A new year begins with a rather wet and grey January, but there are jobs to be done. Mr Sebire, one time owner of Congleton’s famous Berisfords Ribbons, offered us a 6’ x 8’ aluminium greenhouse. A group of us spent two very wet mornings dismantling and transporting it back to the Bath House, where it will stay until we are ready to assemble it.
Another structure also arrived this month. As part of our work at the Bath House we are going to erect a wooden shed for storage. This 10’ x 8’ structure came all the way from Yorkshire on the back of a flat bed truck, and went straight into our neighbour’s garage until we can assemble it later in the year. We bought the shed with some of the money that came from Tesco’s “Bags of Help” fund.
We are forming a good relationship with Tesco, and we also received from them a large amount of spring bulbs. These mainly consisted of daffodils and crocuses, which are not medicinal plants, so we were unable to plant them within the Physic Garden. However, we have taken over small sections of scrubland bordering our site, so we decided to plant them there. The ground of course was full of Dock, Ground Elder, Brambles and plenty of builders’ rubble. As in many jobs, it’s the unseen preparation that is the really hard work! Once this was done, our volunteers managed to plant around 1000 bulbs in total. We are concerned that our local wildlife, in particular the badgers, might dig up our hard work, so we are experimenting with laying holly branches over the bare soil to give the bulbs a chance whilst they are establishing.
Another occasional problem we have is dog fouling. We try to have a relaxed approach to responsible dog owners visiting the site, but every so often, as now, things get a little out of hand. We have had plants chewed and several piles of poo that seem to come from repeat offenders. Our “No Dogs” sign is often removed; but on this occasion some of the youths who visit us every day decided to help and create their own sign. No doubt this will be an on going issue, but it’s good that our young visitors are helping to keep the garden clean.
Though the days are short and often gloomy, the first welcome signs of the spring to come are just about appearing. Towards the end of January our first snowdrops bloomed, with the promise of many more to come.
I have noticed in recent years increasing numbers of bracket fungi appearing on tree stumps in late December and January. We reported on some edible oyster mushrooms a few years back, but this year we have had an abundance of a different sort, which I am unable to identify. The Oysters go after a heavy frost but these seem much tougher. Any ideas on their identification would be welcome!
There are many varieties of bracket fungi, which grow on living and dead trees. Some of them may be edible though not appetising, others are definitely inedible and yet others are extremely toxic. And some bracket fungi have been used medicinally. Although we haven’t yet identified the one illustrated above, you may have seen elsewhere the Birch Polypore bracket fungus, a common sight in British woodland, which has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It only grows naturally on birch trees, but as there are many similar bracket fungi it should not be harvested without expert advice.
An infusion of this fungus, dried or fresh, was drunk with reputed beneficial effects on the immune system. It was also made into a plaster or dressing by applying cut pieces of the membrane to blisters, corns and wounds.
Modern research into the chemical components of Birch Polypore has found that it contains the following potentially useful attributes:
Antiviral; Antibiotic; Anti-inflammatory;
Anti-tumour; Antiseptic; Antifungal; and
Stiptic (staunches bleeding)
“Ötzi the Iceman”, a 5,300 year old Bronze Age frozen mummy found in Austria in 1991, had some Birch Polypore on a leather thong around his neck. He also had a parasitic intestinal worm, a Whipworm, that we now know can be cured with polypolenic acid – one of the chemicals present in Birch Polypore. It is fascinating to realise that Ötzi ‘s contemporaries knew about the curative properties of fungus in the Bronze Age…