yellow brain fungus as it looks like brain lobes and is commonly found with fungi that feed on dead and decomposing wood, it is also considered a ‘frilly sign of a witch’s curse’ [1.]. It can survive repeated bouts of dehydration and re-hydration and will usually be found emerging from the bark of fallen or dead wood.

Being the colour of butter, Tremella mesenterica is also referred to as Witches’ butter sometimes written Witches butter or Witch’s butter. It is important to note that this is a name also used for other yellow and orange jelly mushrooms or fungi and essentially the use of the scientific name will clarify the precise mushroom species being referred to. Witch’s butter includes species Tremella mesenterica and tremella aurantia which are yellow jelly mushrooms and also Dacrymyces palmatus, an orange jelly mushroom, categorized by virtue of their dominant colour. The yellow jelly mushrooms prefer to grow on hardwood with bark; in contrast, the orange jelly mushroom likes conifers and grows when the bark is absent.

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Tremella Mesenterica Identification and Description

Cap: Yellow-orange in colour but a rusty orange when dried. It appears as a gelatinous mass through the bark of decaying wood. Irregular in shape with lobes that are slimy and tough when wet, but harden as it dries out. Up to 8cm wide and 5cm tall.
Smell: Not distinctive.
Taste: Not distinctive/flavourless.
Spores: Ellipsoid to spherical shaped spores.
Spore color: White or pale yellow colored.
Edibility: While considered edible [2.] some suggest that the mushrooms should be cooked by boiling or steaming before eating [3.].
Habitat: Dead wood of hardwood trees with the bark still attached, commonly they are fallen trees. The mushroom is parasitic so will often be found with other fungi that are assisting with decomposition of the wood.

Kingdom: Fungi; Class: Tremellomycetes Family: Tremellaceae and Genus: TremellaTremella mesenterica (Witch’s Butter) is an edible jelly mushroom. It translates as a trembling or wobbling, middle intestine which sums up its jelly like appearance. This mushroom has been well known in the Orient for hundreds of years, maybe more.

Tremella mesenterica is a species that is common in America – in particular in the area of San Francisco Bay, in Europe, Australia and in Taiwan (in the high mountains). It can bear fruit at any time of the year, but it is commonly found in Autumn and Winter. It is also known as yellow brain or yellow brain fungus as it looks like brain lobes and is commonly found with fungi that feed on dead and decomposing wood, it is also considered a ‘frilly sign of a witch’s curse’ [1.]. It can survive repeated bouts of dehydration and re-hydration and will usually be found emerging from the bark of fallen or dead wood.

Being the colour of butter, Tremella mesenterica is also referred to as Witches’ butter sometimes written Witches butter or Witch’s butter. It is important to note that this is a name also used for other yellow and orange jelly mushrooms or fungi and essentially the use of the scientific name will clarify the precise mushroom species being referred to. Witch’s butter includes species Tremella mesenterica and tremella aurantia which are yellow jelly mushrooms and also Dacrymyces palmatus, an orange jelly mushroom, categorized by virtue of their dominant colour. The yellow jelly mushrooms prefer to grow on hardwood with bark; in contrast, the orange jelly mushroom likes conifers and grows when the bark is absent.

Tremella Mesenterica Benefits

Tremella mesenterica is considered one of the most important of the Tremella species, in addition to Tremella fuciformis and aurantia [4.]. In particular, the beneficial properties of their polysaccharides; these have gained interest in the field of medicine in recent years. The unique feature of the Tremella mushrooms is the percentage of polysaccharides that are considered pharmacologically active, which is between 60-70%. In contrast, other mushrooms with medicinal properties may have 10-30% of polysaccharides that are pharmacologically beneficial. This lends credence to the medical research that been undertaken on the properties of Tremella mesenterica.

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a prevalent condition and leads to dysfunctional glucose management. The fruiting bodies of Tremella mesenterica have been shown to moderate both hyperglycemia and immune responses [5.], which are altered in diabetics. One research group had individual rat models that represented features similar to those seen in diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2. Using these two models, they examined the effects of the fruiting bodies, submerged culture biomass, and polysaccharide glucuronoxylomannan (GXM) extracted from Tremella mesenterica. In the diabetes type 1 model, the fruiting bodies extract was able to modify levels of blood glucose. In contrast, in the diabetes type 2 model, all three extracts showed a reduction in blood sugar levels 2 hours postprandial (2 hours post feed) [6.]. This provides important evidence in support of the use of Tremella mesenterica as an oral therapeutic in the management of hyperglycemia, in diabetic patients or those at high risk for developing diabetes.

Immunomodulatory

A study looking at cultured Tremella mesenterica cells and the fruiting body extract separately in diabetic rats identified that cultured cells appeared to decrease pro-inflammatory cytokine (molecule) production; however, this was not the case for diabetic mice. In contrast, the fruiting body may increase the cell-mediated immune response. However, in normal controls (non-diabetic rats), both extracts appeared to decrease cell-mediated immunity [5.]. This suggests that when diabetes-like symptoms are not present the Tremella mesenterica may be able to modulate the effects of an immune response. This is important to ensure that an appropriate immune response to pathogens is presented and modulated.

