Original Article

The current use of Phellinus igniarius by the Eskimos of Western Alaska

Robert A. Blanchette a1, Caroline C. Renner a2, Benjamin W. Held a1, Carrie Enoch a2 and Sarah Angstman a2
a1 Department of Plant Pathology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108-6030 USA E-mail =
a2 Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, Bethel, Alaska 99559 USA


The Inupiaq and Yup'ik Eskimos of western Alaska have used Phellinus igniarius for hundreds of years by burning the basidiocarps and mixing the ashes with tobacco. A previous publication (Mycologist 15: p.4) reported the historic use of this fungus and documented natural history museum collections of sporophores and special ornate boxes for holding the fungus ashes. When the ashes of P. igniarius were mixed with tobacco it added “a powerful kick” to the chewing tobacco. We now report new information that is disconcerting about the current widespread use of P. igniarius in many Alaska native communities. The use of the mixture of fungus ash and tobacco is being studied and treated as a serious health concern.

Key Words: Ethnomycology; forest fungi; basidiomycetes; Phellinus igniarius; nicotine; tobacco; Native Americans; Eskimo culture.