Winter Foraging: How To Find & Harvest Chaga Mushroom
With its cold weather and shorter days, many people don’t exactly look forward to winter - especially in the northern states. However, partaking in fun and engaging winter activities can make this season much more enjoyable.
Here’s a winter activity idea that you may not have thought of - mushroom foraging!
Winter is the prime time for harvesting chaga mushroom in the wild. With the proper knowledge, a bit of luck and a sense of adventure, you can harvest this medicinal mushroom yourself in your own backyard!
What Is Chaga Mushroom?
The chaga mushroom is a fascinating fungi that is believed to have a wide range of health benefits. It has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Packed with antioxidants, chaga offers immune support, digestive aid, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, and a natural energy boost. Chaga is widely regarded as a superfood and an adaptogen due to its extensive therapeutic potential.
As medicinal mushrooms gain popularity in western society, health-conscious folks are increasingly seeking them out to experience their many benefits. Most will buy ready-made mushroom products - but some will venture into the wild and harvest these mushrooms themselves. Chaga is a commonly sought-after prize for mushroom foragers.
Where Is Chaga Found?
Chaga grows almost exclusively on birch trees - or out of them, more accurately. This mushroom takes root inside the tree and expands outward over time, emerging to form charred-looking, bulging masses on the exterior of the tree.
Chaga can be found across the northern hemisphere, in areas that experience very cold weather. Though most abundant in Russia, northern Europe, Canada and Alaska, a significant amount of chaga can be found in the northern states of the continental U.S.
When To Harvest Chaga
Chaga mushroom should only be harvested in the middle of winter, when temperatures have been well below 40 degrees for several weeks. This when the nutrient density of the chaga is at its highest and its benefits are most potent.
What Tree Does Chaga Grow On?
Chaga mushrooms only grow on birch trees. If you find a mass on a tree that you think is a chaga mushroom, make sure you are looking at a birch tree.
How To Identify Chaga
The first step to chaga mushroom identification is to look for birch trees that grow in the proper region. You’ll then want to be on the lookout for a rough-looking, blackened mass protruding from the trunk of a birch tree, typically taking a dome or cone-like shape.
Burls (deformed tree growths) can look like chaga to the untrained eye; however, chaga has certain features that distinguish it from burls. The outward appearance and texture of chaga is blackened, charred and hard, but the inside has a softer texture and a golden or amber hue. The soft amber-colored interior is the most obvious distinction between chaga and a burl. And, if the mass in question is growing on something other than a birch tree, there’s a good chance that it’s not actually chaga.
Harvesting Chaga Responsibly
If you plan on harvesting wild chaga mushrooms, come prepared with a sharp, saw-like knife and a bit of arm muscle. The outside of chaga is hard, and the inside, though softer, still requires a bit of muscle to cut through.
Please make sure to harvest responsibly. Because chaga takes years to grow, it can be easily overharvested. Generally, it is recommended that you only harvest from masses that are at least the size of a grapefruit. Do not take all of the mushroom - leave at least a third of the chaga mass untouched so that it can continue to survive and regrow. You must also make sure not to harm the tree as damage can make it susceptible to diseases and ultimately kill it.
Brew Some Chaga Mushroom Tea!
The best way to enjoy the many benefits of chaga mushroom is by brewing it in a tea. The hot water will help to break down the mushroom’s outer rough cell walls, making the antioxidants more bioavailable to us. Check out this article to learn how to brew your own chaga tea.
Want To Skip The Winter Foraging And Get Straight To Enjoying The Benefits?
This all may sound like a lot of work, and perhaps you’d rather just skip the foraging part and simply get your hands on some exquisite chaga mushroom at your own convenience. We’ve got you covered!
At Tamim Teas, we source the best quality local mushrooms for our mushroom tea blends from reputable, family-owned local harvesters we know in order to guarantee optimal quality and functionality. Additionally, all of our partners have a firm commitment to sustainability, never over-harvesting and only harvesting at the right times.