A Walk in the Woods

The woods near where we live are mainly birch & pine woodland, with some oak trees. On bright winter days they are lovely places to walk in for inspiration, with dappled sunlight through the trees & crisp leaves underfoot. This time I was also keeping my eyes open for fungi or other potential sources of dye colour.

Fallen birch bark is abundant & is a useful source of pink & tan shades, especially if one has the patience to separate the inner bark from the outer bark. The leaves of fir trees can be used for yellows & the fallen dried oak leaves give brown shades.






                                                                                                                                                                    These bracket fungi look so beautiful on the tree, it would seem wrong to disturb them, especially as I’m not sure whether they would be suitable for dyeing anyway.

I think the lower bracket fungus is a birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus). I read recently that the Ice Man, whose body was discovered buried in ice in the Swiss Alps, after lying there for over 4000 years, was apparently carrying some fragments of birch polypore, attached to his clothing by leather thongs. It is thought that he was carrying these fragments for medicinal purposes, as birch polypore is considered to have anti-bacterial properties. In the past, it was also dried & used to sharpen razors, hence its alternative common English name, Razor-strop fungus. When we visited the Viking museum at Haithabu in northern Germany some years ago, I was interested to learn that the Vikings used walnut solutions as an anti-bacterial soak for their clothing.

                                                                                                                                              These bracket fungi were very high up on the tree and somewhat out of reach of my camera. They looked quite spectacular, sitting together in splendid isolation above the forest floor.






                                                                                                                                                         Is this another birch polypore? This one is a delicate shade of green, with slightly frilled edges. Or perhaps it has been nibbled?

The pleasure of exploring the woodland & coming across such treasures is a real inspiration during the winter months. The experience is enough in itself, whether or not I  find useful sources of dye colour. Even without new “finds”, there will always be plenty to fill my dyepots & never enough time for all the experiments I’d like to do.

5 replies
  1. Päivi
    Päivi says:

    If you put that birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) to dryer, you get good pin cushion, it kind of sharpens your needles.

  2. cedar
    cedar says:

    A walk in the woods is so much more when you are into the natural dyeing process…Mother Nature’s endless generosity is astounding…nice polypores…

  3. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Your book has been my natural dying “bible” for years, I love it. I just tried for the first time dying with lichen I collected on hikes in the Florida woods, not sure if I had the right type (it was growing on dead sticks lying on the ground) but was very pleased with all the color I got out of it using amonia. The dye seems to be getting darker and not running out the longer it sets.

  4. else
    else says:

    All the polypores are indeed birch polypores, Piptoporus betulinus. It forms each year new fruitbodies; the lowest picture shows one on its last legs, probably hosting all kinds of other organisms. I don’t think that it will dye yarn, but it is a pleasure to see in the woods.

  5. Tricia Cook
    Tricia Cook says:

    Wonderful photos Jenny,
    You are a true forager like me I think. I love to search, I think I came from a hunter gatherer ancestry, lol. It doesn’t matter to me if I find what I am looking for either it’s just fun to search. Oh how I wish I was an expert on fungi I would love to forage for food. I liked the previous comment on the pin cushion what a clever idea! You have inspired me to go back and take a look at my local wood. Bw Tricia x

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