In this post I want to take a look at using fungus as a tinder. The ones that I discuss here, as best I can tell, can be found all year round, they don’t appear to be particularly seasonal. When ignited they create an ember and not a flame, so you might want to take a refresher at my post on tinder bundles.
King Alfred’s Cakes
King Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) derive their name from the legend of King Alfred who, whilst in hiding from the Danes, let some cakes burn, and they do indeed have that appearance.
Here in Kent they’re also known as cramp balls due to their traditional herbal use in an infusion to relieve cramps. I’ve also come across them being called coal balls.
I tend to find them most often on dead ash but I’ve also found them on dead beech. Typically I flick them and if they feel solid, well they probably are; if they feel soft, they most likely are soft and of no use. Typically, I’ll collect the ones that are black. The younger, paler ones don’t seem to be as effective. I left the ones in the photo and went back a few months later and collected them.
They will light with fire steels, lenses, parabolic mirrors and in fire pistons, so very versatile.
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a charcoal like growth found on birch. It’s also known as clinker rot, birch conker and cancer polypore. The outside looks as if it’s been charred in a fire but the inside is a golden brown colour.
I’ve never found any chaga in Kent and in fact my understanding is that it is very rare in England, so I suspect it prefers the north. Chaga is also used as a herbal remedy for a wide variety of conditions, not all of which have any evidence to support their use.
Igniting chaga is by and large similar to cramp balls previously. In this photo I’m using a simple magnifying glass.
Hoof fungus (Fomes fomntarius), sometimes called horse hoof fungus, is another that is often found on birch, although further south, such as in Kent, it’s more likely to be found on beech. It looks very much like its name implies. There are at least 2 ways to prepare hoof fungus, one is to make amadou, a suede like material, and the other is to prepare it in the field. The later is straightforward. Cut through the fungus and then take off a slice. Fluff up the slice and it’s ready for ignition, provided it’s dry of course.
Birch polypore (Fomitopsis betulina), as the name suggest, is a polypore that is found on birch! It’s also known as birch bracket and razor strop fungus. It has purported herbal uses; strips can be cut from the top to make a plaster, and the outside of the fungus can be used to strop a knife. If you see a birch with polypores growing on it, tread with caution as the tree is likely to be in a bad way and prone to falling over. I’ve literally poked a birch in this condition and it fell over.
I’ve come across a couple of accounts of people using birch polypore as a tinder as is, but I’ve never had any success using it that way. But I’ve charred birch polypores and they’ve worked well; I want to try charring other species at some point to see if they work as a tinder.
I’m including punk wood in this issue as it’s created by a fungal infection. Punk wood is simply decayed wood created by various species of fungus and it’s usually straightforward to find. Typically these fungus digest some parts of the wood leaving behind a soft, sponge like substance. Whilst this will ignite I find that it’s best to crumble the punk wood first.
Another approach is to char your punk wood; I prefer this method as it tends to be easier to ignite. Here’s some I keep in an old tobacco tin.
Note on Tinder Fungus
Tinder fungus is a name that is used to describe both chaga and hoof fungus.
My go-to fungus book is Mushrooms by Roger Phillips; I also refer to Collins Fungi Guide by Stefan Buczaki et al and also Collins Complete Guide to Mushrooms and Toadstools by Paul Sterry and Barry Hughes. They all use ‘tinder fungus’ as a common name for Fomes fomntarius but many bushcrafters use the name to refer to Inonotus obliquus.
Fortunately, we have scientific names so that we know that we’re referring to the same thing!
We teach how to prepare and use fungus as tinder on our 2 Day & 5 Day Bushcraft Courses, the IOL Bushcraft Competency Course and also our 2 Day & 5 Day Survival Courses. You can see plenty of photos from all of these courses on our Facebook page.