Calabogie Hiker: Winter Fungi Foraging.


BLOG16: Winter Fungi Foraging is a thing. Did you know? As I write this article, it is mid-November and a very balmy 6-degree Celsius outside. Warm temperatures seem to be happening every year now in our region. I could get used to this. Seriously, the grass is green and still growing. My lawn should be dry and yellowish brown by now. Thank goodness, most deciduous trees have finally dropped their leaves to blanket the forest ahead of the winter season. I was getting worried. Everyone up here needs a blanket in the winter! We have had a couple of killing frosts so far and almost all the herbs have disappeared till next year. Herbs, being non-woody tender perennials, unfortunately cannot survive our fall frosts. The exception being if they live in and around urban centers. I usually harvest herbs in September ahead of the rain season. Fortunately, due to a warmer year, mushroom season is still on for hikers. The ground is a foot deep in leaves which make it difficult to forage for toadstools and other fungi on the ground level. But if you rake the leaves away you can probably still find stuff like Maitake mushrooms near the oaks that still have their leaves. At this point in time though, you can readily see fungi that are off the ground and can handle our cold weather. Mushrooms, for example, like the fall oyster, wood ear jellies and several tree brackets. An important winter hiker’s mushroom is the Tinder Polypore bracket (Fomes fomentarius). It is also called the hoof mushroom because it’s shape resembles the hoof of a horse (see picture). Tinder Polypores are very light grey or beige colour with darker grey and brown concentric bands and brown pores. I see many strikingly beautiful ones on every hike. They grow on dead deciduous trees or in wounds of living deciduous trees. Tinder Polypore bracket is often confused with young Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum), but this bracket is flat, saucer shaped and has a white pore surface that permanently discolors when you scratch it (or draw on it). Artist’s Conk probably could be used as tinder but please don’t do it as this is a perennial mushroom and therefore still living. Let it grow. Each ring resembles how many years it has survived. Have fun counting them to see if that bracket is older than you. Okay? Tinder mushrooms are abundant annuals and there will be more next year. Stamets states that a long time ago First Nations peoples of North America would grind up tinder mushroom and pack it into a hollowed buffalo horn. They would light it and then use this method to transport their fire from one hunting camp to the next. Tinder Polypore has been used as a fire starter in Europe for centuries too. I find this an indispensable survival knowledge to pass on to hikers, campers and hunters in our highlands who one day may unexpectedly get lost or stranded in the forest. This knowledge is especially important in the stormy winter months in Canada. It is a perfect fire starter. The mushroom is easy to find and to reach. It is woody, curved and hoof-shaped so doesn’t absorb rain or much snow on its cap. Its design keeps it dry and ready to burn. It is easy to remove off a tree with just a small knife. Even though the tree is dead or dying, please avoid removing any bark from the tree and leave a sliver of the bracket on the tree. The bark is its food. I cut a 1/2 inch away from the bark when removing a bracket. Cutting this way doesn’t damage the mycelium under the bark and allows it to live and do its thing. This is a ‘wildcrafting’ method that contributes to the sustainability of the forest. How do you start the fire with this mushroom you ask? First thing you do is pick the first three dry decaying hoofs you see on your excursion and store them in your knapsack for safe keeping. Promise? You don’t want to be looking for these in the dark. Right? To make an emergency fire from the tinder mushroom you first need to shave off the outside layer and then break the woody inner fungus into smaller flake-like pieces. Make a spark over the fungus flakes and use this newly smoldering fungus to light your firewood tinder. This works very well in the dark if you are carrying a lighter or matches. Forgot the lighter? No worries because on a sunny day one can easily spark flaked tinder fungus with a magnifying glass in less than 2 minutes. My advice is not to forget the matches, so you don’t spend your first night without a fire and end up going to sleep with your fingers crossed for a sunny morning. The Tinder Polypore is an important bracket but not as cool in my opinion as the Turkey Tail Polypore. This bracket is one I consider to a be an important natural medicinal during the cold and flu season. It can be harvested from June to February. Like jelly fungi, Turkey Tail can be harvested frozen and thawed out for later use in a tea or soup. You can find mushrooms under logs during our harsh winters but lately we are seeing more and more pop up. In fact, for the last couple of years this area has begun to have intermittent days of balmy thunder showers in January and February and fungi like tender oyster mushrooms can amazingly appear in cracks of trees, especially in and around urban areas. A ‘side-benefit’ to global warming? Yes indeed. Turkey Tail can be found all over the world. It is a revered medicinal fungus in Asia with tons of scientific studies to back its worth. There are many reasons why we should embrace this common mushroom living right here in our back woods. Its value is no secret. It can be purchased easily in health food and Asian stores and can also be ordered online. I say there is no need to buy it as it is abundant in the highlands and easy to identify despite having several seemingly look-alike fungi. No worries as by the end of this article you will be an expert Turkey Tail hunter and forager. First the science. There are an innumerable amount of scientific studies and articles on the medicinal benefits of Turkey Tail around the globe. This bracket has been in use for thousands of years in Asia. To me, having managed a health food store for many years, the immune modulating (balancing) effects of Turkey Tail is its primary medicinal action. The fact that is has vitamin D also is a bonus for our health. (Google it please, vitamin D is found working in almost every function of the body). Stamets states that in 2012, a modern study found that the immune system of breast cancer survivors using Turkey Tail recovered 400 times quicker after chemo than when using only conventional methods. Turkey Tail can be easily found anywhere there is dead trees and fallen logs. It can be hard to see because it mimics the bark of the tree. It is thin, velvety and leathery in texture with distinct banding of colours ranging from browns, rusts, greys and blues. No two turkey tails are alike (see photos) but they all have a strikingly flat white underside with tiny pore holes. No other look-alike brackets have a white pore underside. Common brackets mistakenly identified as Turkey tail are the false turkey tail and the violet-toothed polypore with their respectively brown and toothed underside. Other similar brackets have gill-like undersides. Now you are an expert Turkey Tail Polypore hunter. Congratulations. It’s time to start foraging for this gem on your next hike so you can make some tea and get your immune system ready for the busy shopping and flu season. To make a tea cut the brackets in ½ - 1-inch pieces. Add one cup of the fresh or sundried Turkey tail pieces to five cups of boiled water and simmer for one hour, adding water as needed during the hour if the liquid is evaporating away too quickly. Strain and store in the fridge for up to three days. Drink a warm cup or two daily with honey, lemon, ginger or turmeric slices as needed for your taste buds. Please share this article with your children and /or friends. Happy winter hiking and hunting everyone.

{Book Sources: Field Guide to North American Mushrooms. Gary Lincoff. New York, NY. Revised 1995 The Complete Mushroom Hunter. Gary Lincoff. Beverly, MA. Revised 2017. Mycellium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World. Paul Stamets. Berkley, CA. 2005. Video sources: Anything by mycologist Paul Stamets and mushroom hunters Adam Hartitan (Learn Your Land series), and Yarrow Willard (Harmonic Arts series). Too many videos to list here.}

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