Survival/Bushcraft Techniques

Survival Tips – How to Start a Fire with Fungus

Editor’s preclude: Just as with climate change, where we’re finding ourselves having to move from prevention to mitigation, I think permaculturists, who major in prevention of environmental and economic collapse, also need to build some of their skills in outright survival. In the future laid out before us, we never know when basic survival techniques may become critical lifelines in difficult times or for when natural disasters strike. Given that our governments are not only a root cause of these situations, but they’re also wholly inadequate to assist us in times of desperate need, personal preparedness is an appropriate response. As such, I thought I’d put up a small, initial post on the topic of survival techniques, which I hope will be the first of many such articles posted to this site, not just from myself, but also from some of our many international readers who have far more knowledge and skills to share in this area than I do — some valuable to all, and some more specific to their own bioregions. Such articles can cover every aspect of basic survival, from identifying edible and medicinal plants and roots, to techniques for the speedy building of emergency shelters, to navigation skills and dealing with injuries, and so on. Please send such posts, with photos, to editor (at) permaculture.org.au


All photographs © Craig Mackintosh

A friend here in central Europe invited me to head out of town a little to camp out under the stars. Over the last several months he has been taking some interest in survival techniques, and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get out of my swivel chair, get a little break in nature, whilst also getting a little material to share with you. (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)

So, latish yesterday afternoon, we packed up our kit and walked about 6 or 7kms out of town, through farmer’s fields and into the forest.

Along the way we spied and tried a few wild edibles, including some wild apples. Whilst smaller than the store-bought varieties, biting into them reminded me of the tastier varieties I ate as a child, before our soils became so depleted. As an adult, I am constantly disappointed with the mushy, tasteless and quick-to-rot store-bought fruit. (Actually, I often wonder how these industries would react if people worldwide would start returning them for refunds!) Whilst these were a little ‘tart’ (I have a small penchant for slightly sour flavours myself, so didn’t mind at all), the reaction from my salivary glands made it clear they were positively bursting with vitamins.

Not long after we came across some blackthorn bushes. If you are caught short, these could help provide you some of the nutrition you need, although due to their astringent properties, your mouth will go rather numb after eating more than a few. These are more suitable for preserves than direct eating, but are worth noting as edible for emergency situations.

With a small chance of rain, after arriving in a nice sheltered spot in the forest, under the brow of a hill and under the shelter of some deciduous trees, we decided to stop and prepare a simple shelter with sticks and a tarp.

After creating our shelter, the next order of the day was to prepare a fire for cooking and keeping warm. The forest floor was littered with plenty of dry and rotting branches, and after collecting a small store of kindling and larger branches, we looked for suitable tinder to help us get it started.


Tinder fungus, also known as tinder polyphore, hoof fungus, and touchwood.

I had never heard of using a fungus for tinder before, but I won’t forget it now. When sliced into pieces, you can simply drag the sharp edge of a knife down the exposed internal part of the fungus, grinding the brittle substance into a small pile of powder. This powder will catch a spark very easily, and once ignited will burn in a very slow and stable way.

Using ‘firesteel’, I was able to ignite a very small (around 1mm) part of the fungus powder within moments (next time we might try a bow drill). Only 1mm of ignited powder was enough. It burns so stably that it won’t go out unless you douse it with water or press it out with your finger.

We then moved the powder into some dry straw we had collected from the side of a field on the way into the forest.

A little huffing and puffing and it was alight.

We then applied our little handful of straw to our prepared kindling, and the fire was quickly ablaze.

The size of this fungus, and the small amount required, is such that you can keep it to reuse over and over again. Being somewhat of the consistency of brittle wood, it will store well. It’s not necessary to overly rob the forest of these organisms.

After some food and fireside banter, we retired.

As I slumbered I couldn’t help but think of the many ‘Partizans’ who, during World War II, hid from the Nazis in the forests of this area, and from where they coordinated their efforts. I’m sure they could teach me a thing or two about wilderness survival, as some of them spent many months doing so. This situation is one we may well see again in our increasingly uncertain future….

Finally, I dozed off to sleep, dreaming of the bear that live in the area….

