Introduction: Making Plasters/band-aids in the Woods

Picture of Making Plasters/band-aids in the Woods

You've done something stupid, you've cut yourself in the woods and haven't gone a walking with a first aid kit.

You silly silly person!

But never fear, what you could do if you've read this instructable is make your own!

After comments on Life Hacker, perhaps it's prudent to put a warning on this. There is a saying:

There are old mushroom pickers and bold mushroom pickers. There are no old bold mushroom pickers.

I'm in the UK - the fungus is particularly prevelant in English woodland and in other countries such as the US may be bad for you. So before rushing out and rubbing any old fungus on your wounds, make sure you make a positive ID. Such help can be found on all sorts of forager forums. This fungus has antibacteria properies. Other fruits may kill you.

Please read the comments here and also on I'll leave it up to you to decide which are the crazy ones. NB, sucking your finger (as suggested by experts) is wrong. Take it from me, I'd have first aid training and that is definately advised against!) your mouth is full of bacteria!

Step 1: First, Identification & History

Picture of First, Identification & History

Silver birches are perhaps the most recogniseable of the woodland trees. It's a pioneer species which is often found in new areas of woodland. They grow quick and have several bush craft uses - namely their bark but you can also tap a birch tree in the spring for a fresh sugary drink.

Birch polypore (Piptoporus betulinus) is a bracket fungus found often on (here's a surprise here!) birch or oak trees. It is quite destructive - parasitic even - and you'll often find it on already fallen trees or in dying groves of birch trees. During my morning walk today we found several groves of dying birches - most of which had snapped in half and come tumbling down. There's nothing you can do about this, it's nature clearing the woods for a stronger species.

The fungus starts out budding like a ball, but soon folds over to make a distinctive, smooth rim around the pore surface.

Taking bracket fungus really isn't going to harm the tree or the spore - though you should only ever take what you need.

Its uses go back centuries as a firestarter*, but it can also be used for sharpening razors (as a strop) or as we've said, as a plaster!

*5,300 years ago (approx) a guy named by the researchers as Otzi was murdered in the alps. Preserved perfectly, among his possessions was powdered birch poly pore which was used in fire lighting

Step 2: Removing the Polypore

Picture of Removing the Polypore

A swift tug is all you should need to move fresh poly pore.

Step 3: Cutting Strip

Picture of Cutting Strip

It's not difficult to cut fresh polypore, it's quite tough through but don't put too much pressure, you don't want to stick your knife through into your hand. Make four slices the width and length you require your plaster, then slide the knife under the cut (start a little further back than the first incision.

Make sure your knife is clean, you won't be using the top surface but the freshly cut surface which should be clean and relatively sterile.

My knife technique is a little shoddy - I wasn't using any pressure when I was cutting towards my hand, so be careful.

Step 4: Application

Picture of Application

I wasn't going to cut myself for my instructable...

But I did put one on to show you the method in my madness.

When applying, stretch slightly and gently squeeze and the polypore will bind to itself. You can reinforce with cordage/grass/bark whatever you've got on you really.

There are otherways - using pine resin etc but birch polypore is nice neat and less sticky to deal with.

Have fun in the woods and don't forget :-

- Always take a first aid kit,
- Take care
- and most importantly leave no trace!


vray2 (author)2015-03-15

I hike a lot because i am a geocacher and I typically carry a 2" roll of gauze and a roll of vet wrap. It's the stuff that sticks to itself so no need for tape. Works great you can make just a plain dressing with it or a pressure dressing for heavy bleeding.

antioch (author)2014-05-18

Not entirely sure which side of the cut-out you used to face the wound. Does it matter?

wordscancreate (author)antioch2015-01-12

The side from inside the fungus, as stated in the 'ible the inside is (kind of) sterile, and if you think about it the outside is covered in germs and other icky stuff. Also you should apply pressure to the base of the wound so that less blood escapes.

