Harvesting Chaga is no easy task, but one that is truly worth it. People are no longer just looking for morels or oyster mushrooms. Chaga has taken a central role in harvesting because of its medical properties and nutritional benefits. Instead of ruining your chances at finding and harvesting Chaga, why not try using these tips next time?
What is the Chaga mushroom?
The Chaga fungus grows on birch trees, especially in Russia, Korea, Eastern, and Northern Europe, the United States, and Canada. You will likely only see these mushrooms growing in very cold weather.
While many people think that the relationship between the trees and the Chaga fungus is symbiotic, this is not entirely true. In reality, the Chaga will kill off the tree, although this process takes time. Sometimes, the host tree dies after 10 years, while at other times it can take up to a hundred years.
Your Chaga does not grow in traditional shapes; it may spread across, vertically, or in small spots. When you live in the northeast regions of North America, you will find the Chaga living on the paper birch tree. The other common tree to look out for is the yellow birch.
What makes the Chaga mushroom special?
The first thing you will discover when searching for Chaga online is how beneficial this mushroom is when it comes to health benefits.
Some of the benefits include:
- Anti-inflammatory: the anti-inflammatory properties in Chaga can benefit those suffering from chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, and arthritis.
- Healthy skin: since this fungus prevents inflammation, it can also prevent damage to your skin. Consuming Chaga can result in healthy, young-looking skin.
- Anti-bacterial: because Chaga can help boost immunity, it may also help protect against infections and viruses.
- Antioxidant: mushrooms are good antioxidants in general, protecting your body against free radicals and toxins. Oxidative stress can lead to inflammation, tissue damage, tumors, and more.
- Good source of fiber: the Chaga, like other mushrooms, contains a good amount of fiber. The beta-glucans in Chaga mushrooms are especially good at removing cholesterol from your blood and regulating blood glucose levels.
- Nutritious: needless to say, Chaga also contains tons of nutrients. Some of these include potassium, vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, calcium, and iron.
7 Tips for harvesting Chaga:
Tip #1. Chaga resembles burnt charcoal
The best way to correctly identify a Chaga mushroom is to look for what resembles burnt charcoal. For the most part, the mushroom will also have the shape of a dome, cone, or horn. The edges of the mushroom will be black and crusty, like charcoal.
Tip #2. The best season for harvesting Chaga is the fall
For best results when harvesting Chaga, you will want to do this in the fall after several consecutive nights below 20 degrees F. When the temperature drops like this, the birch trees will be dormant and Chaga will be at their peak.
Tip #3. Never collect Chaga from a dead tree
A common mistake is thinking that like other mushrooms, Chaga grows on dead trees. This is not true, and if you find the mushroom on a dead tree, your Chaga is likely dead too.
While it may be hard to determine whether a tree is alive or dead, you can still do this in the fall and wintertime. You will likely see buds, coming out of the birch tree, that look like cones. In the case of yellow and birch trees, these will also give a minty odor that is only there when they are alive.
Tip #4. You should always leave some of the mushrooms behind
Because Chaga takes time to grow on the trees, sometimes even decades, your harvesting should attempt to be as sustainable as possible. To do this, leave at least 15-20% of the Chaga mushroom behind on the tree where you found it so that the mushroom stays healthy and continues to grow properly.
Tip #5. Get the right equipment when harvesting Chaga
Harvesting Chaga will likely take a long time, if not all day, so you will need to bring as much equipment as possible. This ax and knife kit can be a good option for when you are spending a long time looking for Chaga and other mushrooms.
For best results, your Chaga should be at least the size of a grapefruit, which means that you will likely need a knife that can ensure that your Chaga is big enough. This knife comes with a brush and a ruler.
Tip #6. Storing the Chaga after harvesting is essential too
One of the common mistakes when harvesting Chaga is storing it the wrong way. The best way to prevent mold from growing is to dry your Chaga. Before you do this, though, you should clean your Chaga correctly. Use a mushroom brush to gently dust off any insects or dirt. When left unclean, mold grows very quickly.
You should break the Chaga into chunks of about 1-2.5cm each. For better results in the drying process, try to dry the mushroom directly under the sun or near a heat source. An easy way to dry your Chaga is simply to spread them out on a baking sheet and set it out under the sun near a window.
However, when you are in a rush, or need to save your mushroom before they go bad, you can use a dehydrator. This is best done when you set the temperature to 120 degrees F, or lower, for a controlled drying environment.
Tip #7. Keep the dry Chaga safe
There is nothing worse than letting your harvested Chaga go to waste. After they are fully dried, you should transfer the chunks into a glass jar that is sealed tight. In most cases, the Chaga has a strong flavor that you will not be using a lot of all at once. Your chunks can last you for an entire year with only one grapefruit-sized Chaga mushroom harvested.
What can I do after harvesting Chaga?
The most popular way to use Chaga is to make healthy and medicinal Chaga tea. However, the recipe and style of making the tea will vary from person to person, mostly leaving it up to your preferences.
To try making tea at home, boil a pot of water first. Then add a handful of dry Chaga, or about 10-12 pieces, into the water. You should then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the Chaga infuse the water for about one hour. Soon, the water will turn dark brown or red, and the longer you leave the mushrooms, the darker the water will be.
When you are ready to drink the Chaga tea, you will want to use a strainer or colander, and then serve the tea in a mug. Some people prefer to add honey or another sweetener, while others like to drink the tea as naturally as possible.
As a reminder, if you do not have time to go harvesting Chaga, or live in an area where the mushrooms do not grow, then you can try buying it online. In some cases, Chaga will come as a powder form to infuse in tea or add to food. It may also come as dry chunks ready to be consumed, and you can also find Chaga as a capsule to take as a supplement.
Start your harvesting Chaga journey with these tips and get the best of your experience!