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Backpacker Magazine – September 2009

How to Start a Fire With Fungus

Chaga, or "tinder fungus" and other natural firestarters abound in the backcountry–you just have to know where to look for them.

by: Steve Howe

(Photo by Taylor F. Lockwood)
(Photo by Taylor F. Lockwood)

Commercial tinder, petroleum jelly-covered cotton balls, and dryer lint are all great for starting a blaze–until you realize you left them at home. But lucky for forgetful hikers, the woods are full of natural firestarters. One of the best: chaga, aka tinder fungus. This chunky black mushroom ignites easily, smolders for hours, and emits a pleasant, woodsy smell. Here's how to use it.

Find it
Chaga fungus grows year-round in cool northern forests from New England to the Northwoods of Minnesota and Wisconsin and into the southern Appalachians. Look for it on birch trunks; the dark, bulging mushroom resembles burnt charcoal and often sprouts up where the tree has been injured (chaga is a parasite; you won't become an LNT outlaw by taking a small chunk). Pry a palm-size piece of the fungus off of the trunk with your multitool.

Light it
Flint Scrape any part of your fungus chunk with a knife to produce a pile of powder, then direct sparks directly onto the pile. You can also place the fungus on the ground, off the edge of your flint or fire striker, and let the sparks land right on it. The highly flammable chaga will ignite no matter which method you choose.
Lighter Simply hold the entire chunk to a flame.

Adapted from Born to Explore: How to Be a Backyard Adventurer, by Richard Wiese ($19, HarperCollins)



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READERS COMMENTS

Jake Terk
May 07, 2011

I found some of this stuff on a hike up the Poudre River, that tea really gave me a new look on life

Anonymous
Apr 25, 2011

LNT books, flyers and brochures make pretty good fires,.. but I've never used them for tea.

Corrine
Oct 22, 2009

Has anyone ever found Chaga in the Seattle area? It sounds great, but I don't know if I'll be able to find it here.

Mike Salfai
Oct 15, 2009

We call this stuff bearsh*t fungus as did, I imagine, the Indians and early French. It does bear a resemblance. If I was going to make tea out of it I think I would prefer the name CHAGA. Most often found on birch trees in our area (Upper Michigan), it was prized by those who relied on flint and steel to start their fires and still is among those into primitive fieldcraft.

Donald Cordell
Sep 17, 2009

Has anyone tested this CHAGA TEA as to whether it is actually safe ?

AK907
Sep 17, 2009

Carl Pantuso, get your granola ass out of here.

Carl Pantuso
Sep 17, 2009

Before you start a fire you should ask yourself - do you actually need it? Not want it, but need it. Is it absolutely necessary? Fires scar the land and burn up valuable wood that should be left to decompose. We are the stewards of the land let's leave it as we found it!!!

Stephanie Waymen
Sep 15, 2009

Yes, Chaga starts fire well. But you left out the best hiking tip about Chaga....it makes an awesome tea! Cut up small chunks, boil, then simmer for 10-20 min and enjoy! Chaga is one of the tastiest, antioxidant loaded foods on the planet!
You can use the black outter part, as well as the inner, orangy corky part. So good!

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