Do you remember the news about Ötzi the Iceman, the 5000-year-old mummified man found in a glacier in the Ötztal Alps in Italy in September 1991? Amongst his meagre possessions, Ötzi was carrying two types of fungi, one of which was Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus). It’s one of the most common bracket fungi and grows, as you might guess from the name, on birch trees.
Archaeologists speculate that Ötzi was carrying the bracket fungus for medicinal reasons – this was his first aid kit. Birch polypore is known to have both anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties – various modern survivalist websites even advise using strips of it as plasters on wounds. Some herbalists recommend it in tea to soothe the nerves and eliminate fatigue but, be warned, it can act as a laxative!
Another of this fungus’s common names is Razor strop as barbers used to sharpen their cut-throat razors on it, and ancient people like Ötzi also used it as tinder. One spark from a flint and they could start a new campfire, and they could even carry a slowly smouldering piece of dry fungus with them as they travelled.