Saturday, August 19, 2017

Woods walk for some resources and chaga everywhere.

    Every so often I like to take a hike around to look for natural materials I use for my outdoor hobbies. Earlier in August I headed out for a venture on a hot, humid afternoon. It was in the mid 80's and the humidity level was probably hovering around the same number in percent form. I had a primitive camping trip planned for later in the month and I wanted to harvest some tinder fungus off of some birch to process the amadou from it. I also figured I might bump into some other tinder sources I could use along with checking to see if any edible fungi were having an early fruiting season.

   I was heading to an area where my wife has a cottage that has been in her family for generations. We've been fixing it up for several years. It hasn't sat in neglect, but it hasn't really been used either. One of the great things about it is that it's situated on a lake that contains a healthy population of rainbow trout. I like to assault the lake from my kayak and pull a few fish out in the still evenings during late spring. Once all the renovations to the cottage are complete I'd like to utilize it as a base camp for future hunting trips along a bluff line in the area that I was to be hiking through today.

   The hike started out as most do, uneventful and with a decided lack of fungi activity. I wasn't expecting much for mushroom finds but had noticed online that in the lower Midwest a few areas seemed to have had a summer fruiting of chanterelles. I was curious to see if any had started early up here in the north woods.

   It didn't take to long to find a prime, dead yellow birch which had a trove of the horse hoof fungus growing on it. This is the same species of fungus (Fomes fomentarius) that was found in the belt kit of Otzi the Iceman. It is theorized that he used it as a tinder and/ or medicinal aid. The layer of amadou sandwiched within the fungus is known to have superb antiseptic and adsorption properties and was used as an improvised bandaging agent by soldiers in the European theater during WWII. Obviously it's antiseptic properties have been known for much longer than that.

Along with  the fungus was this great source of shaggy birch bark, begging to be taken.

Nature's gasoline. The best instant tinder source in my area.
I took a healthy handful of the shaggy birch bark for my tinder pouch and collected a few conks of the fungus. You can see how the fungus looks like when you start to reach the amadou layer after shaving off the hard outer shell of the fungus.

 This was a neat find! The beetle is  Megeleates Sequoiarum, It feeds on the fungus.

At home I  removed the shell and cut the fungus in half to show the yellowish brown layer of amadou between the long vertical pores and the shell. The pores are still attached below the amadou layer.

   As I went to walk around the birch I made a fantastic discovery and found a good sized conk of chaga! Chaga (Inonotus obliquus ) is endemic to my region and I find it almost every time I go on a hike. For those who don't know by now; chaga is fungus that is currently part of a health food craze involving all things that have supposed super healing qualities. It is proven to have an extremely high concentration of antioxidants and thus is believed by some to be able to prevent cancer. It supposedly works via it's ability to slow the mutations within cells as they replicate due to the antioxidants lessening the effects of the flaws that cells get as they self replicate over time. In a nut shell, they theoretically lessen the flaws which can lead to mutations, which can lead to cancer. Chaga is also a superb tinder that once lit, can not be put out unless it is starved of oxygen. In many circles it's pure sacrilege to use the chaga in this manner as it is considered wasting it. I suppose it depends on what's more important to a person at the time...being able to start a life saving fire, or having a healthy cup of tea? I use it for both purposes. To each their own.

   I only had my knife with me and if I really wanted to, I could have chipped away at that conk of chaga for 30 minutes and pried it off the tree, but I couldn't be bothered with that so I plan to return with a hatchet and collect it some other time.

  I loaded up a micro sized canvas pack I have with a few conks of the horse hoof fungus and took a swig of water. This pack is great for short trips where you don't want to carry too much and still keep your back relatively cool on a hot day.

   As I ventured along my way I noticed some wood sorrel (oxalis) growing along a nice shaded area. I like to use it as an additive in salads to add some pizzazz. It looks kind of like a mini shamrock and has a tart, citric like taste. I can't really compare the flavor of it. It's almost like it has no flavor. If tartness was flavor, I guess this would be it. 

   I continued on my way and noticed an odd coloration in the distance in the forest floor. As I got closer I seen it was a crime scene. It seems a blue jay had met an untimely end at the talons of raptor, most likely a merlin. Merlins are a type of small falcon that are quite common in my region and I see them harass blue jays all the time while bow hunting. They seem to have an affinity towards jays as a dinner item. The amazing part was they other than the feathers, the only thing our killer left behind was the eyeballs! Apparently they don't taste good.

At first I dint know what it was, but it turned out to be an eyeball! It can be seen at the tip of the knife blade

Further along I seen what I was hoping to be a group of oyster mushrooms growing on a tree but it turned out to be some young northern tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale). It's not edible so after a quick look, I moved on.

I roamed along and started to descend to a lower elevation that lead to a creek. Along this creek bottom was a plethora of chaga in varying stages of growth. As you can see, chaga seems to take hold on the wound of a tree and then will metastasize there eventually killing the host tree.

At this point the mosquitoes were getting pretty prolific so I took a drink of some water and decided to head back.  I took a canteen full of water and only had less than a 3rd of it left, so I figured that was enough roaming for one afternoon. It was a nice jaunt which yielded a few goodies and surprises.

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