The predawn sky was overcast and the mists had drenched the landscape for days. The young hunter knew to stay hidden in the thickest part of the Spruce seedlings growing on the edge of the cliff. Even in the dark he knew to keep still. His prey could detect the slightest sound. As the dark sky began to turn red he calmly notched his dart into the hook of his Atlatl and prepared to cast it into the valley below. Peering through the evergreen boughs revealed a huge Mastodon on the edge of water. Then he heard the signal to attack from the hunt-chief and a swarm of stone tipped darts flew to their mark bringing the behemoth to the ground. The whole tribe gathered at the kill to gather their share of the meat and to prepare a feast right there on the spot. The young hunter watched as his grandfather used a stone axe to chop a growth from one of the nearby trees and split it open. A chip of flint was then used to scrape our some of spongy flesh from the inside of the mushroom. The old man buffed the material and placed it on a slab of bark and struck out few sparks into the small pile which soon began to smolder. The spongy material was Amadou and it held the magic of fire.
Tonight’s Forage Friday post is not an edible plant but it is one that has a multitude of uses that makes it worth exploring. The mushrooms in the Fomes family produce a substance called Amadou. From the dawn of history it’s been used as a fire starter and was even found in the possibles kit of Otzi the ice man recovered from the Italian Alps. The mushrooms are said to have a horrid flavor so they’re not considered to be edible but if you like to eat a warm meal they are great for getting a fire going.
That may be how mankind’s relationship started with Amadou but that’s not where it ended. As it turns out Amadou is also a wonderful textile. At some point in history people from the region of Transylvania figured out that if you soak Amadou in the ashes of birch wood it can be pounded and stretched into sheets that have the soft qualities of felt but the look of leather. The sheets are then made into purses, pouches belts and especially hats. All of these items are decorated with ornaments that are made by pressing the Amadou into carved wooden molds and steaming them. One of demonstration videos on YouTube says that an old-fashioned steam iron is the best tool for that job.
Amadou is highly absorbent and was once used like gauze in dental work and as bandages. The absorbent quality also made it popular with fly fishing for drying flies.
For next part of the article I need to be clear about some common confusion. The most abundant source of Amadou is the horse hoof fungus which is also known as false tinder fungus and should not be confused with Chaga/true tinder fungus. Chaga is a wonderful medicinal fungus that grows on dying birch trees that I’ve been told is a beautifully tasting tea. Horse Hoof Fungus may hold a medical use but not for humans. Expiriments have shown that honeybees that feed on the sugary resin that collects on the underside of the mushroom have fewer incidents of a wing deformation that is caused by a virus. To the best of my knowledge no testing gas been done to see if any of the extracts are effective for humans in any way so until that’s confirmed this one is only for the bees.
Here in Appalachia the horse hoof fungus is part of a traditional art. If you can locate one that’s young and still growing you can make an engraving on the underside and the mushroom will grow into the carving and it also holds paint very well making it a great canvas.
Finally, you can sharpen your knife with the underside of mushroom by using it like a strop. When done correctly there’s a squeak.
I hope that you have enjoyed tonight’s Forage Friday post. If so, let me know in the comments!
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