Anti-microbial

Helicobacter pyroli, is a gram-negative bacterium that causes stomach cramps and nausea. A study comparing the use of Tremella mesenterica efficacy in human patients diagnosed with Helicobacter pyroli infections, showed that while administration of 2 g of Tremella mesenterica did not eradicate the infection, there was equivalent relief in the presented symptoms when compared to the conventional treatments. The limiting factor of this study is that Tremella mesenterica was only administered over ten days and should this have been extended, more positive results may have been observed and that that further8. study of potential medicinal therapeutic is well deserved [7.].

Anti-tumorigenic

Tremella mesenterica has been long used in Asia as a tonic for lung conditions [8]. To examine the effect of the fungus on lung cancer and whether cell death could be promoted, human lung carcinoma A159 epithelial cells were treated with ethanol extracts of Tremella mesenterica. The study showed an increase in apoptosis in cells administered the ethanol extract of Tremella mesenterica. Apoptosis is a programmed and orderly method of cell death, and Tremella mesenterica appears to be able to initiate this via the cell mitochondria, essential power houses in the cell [8..].Tremella mesenterica (Witch’s Butter) is an edible jelly mushroom. It translates as a trembling or wobbling, middle intestine which sums up its jelly like appearance. This mushroom has been well known in the Orient for hundreds of years, maybe more.

Tremella mesenterica is a species that is common in America – in particular in the area of San Francisco Bay, in Europe, Australia and in Taiwan (in the high mountains). It can bear fruit at any time of the year, but it is commonly found in Autumn and Winter. It is also known as yellow brain or yellow brain fungus as it looks like brain lobes and is commonly found with fungi that feed on dead and decomposing wood, it is also considered a ‘frilly sign of a witch’s curse’ [1.]. It can survive repeated bouts of dehydration and re-hydration and will usually be found emerging from the bark of fallen or dead wood.

Being the colour of butter, Tremella mesenterica is also referred to as Witches’ butter sometimes written Witches butter or Witch’s butter. It is important to note that this is a name also used for other yellow and orange jelly mushrooms or fungi and essentially the use of the scientific name will clarify the precise mushroom species being referred to. Witch’s butter includes species Tremella mesenterica and tremella aurantia which are yellow jelly mushrooms and also Dacrymyces palmatus, an orange jelly mushroom, categorized by virtue of their dominant colour. The yellow jelly mushrooms prefer to grow on hardwood with bark; in contrast, the orange jelly mushroom likes conifers and grows when the bark is absent.

Tremella Mesenterica Dosage

Some do consider it flavorless and inedible, but it is generally thought to be due to the rubbery texture which lends itself to be a good component of soup. There is no evidence to suggest that that Tremella mesenterica is toxic, and an appropriate dosage is not reported for humans, although, 2mg for 10 days was not problematic [7.].

Tremella Mesenterica Look a Likes

Do not confuse with Tremella foliacea (Leafy brain) or Tremella aurantia (Golden ear). As discussed here, always check the scientific name to ensure that the correct jelly mushroom is being used.

Tremella Mesenterica Safety & Cautions

While there is scientific evidence for the health benefits provided by Tremella mesenterica, it should not be used as a replacement for conventional. Always take medical advice from a registered physician before administering Tremella mesenterica for medicinal purposes or when pregnant.

References:

  1. The Woodland Trust. Yellow Brain. [23/02/20]
  2. NBN atlas. Tremella mesenterica Retz. Yellow brain. [25/02/20]
  3. Edible Wild Food. Witch’s butter – Edible Fungi. 23/02/20]
  4. De Baets, S. and E.J. Vandamme, Extracellular Tremella polysaccharides: structure, properties and applications. Biotechnology Letters, 2001. 23(17): p. 1361-1366.
  5. Lo, H.-C., et al., Effects of yellow brain culinary-medicinal mushroom, Tremella mesenterica Ritz.:Fr. (higher Basidiomycetes), on immune function in normal and type 1 diabetic rats. International journal of medicinal mushrooms, 2012. 14(5): p. 447-457.
  6. Lo, H.-C., et al., Effects of ingested fruiting bodies, submerged culture biomass, and acidic polysaccharide glucuronoxylomannan of Tremella mesenterica Retz.:Fr. on glycemic responses in normal and diabetic rats. Life sciences, 2006. 78(17): p. 1957-1966.
  7. Lachter, J., et al., Yellow brain culinary-medicinal mushroom, Tremella mesenterica Ritz.:Fr. (higher Basidiomycetes), is subjectively but not objectively effective for eradication of Helicobacter pylori: a prospective controlled trial. International journal of medicinal mushrooms, 2012. 14(1): p. 55-63.
  8. Chen, N.-Y., et al., Induction of apoptosis in human lung carcinoma A549 epithelial cells with an ethanol extract of Tremella mesenterica. Bioscience, biotechnology, and biochemistry, 2008. 72(5): p. 1283-1289.

 

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