Sorry if this sounds patronizing I didn't mean it to :D

antioch (author)wordscancreate2015-01-12

No, not at all, I didn't read properly. Thanks.

Weissensteinburg (author)2009-09-13

That's really cool, especially that it binds to itself.

tim_n (author)Weissensteinburg2009-09-14

It does bind but it's a better idea to use something else as well to bind it because if you catch it, it'll pull off. As mentioned in the 'ible use a couple of lengths of grass/cordage/etc to secure it.

jtpoutdoor (author)tim_n2011-07-26

have you ever tried using a cobweb?

Yep, and my hand got infected, however with the proper care and attention you should be able to avoid this disaster. (Very painful, and green)!!!!!

Lilyp1 (author)2014-12-08

It would be pretty ironic if you cut your hand while collecting this

Andrew McClellan (author)2009-12-15

At first, I thought this would just be a waste of my time, for I don't live in the UK, but in the last bit you mentioned pine resin! I've been gathering pine resin on and off during this week, or at least what I think is pine resin, and I just have no idea what the difference between sap and resin is. I'm planning on making my own incense; that is mainly why I am asking. Is resin just dried sap, or is it the same thing?
Thanks, even if you don't know.

the pine resin will burn really well and it does smell quite nice although it can be a bit strong. I am afraid I don't know the difference either.

tim_n (author)Andrew McClellan2009-12-16

Hi Andrew, I'm afraid I know nothing about making incense...

Sap is a liquid, usually quite thin which caries nutrients around the plant.  It's not quite the full story, but for laymens purposes thats what it does...

Resin is a very thick sticky substance excreted by a tree and it has protective properties.  Amber is fossilised resin.   It's a bit like a plaster/band-aid for a tree.

I've been told that if you mix pine resin with ash and apply that to cloth you can use it to pull the edges of larger wounds together, but as a first aider, I'd rather use my first aid kit or get myself on an ambulance quick. 

MakerCL (author)2012-05-05

This is a great discovery! I have found that it doesn't exactly absorb the blood from the cut though. 4 stars!

ohnoezitasploded (author)2009-09-16

I think this is a bad idea-- the whole point of bandages is that they are sterile, and form a barrier between the wound and the non-sterile world.'re letting your own prejudices decide what's sterile and what's not. Most fungi are actually antibacterial, especially if it dehydrates the bacteria, as wood does. This technique in fact has more merit than a "sterile" bandage, as it is sticky enough to actually deter dirt and possibly water, where most bandages I've dealt with do not do either.

jtpoutdoor (author)greatpanda2011-07-26

you cut your finger in the woods- trust me it isn't sterile! bandages are sterile to minmise risk in a clean environment, you don't have that in an outside situation.Something antibacterial is of more use, assuming that you are going to be in that environment for some time. Infection takes a while to set in.

tim_n (author)greatpanda2009-09-17

greatpanda - quite correct. Some of the birch polypore are indeed antibacterial, this I believe is one of those species. If there is a fungus expert out there and I'm wrong, please tell me!

IX Smith XI (author)2010-03-02

How strong dose the band aid gets after a while

my_key (author)2009-09-17

I never really got the point of a plaster or bandaid. If the wound is big bandaids don't do much good and you'll need to resort to something better (compresses and some tape maybe). If it's a small wound then it's better to leave the wound exposed to the air for faster healing. Maybe licking it for beneficial enzyme workings. Only if you have these (mostly stupidly small) wounds that drip annoyingly much blood, plasters are useful. And that's precisely what I wouldn't care about in the woods. Which doesn't mean that this isn't clever. I still like it, if only for the fact that it's possible to do if so desired :)

lampajoo (author)my_key2009-12-20

I concur, bandaids are kind of useless.  any wound which you can use them on will close by itself.  also you want your wounds to get oxygen, sunlight and to stay dry, which they will prevent. this all assumes you have a strong immune system and blood clotting. 

this is just my experience, I live in missouri, north america, maybe there are parts of the world where the climate and terrain make the germs much more virulent but I find it hard to believe that the people there haven't evolve resistance to these.  Natural selection, it's a powerful force.  This is why humans need large families so that there is good genetic variation and people who survive disease outbreaks can quickly propogate their resistance.  Also, other mammals have these same microbes to deal with and they certainly cannot put bandaids on.  yeah I know a lot more of them die of infections but not from little scrapes.  deep wounds which abscess are what I worry about. 

