King Alfred Cakes, Coal Fungus,Cramp Balls

I thought I’d put an entry on the blog about my personal favourite and one of the best natural tinder’s around in my opinion, DALDINIA CONCENTRICA. The common names are King Alfred’s cakes, Coal fungus and Cramp balls,they can be found growing on dead or dying Ash trees, Fraxinus excelsior

. You will see the fungus growing often in clusters on the trunk or branches, they resemble lumps of coal.

These can be picked off the tree and used to take a spark when dry. Avoid picking the denser brown coloured fungus and go for the black ones which sound slightly hollow when tapped. Cramp balls are quite common in the UK and can be found in North America and parts of Europe but less frequently.

The fungus can grow from 2-7cm in diameter and when broken reveal a silver and black inside. These silver rings that you can see are growth rings similar in what you would see on a felled tree. Each layer or concentric ring represents a season’s growth.
To use the fungus as a tinder collect a dry specimen and drop a spark from your fire steel on to the inside surface.

If successful you will see a small orange glow appear. Blow gently on this and you will see the heat spread through the fungus in a similar way to a charcoal briquette.

Once ignited the Cramp ball is quite hard to extinguish and can be left to smoulder away for a long time. When the Cramp ball is producing heat place tinder in contact with the hot surface (dried grasses are excellent) blow and you will have fire.

There is evidence that our nomadic ancestors used fungi in this way to transport their fire when moving from an old to a new camp in search of food. The fungus would be carried and when it was time to light the fire again some tinder such as dried grasses would be put in contact with the hot surface and blew upon creating flame.
I hope this article helps some of you and remember please only take what you need .Have fun experimenting.

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