The wonders of birch fungus

A common sight growing on the bark of living and dead birch trees all year round, the birch polypore has many surprising uses. Use it for dressing a wound or starting a campfire.

Make a plaster

If you cut your finger in the woods and find yourself without a first aid kit, birch polypore is the next best thing as it is porous and has anti-bacterial properties. The younger the fungus the better, so look for a creamy white or pale-brown topped fungus and cut a plaster-sized strip into the underside. Peel off the strip – it should be thin and stretchy like micropore tape. Wrap around the wounded finger, stretching as you apply, and you’ll find it binds to itself. Marvellous! 

Sharpen your knife

Birch polypore’s nickname is ‘razor strop fungus’ as it was historically used to sharpen cut-throat razors. Again, using a youngish fungus, cut a strip, leave to dry then glue it onto a piece of wood, or use as is. Run your knife back and forth along the strip as you would on a normal strop for a finely honed blade.

Ward off insects

Simply cut a thick block of the fungus, apply a spark and leave to smoulder on a dish. The tar-rich smoke should keep pesky flying insects away from your camp. 

Start a fire

This only works with fungus that is dead but not too rotten – it should be dark brown, firm and not fall apart when you handle it. Apply a spark and allow to smoulder – you’ll see the flame very slowly working its way up the spore tubes. Wrap in dry leaves, cover with twigs and small branches and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a fire. 

Illustration by Ruth Allen of Blue Eggs and Tea. This originally featured in issue 5 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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