The wonders of Fomes fomentarius

By Mary Perkins

The fungus Fomes fomentarius (“tinder fungus”), though easy to pass without notice, has an array of wondrous qualities that should be recognized. These range from wood degraders, fire starters, clothing, weaponry, and medicinal uses. It has a long history of being used all around the globe, even dating back to the 5,000 year old Iceman, Otzi.

Lifestyle of the Fungi

Fomes fomentarius is a dark gray hoof-shaped (Lincoff, 1991) saprotrophic (lives on dead organic matter) fungus that grows on dead wood or wounded trees, mainly hardwoods, “. . . particularly fond of birch trees, although other trees, including firs, can be the host,” (Stamets, 2002). The most important role this polypore (the fertile tissue is composed of many pores rather than gills) fungus plays in ecology is the break-down of wood. It has the capability of degrading lignin, as a white rot. Wood is a very hard substance that only certain fungi can break down, Fomes fomentarius being one of them. They help rid the forest floor of litter, acting as nature’s recycler. Imagine how high a pile trees can reach if they were not decomposed. Not only do they clean up the forest floor, they help soften wood to make it possible for insects and nesters, such as birds and squirrels, to inhabit the trees (Bunnell & Houde. 2010).

Uses of Fomes fomentarius

Humans have had an intimate relationship with Fomes fomentarius for many years. They have utilized this fungus for medicinal purposes, carrying embers, fire starters, weaponry, and even clothing. The Okanagan-Colville natives used the fungus to make antimicrobial teas and poultices to treat infections and arthritis (Stamets, 2002). It was used to cauterize wounds by Laplanders and the Cree to treat frostbite (Rogers, 2011). The entire fruiting body can be hollowed out to carry embers while travelling from one camp tfomes hato another. The inside of the fungus can be dried and is easy to light with only a spark. The fungus was also used to discharge guns, from the spark of the flint, to the fungus, to the gunpowder (Stamets. 2002). When the fruiting body is smashed it becomes felt-like, usable for clothing materials, such as this fashionable hat, (see photo).

Evidence of the use of the tinder fungus has been found dating as far back as the Iceman, Otzi. A 5,000 year old mummy was found, preserved in ice, with his clothing and tools. Among these objects was Fomes fomentarius along with flints, as part of his, “fire-making kit,” (Moore et. al, 2013). It is amazing to think that the same use of the same fungus has been in practice for so many years, covering a vast area and peoples. We are similar beyond borders.

The tinder fungus plays many roles. It is important to forest ecology as well as beneficial to humans. It is a decomposer and a homemaker. It can be weaponized or create warmth and healing. It may not be a pretty fungus but there is more than meets the eye.


Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms demystified. New York: Random House

Bunnell, F. L., & Houde, I. (2010). Down wood and biodiversity – implications to forest practices. Environmental Reviews, 18(1), 397-421. doi:10.1139/A10-019

Lincoff, G., Knopf, A. 1991.The Audubon society field guide to North American mushrooms. New York: Knopf

Moore, D., Robson, G.D., Trinci, A.P.J. 2013. 21st century guidebook to fungi. New York: Cambridge University Press

Rogers, R. 2011. Fungal pharmacy. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books

Stamets, P. 2002. MycoMedicinals An informal treatise on mushrooms. Hong Kong: Colorcraft Ltd.

Vetrovsky, T., Voriskova, J., Snajdr, J., Gabriel, J., and Baldrian, P. (2011) Ecology of coarse wood decomposition of saprotrophic fungus Fomes fomentarius. Biodegradation, 22(4), 709-718 doi: 10.1007/s10532-010-9390-8

Healthful, helpful Hericium

Photo by Diane Cavallero (

By Brian Matson

The genus Hericium has several conspicuous species in the forests of North America, often hanging high up in the branches just out of reach or on the ground on dead logs. These saprophytic (wood-eating) mushrooms look unlike any other Basidiomycetes that you might see, lacking the cap and gill features so common to this phylum.  What they are missing in commonality they make up for in beauty. Often weighing several pounds with an untarnished creamy white coloration make these fungi a treat worth looking for. Not only are they unique in appearance they are edible and choice, having a unique taste, they also show promising health benefits such as tumor reduction and stimulating the production of nerve growth factor (“Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health,” n.d.).

There are four species of Hericium present in North America. Hericium erinaceus and Hericium abietis can be found in our Pacific Northwest and as far south as California on conifer wood. Hericium coralloides which is wide spread and grows on conifers , and Hericium americanum  which can be found in the Great Plains growing on hardwoods. All four of these species have stalactite-appearing teeth that hang off off the fruiting body. They are an easy fungus to identify for beginner mycologists because there are no poisonous look-a-likes in North America. David Arora describes these fungi as having a similar flavor and texture to fish or lobster. It can be sautéed, marinated, grilled, or prepared in almost any fashion, making it a very flexible mushroom for cooking. My preferred method is to dry sauté the mushroom until the liquid has evaporated off, then adding 1-2 tbsp of avocado oil, frying until browned, and then sprinkling on a little salt.  Patience is the key while cooking, because it often takes longer than you will want to wait. The wait is worth the euphoria trying this delicacy!
Hericium has been used as a traditional medicine in China and Japan for many years; but its medicinal uses are still being explored in western medicine (“Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health,” n.d.) .  The fungi in the genus Hericium all contain compounds called erinacines.  Erinacines have shown the ability to stimulate the production of nerve growth factor in animal trials (“Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health,” n.d.) , and show much potential in the treatment of debilitating diseases that affect nerve health or function.  In a double-blind placebo controlled study that took place in Japan in 2008, participants whose ages ranged from 50-80 were given orally powdered Hericium erinaceus and their cognitive function was monitored.  All 14 test subjects given the powdered Hericium erinaceus showed improved cognitive function when compared to 5 of the 15 placebo participants (Mori, Inatomi, Ouchi, Azumi, & Tuchida, 2009) .  The studies show promise in the effectiveness of Hericium in treatment of neurological diseases.  More studies are being done testing the effectiveness as a tumor suppressant, and while there has been less testing done in this area the few tests there have been show promise.

Works Cited
Plants & Fungi: Hericium erinaceus (bearded tooth) – Species profile from Kew. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

Hericium – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

Hericium: The Nerve Regenerators @ Mushrooms For Health. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

The Genus Hericium (MushroomExpert.Com). (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2014, from

Mori, K., Inatomi, S., Ouchi, K., Azumi, Y., & Tuchida, T. (2009). Improving effects of the mushroom Yamabushitake ( Hericium erinaceus ) on mild cognitive impairment: a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Phytotherapy Research, 23(3), 367–372. doi:10.1002/ptr.2634

Yurchenco, J. A., & Warren, G. H. (1961). A Laboratory Procedure for the Cultivation and Fructification of Species of Hericium. Mycologia, 53(6), 566–574. doi:10.2307/3756458