When I’m leading bushcraft and wild food courses I’m often asked what these little, hard black ‘things’ are? Well, they have several names, but the correct name is a cramp ball Daldinia concentric, or King Alfred’s Cakes.
They are called cramp balls, as it was once believed they could help to cure cramps. And the name King Alfred’s Cakes came about because they resemble cakes (burnt ones!).
The cramp ball is a fungus which is quite easy to indentify, even for the beginner, and they can be found on dead wood, especially Ash, and they range in size from about that of a marble to the size of a small plate. They have been used for centuries to carry fire, which not only saved time, but it also saves the amount of calories expended, which is exceptionally important in times of survival.
But, before you go around collecting them, please consider the environment as they are home to various insects and play an important role in their habitat. As with any natural resource, only take what you need.
Once you have located a patch of cramp balls remove one. They are quite brittle so be careful not to shatter it whilst prying it from its home.
Now you will need to dry it out. Do this in an open environment. They will rot if kept within a container.
Once dry you need to direct a spark onto the inner part of the fungus. The inside looks a little like a cut branch. To create the sparks you will need one of these FIRESTEELS, they all do the same just but some are larger than others.
Once a spark lands on the fungus is should begin to glow. Now you need to gently blow onto the glowing area to allow it to spread.
Once glowing you can use it right away to create a fire by lighting your tinder. I like to add the tinder on top of the cramp ball and feed it with some air to allow the ember to grow.
Eventually you will be get a flame, or at least a hot enough ember to create a fire.
Have fun giving it a go!
Catch you on the trail