Top of the TINDERS


Today I thought I’d go out and collect several different wild tinders.

Tinders are plant materials and fungi that you can use to catch sparks (ie from a strike flint or bow drill) and start a fire. (If you are surviving an apocalypse and have forgotten your lighter!)

They are nothing to do with the rather racy dating site of the same name!

Here are just some of the many wild tinders. Let me introduce them…

Clockwise from Reedmace, Pine needles, Reed stems, Birch Polyphore fungus, Reed seed head, Hoof fungus with ‘leather’ layer.

The first tinder I stumbled upon outside my friend’s boat was a fluffy, downy head of cream-coloured Reedmace seeds.

Reedmace seed head for tinder

These seeds are really flammable. They are also very buoyant. Due to this they have also been used as life jackets in the past! Their use was discontinued after several fires. Notably the one that started on the SS Normandie in New York’s docks. (Once the classiest cruise liner of the 1930s.)

The next thing I found on the towpath was some Common Reed (Phragmites australis). I took some seed heads off and some of the stalks, which were crisp and bone dry.

Common Reed – Phragmites australis

I also scarfed some Birch Bark. Birch is an amazing giving tree.

In winter you can peel the white-silver outer bark off dead logs. The Silver Birch’s outer bark is full of oils that catch fire easily. You can even extract this substance, called birch pitch or tar, if you have the patience!

Birch tar has been used for thousands of years to seal leather shoes and make containers waterproof. It is also antimicrobial.

Right now though, we’re focusing on how well the bark holds a flame…

Gorse is also great for burning, but getting pieces of this spiny, vicious bush off to burn them is easier said than done! One for the very thick kid gloves.

Gorse – Ulex europeus

Now for some really meaty stuff. Well, fungus actually.

Fungus has been used as tinder since the time of Otzi, the prehistoric man found frozen in the Otztal Alps between Austria and Italy.

Our 3500-year-old ancestor had a leather pouch in his possession containing Hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius). This rock-hard fungus looks like a horse’s hoof. No good for eating – but once the bottom layer had been sliced off and pounded into something like a moth-eaten chami leather, it held a glowing ember magnificently.

Phil our mycologist was on hand to provide me with a sample for my experiments.

Hoof fungus and a sliced, beaten hoof fungus ‘leather’ that holds embers.

Last but not least, Birch Polyphore. Also known as Razor Strop Fungus, this rubbery bracket fungus has a lovely texture, a pleasant smell, and a disgusting taste.

“Don’t eat it! Make medicinal tea out of it.” said Phil.

Whoops, too late. Last year I made a meal out of Birch Polyphore and promptly spat it out. It smells much better than it tastes!

It’s not poisonous, but it won’t win you any prizes in Masterchef. This is another fungus that was used to hold a coal. It would then be wrapped in slightly damp moss and leaves and carried, ready to relight the cook fire when a prehistoric tribe was on the move.

Anyone who’s watched Quest for Fire will remember the bit when the aged fire keeper falls into the lake with the precious embers. Leaving the entire tribe without warmth. Why the heck didn’t they get one of the youngsters to do it?

Pine needles and every other part of Pine trees are full of resin. Pine cones are great as kindling, but you need something finer to catch a spark.

The Test – Who’s Top Of the Tinders?

I took all this lot out to the fire pit (a hole dug in my garden) to test them out. I’ve already played with Reedmace seeds as tinder before and made rush lights out of the stems, so I pulled that out first.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Which Wild Tinders are Top of the Tinders?!

Reedmace seeds as tinder


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