Tinder conk (Fomes fomentarius), mushroom

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The tinder conk (Fomes fomentarius) is a medicinal mushroom that grows on damaged hardwoods, especially beech. It is one of the most common wood fungi in Slovenia. Archaeological finds show evidence of its use already 5,000 years ago. In the past it was used for tinder and to maintain and carry fire, hence its name. It is a part of various rituals and customs, and also serves medicinal purposes, is used to make hats, and has various uses in other crafts.

Name of Material in the local and Latin language
Bukova kresilka (Fomes fomentarius, family Polyporaceae)
Type of Material
Organic
Commonly Found Locations
Standing (frequently damaged) beech trees, stumps, and decaying tree trunks

Colour
Dark grey, hard and woody crust, and brown or dark ochre flesh; the spore-producing hymenium is grey and glows bright pink under UV light (395 nm).
Density
The corky flesh is tough and fibrous, when dry it can only be milled in an industrial food processor; the dry powder is ochre or pale brown in colour, and reminiscent of cotton wool.
Structure
The cap surface is soft and velvety in young mushrooms, but hardens and smooths when older; it is concentrically furrowed and grey with dark patterns between rings, frequently overgrown with moss at the contact with the tree; spore print white, smooth spores measure 12–20 μm × 4–7 μm.
Chemical Composition
Nutritional value of dried F. fomentarius (g/100 g): moisture 12.28, ash 2.33, fat 1.45, proteins 12.96, carbohydrates 2.06, total dietary fibre 68.92, beta-glucan 20.32, energy (kcal/100 g) 210.99, energy (kJ/100 g) 881.95.

Industrial and Crafts Applications
The tinder conk is used to make leather- and felt-like fabric for hats and other everyday objects (this was especially popular in the past); beekeepers use it to calm bees.
Historical or Cultural Uses
In rituals (by Kurents in Shrovetide carnivals) and customs (to carry Easter fire after it has been blessed), in crafts (beekeeping, hat-making), as a base for swallows’ nests, and for medicinal purposes
Environmental Impact
The tinder conk is an important decomposer that helps foster a healthy ecosystem in beech forests.
Innovative or Emerging Applications
Production of mushroom leather and felt and its application in contemporary design; the use of extracts in pharmacy for the prevention of gastroenteric disorders (oral and gastric ulcers) and diabetes.

Extraction Methods
Tinder conk is harvested in the forest with a hatchet, which can be difficult as the tough fungus can grow high up a tree.
Processing Techniques
Cleaning, mechanical processing and shaping (pounding, stretching, freezing, defrosting), drying, preparation, milling
Sustainability and Environmental Considerations
The tinder conk is not a protected mushroom; its fruit bodies are perennial, so it is better to harvest young specimens.
Recycling and Waste Management
The mushroom decomposes.

Interesting Facts or Historical Anecdotes
The tinder conk was a protagonist of two fascinating archaeological finds – that of Ötzi the Iceman, among whose possessions it was found as part of his fire-lighting kit, and that of the oldest wheel in the world, which was discovered in the Ljubljana Marshes. Already in the past, people used it for its medicinal purposes, to make hats, and to carry and maintain fire.
Current Research and Developments
In pharmaceutical biotechnology and biochemistry; Slovenian researchers in the field include Andrej Gregori (MycoMedica company), Franc Pohleven, Borut Štrukelj and others
Regulations or Restrictions
As one of the most common species it is not protected.
Relevant Organizations, Associations, Producers
https://www.goba.eu/o-nas/; https://www.zvnder.com/index_eng.html; https://www.dezeen.com/2022/02/02/mari-koppanen-fomes-amadou-seating-design/

The tinder conk (Fomes fomentarius) is a wood-decay fungus.

It is most often found growing on beech trees or decaying tree trunks and stumps. As a saprophytic mushroom it takes nourishment by decomposing organic matter of dead wood (e.g. lignin), leaving behind a white rot. It also performs essential nutrient cycling functions in beech forests – it protects the tree it grows on, and when it dies new fruiting bodies emerge and help break down the wood. Thus, its ecological function contributes to the dynamic and changing nature of the forest and maintains the stability of the forest ecosystem.

