As the seasons are changing and the vivid summer green has made way for the autumn foliage colors, something else has caught our attention: a beautiful variety of mushrooms. We have just started learning more about foraging in general, and mushrooms were something that frightened us in the beginning. It seemed difficult, complicated, dangerous, and not worth the risk. But after talking with different people who knew more about it all than we did, we slowly became more confident. We focus on mushrooms that are very easy to identify and are extremely careful. We would never eat/use mushrooms if we aren’t 100% sure that we have the right one. And of course, if you decide to go out into the forest to find herbs or mushrooms, make sure you do your research and harvest responsibly.
Entering The World Of Mushrooms
So finally, we have embarked on our journey through the magical world of mushrooms. We went to a beautiful lake in France a while back together with some friends. On our last day, we found an abundance of mushrooms which we cooked up in ghee with onions and garlic in a big wok pan on our campfire. Accompanied by chapati (Indian flatbread) baked on the hot coals of the fire, the meal was extremely satisfying. It was our second experience with a foraged meal, the first one being with friends in a beautiful forest in Oregon. We had met somebody who had learned the mushroom foraging skill from his father, and he learned it from his father. We cooked up the mushrooms in a curry and had an evening filled with music and laughter. Thanks to the knowledge of our friends, plenty of good identification books, and the internet and its abundance of information, we felt confident enough to start foraging ourselves.
Getting To Know Birch Polypore
One of the mushrooms that caught our attention this last week is birch polypore. Birch polypore or berkenzwam* (Fomitopsis betulina) is a parasitic fungus which grows on dying or dead birch trees, and grows abundantly in a forest near our home. This mushroom smells great and mushroom-y, and is edible but does not taste very pleasant. However, it is highly medicinal and has been used by humans for centuries upon centuries. Birch polypore was found on Ötzi, a 5300-year-old mummy (dating from the Bronze Age) that was found in the Alps. Ötzi suffered from parasitic worms, and it is believed that he carried the mushroom on him so he could use it as a treatment. Parasitic worms are not our highest concert in modern life, so how can it help us today? Well, first of all, birch polypore is highly beneficial for the immune system and has been used as an immune tonic in the form of tea or tincture. Besides this, it has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and styptic properties which makes it an effective wound healer. If you ever find yourself on a hike and you hurt yourself, wrapping a slab of birch polypore around the wound can help to treat your wound for that time being. How amazing is that!
How To Identify Birch Polypore
You’ll find these mushrooms growing on dead or dying birch trees, often starting as little white bumps. As they grow older, they become flat and kidney-shaped. The upper skin tends to be white and smooth while young, becoming browner with age. The flesh is white, as is the pore surface (although the latter might become more gray or brown as it ages.) It smells mushroom-y, but the taste is quite bitter. The mushrooms don’t have gills, but tubes with tiny pores that are barely visible on the underside. Sometimes they are directly attached to the tree with no stalk, however, sometimes they have a stalk that is short and narrow.
These are all identification features which we have gathered while doing research, however, we are not professionals and are sharing this information out of love and appreciation for nature! Always do your research and triple-check with multiple sources. 🙂
How To Brew Birch Polypore Tea
So you’ve gone out into the forest and positively identified birch polypore. The next thing you do is make a decision, do you want to use it fresh or dried? If you want to use it fresh, you can immediately start brewing your tea. Otherwise, you want to dry your mushroom in a food dehydrator or just air dry it by spreading it out on and underneath a paper towel. A ventilator can greatly speed up this process! So you’ve got your mushrooms, fresh or dry, now it’s
time to make a brew. Ideally, you want to use filtered water to make sure no contaminants enter your medicinal tea. You’ll roughly need about 5-10 grams of dried mushroom. If you use fresh birch polypore this will roughly be about ten times the amount (50-80 gram). All you need to do is fill a pot with water, bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add your fresh or dried birch polypore and let simmer for 15-20 min up to an hour (the taste will be quite bitter after an hour). Strain and enjoy this healing infusion. The taste can be bitter, but a little bit of raw honey will solve this and also add its own medicinal properties. Ahhhh… The taste of nature! For now, we’re drinking a few cups of birch polypore tea a week as an immune system tonic during the colder months.
Besides birch polypore, we have found fly agaric (vliegenzwam* – amanita muscaria), reishi (gesteelde lakzwam* – ganoderma lucidum), turkey tail (elfenbankje* – trametes versicolor) and a variety of edible boletes, puffballs, and so much more! One thing is certain, there is a lot more to explore and learn about these wonderful organisms, and how they can provide us food and medicine. Thank you Mother Earth, thank you great mushrooms!
*the names of these mushrooms in our language (Flemish – Dutch)
Have any of you gone out foraging this autumn? Which mushroom do you like to use culinary, medicinally or for any other reason? Let us know in the comments!
If you want to read and learn some more about birch polypore and its many uses, check out the sources I used: