Apart from being a delicious and nutritively diverse source of food, fungi has been holding a significant place in the beer industry, agriculture and medicine. Nowadays, people are finding new ways of playing with this natural resource making up sustainable packaging and even furniture.
However, in a specific place in the heart of Transylvania, in the Harghitacounty,in Corund, there is an older, traditional handcraft which works with tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius)to create hats and other ornamental accessories.
Fomes fomentarius is a species of fungus plant pathogen which can be found in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America. Some of the common names are tinder fungus, hoof fungus (because of its appearance) or ice man fungus. The last name is attributed to the discovery of a 5,000 old mummy preserved in ice, which among its objects had this type of fungus as part of its “fire-making attire”, hence its use in helping starting a fire.
One of the most important aspects about this fungus is its ecologic role, as a natural recycler of damaged, unusable trees, thus cleaning the forest floor. In addition to this, it is also softening the bark for other forest creatures such as birds and squirrels to nest in the trees.
Ethnomedicinally, the fungus has been used to cauterize wounds, treat frostbite and has been made into teas or cataplasms to treat infections and arthritis.
Going back to the Transylvanian region of Corund, we learn that the craft of making hats and other things out of tinder fungus is carried on by a handful of “taplász, toplász” families(their number continuously declining).
The fungus usually grows on old beech and birch trees. They must have grown at a minimum 1,500 m altitude and be 2-3 years old.The process, which is carried out by the man and is completed with ornamentation by the woman, starts with the collection of the fungi. The selected fruit bodies are cut off when they are 3-4 meters on the trunk. Then, they are cut on the edge to see if they are damaged by flies or worms.
Before the trimming part, which is of great importance, the fungi must be soaked in hot water to moisten and be easier to cut. This process is carried out with a sickle or a knife on the protected knee of the man. He must ensure not to cut cross two layers. If the layer is cut well and of a good thickness, the man will be able to start stretching it in his hands. After that, it is flattened with a hammer and pulled onto a mould made of wood of a certain dimension, according to the desired head size. Then, the brim of the hat is formed after it is left 30 minutes in the sun to dry, the hat is ready.
However, the hat is not the only object created by the crafty families. Following a similar process, long stripes of fungus are cut into various sizes and shapes. The most common ornaments besides the hat are tablecloths, bags, brush-holders and scarves. Usually, they are decorated with leaves or flowers motives carved onto a wooden negative, on which the stripe is ironed to retain its shape. For them to have a darker hue, the iron stays longer on the fungus.
In the end, these handcrafted products are sold in the markets in Transylvania, Hungary or Germany.
Although being the resource for a unique and disappearing practice, Fomes fomentarius is not the only fungus from which objects can be moulded. Another such fungus is the birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus).
A report by Ioana Popescu
Papp N. et al. 2015. Ethnomycological use of Fomes fomentarius (L.) Fr. and Piptoporu betulinus (Bull.) P. Karst in Transylvania, Romania. Genet Resour Crop Evol.