The birch polypore (Pitptoporus betulinus) is a fungus part of the family Fomitopsidaceae. The birch polypore is a saprophytic fungus, the most common species of its family.
The name is self-explanatory, since it is a polypore mushroom and it is the most common found on birches, of all tree varieties. The birch polypore is usually a multi-annual species, since it lives more than one year. It has been used by humans for a very long time, as proven by archaeological finds.
The Iceman mummy, of a man who died more than 5000 years ago but was found in the Alps in 1991, was carrying the mushrooms. Since the embers can sustain a flame for some time, it was often used as tinder.
The birch polypore enjoys the same environments as the birch tree that hosts it, and favours cold climates. It is widespread in the North of Europe and the arctic regions. The birch is so common in Finland that it was named as the national tree. The birch polypore can be encountered in any locations where there are birch trees and the weather is cold.
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The species was valuable to humans since ancient times and it has now become a cultivated commodity, because of its medicinal benefits. It is common in the wild in Northern Europe, but also grows in America and Asia.
British Columbia is the Canadian province where it is the most common, but the mushroom grows in lower numbers in the provinces of Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Quebec, as well as Ontario and Alberta. The United States regions where it can be found are Vermont, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North West Carolina, Massachusetts, Washington, New Hampshire, Virginia, Maine, New York, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Tennessee.
The color of the birch polypore fruiting bodies is variable, anywhere between white and brown. The underside, where the pores are located, also has multiple colors from white to grey. Young fruiting bodies are difficult to see, since they look like small bumps on the tree host. The mushroom is edible but very rarely consumed, due to the very bitter taste. However, the bitterness doesn't protect it from insects. Humans mainly use it for medicinal purposes.
Ancient traditional medicine used the birch polypore to eliminate parasites of the digestive tract and stomach. It was an effective laxative when added to teas. Another effect of birch polypore, still very popular today, is to reduce fatigue and calm nervous people.
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Caps are quite large in size, reaching a length of 25 cm and a width of 15 cm, with an irregular shape sometimes resembling a kidney. The surface can be smooth, rough, cracked or sometimes covered by algae or moss. The color is usually brown or black, with white and red areas on the margins.
The underside pore area has a lighter color, from yellow to orange or pink. Unlike other polypores, the surface is not easily bruised. Tube layers have a thickness of up to 3 mm, and 4-5 pores are located per mm.
Like many other mushrooms, the birch polypore has the ability to stimulate the immune system. This provides many benefits, since the body is able to resist infections and a wide variety of diseases. The birch polypore is a natural antiseptic that kills pathogens and can be applied on bandages to limit the spread of infections.
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Many people have used it for this purpose, since ancient times. According to their reports, the birch polypore is also able to prevent scarring, even in the case of deep wounds, besides its healing effects.
Birch polypore fungi also have an anti-inflammatory effect, and don't have to interact with the central nervous system in order to reduce the severe pain and swelling associated with inflammatory conditions. Inflammation is a side effect of many diseases and the available drugs usually have nasty side effects, so natural options are very valuable.
Inflammation is actually triggered by many chemical drugs themselves, so the mushroom can serve as a side treatment in order to reduce this unwanted effect.
The birch polypore fruiting bodies have been tested by researchers, who isolated ketones, terpenes and other bioactive compounds in their composition. Aldehydes were also detected, as well as a number of aromatic chemicals. The anti-inflammatory effect is caused by all of these compounds, in addition to others such as polyporenic acids like acids A and C.
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The birch polypore includes a substance named piptamine, which is considered to be an antibiotic. According to test results, the compound found in extracts was able to kill several dangerous bacteria, including Escherichia coli. Some of the strains eliminated by piptamine are Bacillussubtilis and Biomphalariaglabrata. Since researchers are constantly looking for new antibiotics, the birch polypore shows a lot of potential for future investigations.
Older test results have already validated that birch polypore supplies a nucleic acid that can seek and destroy the encephalitis virus. This fact opens up many possibilities and it is likely that the mushroom could be effective against other viruses as well.
The birch polypore is also a good counter for tumours, just like some other related species. The expansion of Ehrlich solid cancers was slowed by no less than 90% by the action of the mushroom's polysaccharides, according to tests conducted on white mice. The same effect was measured on the advancement of Sarcoma 180 cancer.
These effects were known for a very long time, and traditional medicine used the mushroom as an antiseptic and cancer treatment. The species supplies glucans and other polysaccharides, which are considered to be some of the best natural compounds that boost immunity. The birch polypore tonifies the immune system just like other famous medicinal mushrooms.
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In order to boost your immune system, you can drink once per day a tonic tea prepared from the mushroom. This is the easiest way to use its anti-bacterial, styptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-septic properties. It supplies multiple healthy compounds, including primary metabolites such as polysaccharides and secondary metabolites like triterpenes.
Modern scientists have confirmed all of the traditional medical uses of the species and actually discovered several new ones. Some of the most exciting are the action of the fungus against HIV, cancer and other incurable diseases.
The birch polypore can fight cancer directly and is also a great choice as a support in tumour treatment. The main role is the inhibition of the formation of new blood cells during tumour expansion, known in scientific terms as angiogenesis. It also supports the overall immune function.
According to the conclusions of a scientific study, it fights cancer by reducing the proliferation of tumour cells, as well as their motility and morphological changes. The birch polypore is not toxic to healthy normal cells.
The birch polypore is very rich in betulinic acid, a bioactive compound extracted from the host tree. Many studies have focused on its properties, since it is now known that it triggers the death of cancer cells, known as apoptosis. Tests conducted in 2011 have discovered that the reproduction of the HIV virus can be stopped using birch polypore extracts with a high content of betulinic acid.
It is effective against other viruses as well, even if further testing is needed. It can kill potentially lethal viruses like cowpox, yellow fever or flu.
The birch polypore is also said to stop the transformation of androgen hormones into estrogen, which makes it a so-called aromatase inhibitor. High levels of estrogen are blamed for the development of cancers and severe hormonal imbalances in both men and women, so it is a very valuable effect.