A Man Named Ötzi
A long, long time ago, there lived a man named Ötzi. He probably wasn’t called Ötzi but that’s what he came to be known as, some 5300 years later, for the Ötzal Alps, where his frozen body was discovered by hikers on the 19th September 1991.
A palaeontologist’s dream, Ötzi The Iceman, to use his full title, offered a unique insight into the past, as well as an ancient murder mystery to solve…
But I’m not here to write about that, though I could quite happily, it’s fascinating!
This mysterious time traveller brought with him something for everyone, but for us, and the subject of this blog, he brought mushrooms.
Among the many interesting items found in Ötzi’s possession were two kinds of fungi.
Fomes fomentarius, known as Hoof Bracket, or more aptly, in this case, Tinder Bracket, which he used to transport fire as a glowing ember.
And Fomitopsis betulina, (formerly known as Piptoporus betulinus) The Birch Polypore, which as you may have surmised, grows exclusively on Birch trees.
Interestingly, Inonotus obliquus, a mushroom famed for it’s medicinal value, commonly known as Chaga, also grows on Birch trees. Not exclusively, but some of it’s medicinal properties come from the Birch tree itself and are not present when it’s harvested from other trees.
Naturally, some of the same compounds are found in the Birch Polypore.
It’s quite likely that the famous Ice Man prompted more research into the medicinal qualities of Birch Polypore but it has long been used in traditional medicine.
The anti-parasitic nature of the fungus combined with the diagnosis of Trichuris trichiura, an intestinal parasite found in Ötzi’s colon, led to the popular, yet purely speculative, theory that he was using the mushroom as treatment for this condition.
It’s also known to to have antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, neuroprotective, and immunomodulating properties.
Another common name for Fomitopsis betulina is Razor Strop Fungus, so named because the leather-like texture can be used for stropping sharp knives or razors.
Cut into thin strips when fresh, it can be used as an effective antiseptic dressing which also stems the flow of blood.
It’s also used in teas, tinctures and powders for a variety of health issues (including intestinal parasites).
I didn’t intend to eat this when I brought it home, it’s categorised as inedible in my mushroom books. Though, I was aware that it had other uses.
But when I sliced it for drying, it looked so pure and white that I just couldn’t resist a nibble, which turned out to be more of a gnaw really.
It was tough, really tough but with a pleasant, almost sweet flavour before the bitter aftertaste kicked in.
I read that younger specimens of Birch Polypore can be tender enough to eat, so I headed back to the woods, keen to try it.
First, I tested a piece raw, and it was definitely much softer, so I sliced and fried a couple of slices.
Although, pleasantly crispy on the outside it was less pleasantly gelatinous in the middle and I didn’t much care for the texture!
Sugar And Spice And Birch Polypore
I decided to try frying much smaller pieces for longer and to season them, one sweet and one savoury.
For the sweet version, I mixed Cinnamon and Sugar.
For the savoury, I used my Rosemary and Wild Garlic Salt.
When the mushroom was nice and crispy, I divided it into two portions and mixed with the seasonings whilst still hot.
I tasted the savoury first, it wasn’t bad at all but the now-familiar bitter after taste was uncomfortably disagreeable.
I thought perhaps the sweetness might be better at masking the bitterness, but it was much worse and became quite overwhelming at this point!
I tasted the savoury version once more to confirm that it was definitely better than the sweet one; it was but the bitterness was also becoming quite unbearable to me.
There are probably better ways to prepare this mushroom for eating, it could perhaps be used more successfully in dishes like soup, with lots of other flavours.
Unless I am particularly desperate, though, I don’t think I shall bother with it for food.
I will use the dried slices I have for the health benefits, perhaps in the form of an alcoholic infusion, or I may powder it for adding to soups like I did with the Turkey Tail.
Thanks for reading and please share your comments below.