P.S.: My friend’s brother is more of an expert in survival techniques, so when we can coordinate some outings I hope to share more posts on these topics.

Don’t forget to send your survival tips and tricks to me for publishing, on: editor (at) permaculture.org.au

10 Comments

  1. Very wise! With the North Pole ice cap might being gone within 20 years, I fear our economic systems will see a similar meltdown. Those in power will do nothing, as it is their system which gives them their power. They will protect it to the bitter end, just like the most fanatic Nazis while Berlin was carpet bombed and every sane person realized it was game over. We have climate change and ecocide, but they still stick to the same old game they know so well and feel comfortable with. Nothing can shake them out of their dream.

  2. I enjoyed your article and am very interested in future installations. I do not know much about this topic myself but am very interested to learn. I would especially like to learn about wild edibles. All the books make it sound so scary, choose a wrong leaf or berry and die. While that is true in some instances I’m sure, it has paralyzed me into inaction, as I do not know anyone personally who knows anything about wild edibles. Anyway, looking forward to more articles along this line! – Natasha

  3. I live in the mid-atlantic bio region on the eastern seaboard of the United States. Does tinder fungus form in all deciduous forests—even those in temperate zones where temperatures are lower than in Australia and the humidity may be higher? Do they favor certain types of trees? thanks….Dele

  4. for those in the US
    a good magazine for survival (and having fun doing it) is
    https://www.backwoodsmanmag.com/

    One of the things I notice most about these types of “survivals” is “us vrs nature” theme
    HOW are you going to survive out in the big scary woods?
    What is safe to eat?
    the real answer is to make the big scary woods a food forest!!
    the natives lived easily and could find food in the woods because they planted most of it
    so when you out, plant seeds of fruit you’ve eaten, clear some brush from good trees, plant nuts, clean up berry patches, etc
    you or someone else may thank you

  5. Thanks for this article! We’ve been taking classes from a group called the Ozark Tracker Society which is affiliated with John Young. We are learning about native flora & fauna & wilderness skills, and consider this a foundation to good permaculture design. We’ve learned several fire starting techniques, but not fungus! It will be fun to bring this idea back to them.

  6. Hi Craig,

    Nice article and a worthwhile objective.

    It is worth suggesting that if people are interested in edible plants/herbs that are not widely known, that they check out second-hand books from the 1970s and earlier.

    Much of the recent publications reflect the changes in our society over the past couple of decades towards a more marketing and legal basis. ie. The recent books have large and scary warnings (fair enough) whose purpose is often to avoid legal action in unusual circumstances, but they also have the negative side effect of promoting fear. In addition they often also conclude that you can simply purchase said plants/herbs rather than forage and/or grow them.

    The books from the 1970s and earlier tend to advise on warnings, but don’t overdo it, whilst also providing far more practical advice.

    Yes, there are circumstances where the warnings are justifiable, so reading both sources and making your own mind up may be the way to go. However, even chocolate in large enough quantities can kill you!

    Regards

    Chris

  7. I have a little inside tip on how to judge whether ‘wild’ food is safe to eat. I usually find freshly caught, slaughtered quickly and well cooked, fairly safe!
    And before anyone gets their back up about eating animals, just remember, its all a question of context.
    In my story on the Beaufort Blokes Garden from a few weeks ago I wrote about a character named Laurie. He would have starved to death as a child if he hadn’t learned to catch, kill and cook the local wildlife, native and introduced species.
    Craig, you have inspired me to go out and hunt down lunch, I will see if I can make a story out of it.

  8. Coincidentally, earlier today, while biking through some wooded trails here in Southeast Nova Scotia, Canada, I noticed a couple of different and unrecognizable berry species on the forest floor that I’ve been trying to identify online.
    One may be ginseng, of all things, and the other, possibly teaberry/wintergreen. Over the past two summers so far, I’ve been casually teaching myself to identify and memorize edible, medicinal and/or otherwise practical (i.e. fibers for twine) wild/semi-wild plants.
    A You Tube video series to recommend is Eat The Weeds.

  9. I have been searching for a Survival Hand Book based on Australian conditions… most books I have found seem to be based on American and European conditions. As far as an edible native plants guide for Australia, the Bushtucker Man Field Guide is great!

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