Growing almost exclusively on (as its name implies) birch trees, the birch bracket mushroom is one of the most common polyporous bracket fungi. They sprout from the sides of birch trees and they emerge during the spring and summer months. Generally, this type of mushroom thrives in cold climates. It can be found mostly in northern European and arctic countries. It is also being cultivated in Northern Asia, northern US states and in Canada.
Birch bracket mushrooms, otherwise known as the Piptoporus Betulinus, can also grow during the winter but they are less attractive as they look blackened. At their best the color of the cap of a birch bracket mushroom is tan to beige with whitish brown edge and underside. The underside contains the pores that release the spores that attaches to the exposed areas on the trunks of the birch trees where it will start to grow. This type of mushroom does not have any noticeable stem and simply hangs perpendicularly to the side of the birch tree. They can grow up to 10-30 centimeters across and up to 8 centimeters thick. Sometimes it can grow bigger but they are not as tasty as when they are smaller.
The taste of the birch bracket mushroom is earthy and bitter so it is not commonly used for eating even if it is considered as edible by most mushroom guides. The taste isn’t as bitter when it is still at its earlier stages of growth so if you are planning on eating one, the best time to try is when it is young. You can tell a birch bracket mushroom is young when it is small and white in color all over. Its smell is considered pleasant by most but its taste isn’t as revered.
A great known fact about the birch bracket mushroom is that it is known as the ancient mushroom. This is because it was found buried together with Ötzi the Iceman or simply the Iceman when it was discovered in 1991. The Iceman is a 5,000 year old mummy that was discovered in Tyrol in the Italian Alps. The birch bracket mushroom is also called a razor strop fungus because it is known to be able to sharpen knives and other metallic objects. It can also be used as kindling when trying to light a bonfire.
The compounds contained in a single birch bracket mushroom include:
- Primary metabolites (polysaccharides)
- secondary metabolites (triterpene)
- Betulinic acids
The birch bracket mushroom may not be known for its taste but it is known for its medicinal properties. Some of which are:
- Anti-inflammatory properties
- Anti-bacterial properties
- Anti-tumor properties
- Source of zinc, manganese, copper, selenium and chromium
- Immunity boosting properties
Among its many medicinal values the most important thing that birch bracket mushrooms offer are its anti-inflammatory properties in the form of triterpene. In a recent study, it was found that the triterpene compound contained in the birch bracket mushroom was able to inhibit the formation of edema on animal test subjects by up to 86%.
The birch bracket mushroom is also known for its anti-bacterial properties. The compound Piptamine is known to have an anti-microbial effect on some strains of bacteria including E. choli and Bacillus subtilus. Also, by carefully peeling back the underside of the birch bracket mushroom you can easily use this as a makeshift wound plaster. This is in case you find yourself wounded while out in the woods. Its antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties contained within the underside of the birch bracket mushroom can help stop the bleeding and the spread of infection.
The Betulinic acids contained in the birch bracket mushroom is said to be particularly toxic to melanoma cells which is a type of cancer cells that affect the skin. This makes the birch bracket mushroom a good source of cancer fighting ingredients. It is also a great source of essential, immunity boosting minerals like zinc. It is also known to help cure you of the common flu, cowpox and other potentially fatal viruses.
A birch bracket mushroom may not look like much but its medicinal properties are abundant. If you see this birch tree loving mushroom blooming nearby, grab some to brew with your afternoon tea. Your immune system will thank you for it.