I wouldn't lick your wound, though, our mouths are super dirty with only a slight amount of antibacterial properties.  if you have good skin and hair then ear wax, which is antibacterial also, would be a better choice.

tim_n (author)my_key2009-09-18

In some areas of the world, a small cut without medical attention can kill you. We're lucky to have such a range of treatments and vacinations these days as well as an understanding of hygiene that means most our children live to see their first birthday and most of us haven't dropped dead by the age of 24.

Steelsmith1 (author)2009-09-20

Very interesting and nice Instructable, BUT I live in the South, a rural area in the Ozarks that does not have silver birch! So it is not so beneficial where I live!

multiplecats (author)Steelsmith12009-12-16

I live in the same area, but this information is interesting to know, nonetheless. Although, I have to admit that having hiked many a time, it's been rare that I've not had a small first aid kit on me. And if I haven't, I've just gone about using other methods to cover a cut: A tiny bit of fabric from the hem of a t-shirt, or a strip of duct tape with a little square of toilet paper also serve the same purpose, I can attest. (Duct tape, the hiker's friend...)

But should I ever be in an area where silver birch grows, I will duly take note of the possibilities of making a bandage using the fruited fungus per fallscrape's instructable. :)

kleer001 (author)2009-09-17

Hmmm, looks like you didn't need to break off the fruiting body from the tree. You could have cut your plaster off without wasting the rest of it. And it would have grown back, leaving more plasters for everyone else. If you have the time I humbly suggest redoing this instructables or at least adding a note that you don't need to break off the fruiting body. I only say this because this has been linked through lifehacker and will get lots of traffic. I do understand that the fruiting body, the part that you're breaking off, is basically the fruit of the mushroom, it's reproductive part, and not its main body. I know that taking a mushroom does no lasting harm, and is actually beneficial because it helps spread spores. My only wish is to quash waste.

tim_n (author)kleer0012009-09-17

Kleer001 the fungus becomes prevelant in the last stages of the birch or oak trees life. The fungus will grow from many parts of the tree and will not suffer from harvesting. You will find it difficult to strip the tree of the fungus as many examples were about 10ft up. I'm no expert but it is believed that this fungus gradually kills the tree. I'd only take them from trees bearing more than one fruit. You could get several plasters from one fruit or dry it to use as a strop used in sharpening knives. Eventually I'd use it as a firelighter which you'll see in the next instructable. Featured on life hacker? That's really cool - I love that site!

kleer001 (author)tim_n2009-09-17

Sweet, excellent! I hereby revoke my ultra conservative recommendations, but leave the comment up to demonstrate your knowledge. I thought it was a slow growing and/or rare fungus like some of the conks. Psffft, shows what I know.

sonipitts (author)kleer0012009-10-03

And don't forget, the shelf he's pulling off is just one "fruit" of the larger fungus that's running through the tree. It's more like picking an apple than harvesting an entire plant.