The tinder conk is recognised for its dark grey, hoof-shaped fruiting bodies that get harder and furrowed with age. It forms perennial brackets that grow slowly, so it is best to pick younger specimens. Tinder conks are knocked off the tree trunk so that a new fruit body can sprout from the mycelium. This method is nature-friendly and does not endanger the species. As one of the most common wood-decay fungi in Slovenia, the tinder conk is not subject to any restrictions other than the one that applies to all mushrooms (that are not protected or red-listed), namely that only two kilograms of mushrooms can be picked per person in a single day. Because its tough woody texture prevents culinary uses, it is classified as inedible, but is still recognised for its healing properties. Dried and milled it is believed to stop bleeding; extracts (teas and tinctures) are used to treat oral and gastrointestinal ulcers. As it contains substances that regulate blood sugar it is also beneficial for diabetics.

The mushroom got its name for its use to start, maintain, and carry fires. Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummy was found under the Alps, carried it with him in his girdle, together with the birch bracket. A very-well preserved fruiting body was found also with the oldest wooden wheel in the world, in the Ljubljana Marshes. Both finds date back to the same period, 3400 BC.

The tinder conk spores are released only in a certain period, so they are not always available for study, which is a considerable drawback for mycological research. Various research is involved in obtaining knowledge of the mushroom and its uses: mycological as well as anthropological, ethnobotanical, and archaeological. Recently, its historical uses in folk medicine have received scientific attention as well. Laboratory tests have confirmed its preventive and/or therapeutic, antiseptic, antibacterial, cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, and hypoglycaemic properties

Before the invention of matches (mid-19th century) the fire-starting kit consisted of a tinder mushroom, flint, and a fire striker (steel).

The tinder came from tinder conk fungus that was pounded flat and boiled or soaked in a solution of saltpetre, and left to dry. A single piece can smoulder for a night or even longer. The mushroom as a fire starter was so important that it even became a smokers’ accessory, and was even decorated. People could buy them from hawkers and in different shops. The tinder conk is also used in beekeeping to calm bees with the pleasant smell of its smoke. Similarly, the smoke works as a mosquito and moth repellent that can help sanitize people’s homes. The tinder conk plays a part also in rituals and customs. Kurents, traditional Shrovetide carnival figures, tie it on a chain and burn it. To this day, large specimens of the tinder conk are found missing from mushroom exhibitions, and it is believed that this is owing to the enthusiasm of some to be kurents. Smouldering tinder conks were used also to carry blessed fire from the church to people’s homes (between Christmas and New Year or just before Easter). In the past, healers used the absorbent trauma layer of the tinder conk to stop bleeding, and it is even said to heal the umbilical stump in newborns. To this day it is used as an effective home remedy, for tinctures, teas, and lotions; it can also be dried and milled, and used as a wound dressing. Also promising is its application in pharmaceutical mushroom extracts.

In the past, craftsmen made felt-like fabric for hats from the tinder conk. Until the 19th century it was very popular with mushroom hunters and foresters who foraged for tinder conk around the Javorniki Hills and the Snežnik Mountains. At the beginning of the 20th century, Hinko Dolenc reported that these mushrooms were bought by traffickers who sold them to buyers in England, where mushroom felt fabrics were produced in factories. Mushroom felt hats were so widespread that the knowledge behind the making of them was not specially protected, and has been more or less lost as a result (at least in Slovenia). In Transylvania and in certain regions of Eastern Europe craftsmen still make fabric and caps, belts, broaches, and other everyday items from the tinder conk. As a natural material, the fungus is a promising proposition in contemporary design and craftsmanship, so it has been receiving more attention recently also as a craft that is being revived and developed.

 

RESOURCES
Katarina Grabnar Apostolides, interview. Tržiška Bistrica, 2023.
Marina Kolundžić et al., 'Antibacterial and cytotoxic activities of wild mushroom Fomes fomentarius (L.) Fr., Polyporaceae.' Industrial Crops and Products. 79, 2016. Pp. 110–115.
Vlasta Mlakar, Rastilna je sveta od rastline do cveta. Ljubljana, 2015.
Franc Pohleven, 'Kresilna goba ali bukova kresilka.' Les/Wood. 60(7/8), 2008. P. 310.
Barbara Sosič, conversation, Slovene Ethnographic Museum. Ljubljana, 2023.
Written by Tajda Jerkič