DEADMAU5FTW (author)2009-09-21

Sorry to mess up the comment board but its called a BANDAGE, a band-aid is the new of a brand(just sayin').

gearhead1951 (author)2009-09-18

If there is anyone on this site who has not heard of th' "foxfire" books , google it ! Th' info in there is amazing , and if you are lost in deep woods (or anywhere else for that matter) some of th' info could be lifesavin' !

skunkbait (author)2009-09-17

Great instructable. I never carry first aid kit, and always end up regretting it! I'll pull out my mycology book and learn the proper shrooms (from my area) that'll suit this purpose. Thank you for the idea!!

katiezilla (author)2009-09-15

ever sense forever when i went camping my dads rule was leave it cleaner than when you first came...its good to see that others care as well =)

billythebob (author)katiezilla2009-09-15

I always heard that to when I was in boy scouts--I quit though it got boring

tim_n (author)billythebob2009-09-17

Sounds like a bad scout leader. My scouts get sick of my moaning about tidying up after themselves or getting them to do the washing up!

Notbob (author)tim_n2009-09-17

im not a scout leader myself (im an explorer), but i help out with the local scout group, and the bad leader story is one ive heard many, many times.

tim_n (author)2009-09-17

yes they do. You can use it as a knife sharpener or a firelighter - there's different bits for different uses. The bit we've used in the instructable isn't the bit you use in fire lighting.

SeaLion (author)2009-09-17

That's clever, but I don't think I can find the things around where I live...I guess I'll use plastic ones after all...

tim_n (author)SeaLion2009-09-17

Fabric plasters allow the wound to breath more freely, plastic ones are generally used for swimming/bathing.

trgz (author)2009-09-17

I always leave my cuts and grazes open to the air - for those that bleed a bit freely then I'd keep pressure on them until to flow stops. If you need to clean out a wound with something sterile then there's always the age-old tip of urinating on it - a bit tricky for certain body parts ;-)

tim_n (author)trgz2009-09-17

The below comment should be quoted in full if it is used elsewhere. A good idea trgz - I'm a trained first aider (used to drive ambulances) and I would recommend letting it bleed if you don't have access to clean water or sterile wipes. Cold clean water will help stop the bleeding and will wash dirt out. Never stick a finger in the mouth. As a trained first aider, don't use the above method if you've not got a first aid kit. I mention this at the top - you should always carry one (I always do!) The above is only really for an emergency and whilst you may now have some of the knowledge that enables you to do this, if you're not in a life threatening situation where you'll be away from clean water and real plasters you should wait till you get home to treat minor wounds. Lost days away from civilisation and can't afford to get crud in your wounds, maybe then you should try the above - but I'll point out now, that is not part of my first aid training and you should consult with a mushroom expert that you've got the right one!

huntervort07 (author)2009-09-17

Leave nothing but foot prints Take nothing but time

tim_n (author)huntervort072009-09-17

knowledge is the lightest tool of all!

Arghus (author)2009-09-17

if not mistaken when dry its even a good "fine" knife sharpner

tim_n (author)Arghus2009-09-17

Quite correct - used to be used as shrops?!

Metalcaster14 (author)2009-09-17

cool that's interesting

dgieger (author)2009-09-17

Great job, I love back woods know how.. This kind of stuff gets easily overlooked in our modern world.

Pryo Chain (author)2009-09-14

Cool, five stars!

Tetrafish (author)2009-09-14

Where I work I had a customer ask me if we had any plasters, and I didn't know what she meant. I (being from America) always thought of 'plaster' as something like drywall spackle or 'Plaster of Paris' for making molds. My boss was on the other side of the counter and could see she had a cut on her foot, then he told me what she must've meant. Which was (what we Americans usually refer to as) a Band-Aid or Adhesive Bandage.

tim_n (author)Tetrafish2009-09-14

Good point! I'll adment the tags

Sandisk1duo (author)2009-09-14

that's awesome!

rimar2000 (author)2009-09-13

Interesting! From wikipedia: "...Owing to their texture, edible polypores are rare. However, some have been used in ritual and for utilitarian purposes for ages; the famous Ötzi the Iceman was found carrying two different polypore species. One was notable for its antibacterial properties. The other was likely used for starting fires..."

About This Instructable




Bio: Hi, I'm Tim. I work on the railways during the day, run a scout troop and have a blog (see above website link) where ... More »
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