Let’s go over the 7 things to remember before buying or processing your Chaga mushroom.
Inonotus obliquus, otherwise known as Chaga is a fungus in the Hymenochaetaceae family. There’s a lot of talk about the health benefits of the mushroom but not enough information on how to source or prepare Chaga so that all the healthy compounds are bioavailable for your body. We have invested a lot of time into getting to know as much as possible about this fungus, and wish to share some advice with you to make sure everyone has access to the highest quality Chaga.
01. Chaga needs to be harvested from a living tree, preferrably in spring
Chaga will only stay alive and sterile whilst the host tree is living. Meaning that once the birch tree has died, the mushroom has died along with it and will only develop fruiting bodies to start another life cycle. That’s why trusting your supplier’s integrity to provide you with living, high-quality Chaga is very important.
The optimal time for harvesting the fungus is in spring when the birch sap has started to run. The sap contains dissolved mineral salts and nutrients, which are also absorbed by the fungus and made bioavailable for you upon consumption.
If you’re curious about birch sap, here’s a beautiful video by Jonna Jinton.
02. Chaga should be harvested sustainably
In order for us to keep using Chaga, the fungus needs to be harvested sustainably as it can take up to 20 years for it to mature. Sustainable harvesting of Chaga means that 40-50% of the fungus will be left on the tree.
Unfortunately, many bigger companies are irresponsibly damaging the trees in the forest to harvest Chaga and selfishly taking the entire piece of Chaga they find, leaving the once thriving and beautiful birch tree to die. That’s why we encourage people to do their research on the companies they wish to purchase from.
If you decide to go Chaga “hunting” yourself, make sure to use proper tools. A sharp hatchet will help to cut off pieces of the mushroom, without damaging the tree. Keep in mind that only 3 small chunks of Chaga last you months of use. Don’t forget, you can re-use the chunks 6 or more times. An indicator for this is to keep using them in hot water until the water turns clear.
03. The outer layer of Chaga will have to stay intact
Sclerotium is a precious part of the superfood, containing high amounts of melanin. This is where a lot of your antioxidants hide. That’s why we recommend our readers to buy Chaga chunks instead of powder. It’s easy to determine whether the sclerotium is still intact on the nuggets. If you’re interested in the topic, check out our recently published article on “Does Chaga increase melanin?”
04. Chaga needs to be properly dried
Whether you’ve decided to harvest Chaga yourself, bought it locally, or decided to go with a supplier, the most important part of preparing the mushroom is drying it. It’s suggested to cut the harvested Chaga into small chunks, while it’s still moist, often right next to the tree. That’s because once the fungus has been removed from the birch it’ll slowly start to dry out.
The biggest problem with harvested Chaga is mold. There are two most prevalent types, of which the more common is white mold on the Sclerotium – black outer layer and a greenish-blue mold in the inner layer. Both develop with improper processing and storage.
A tip for testing the moisture level is to touch some to your lip.chagamushroom.co.uk
To avoid health hazards caused by mold, Chaga needs to be properly dried. The process of drying Chaga isn’t complicated, just make sure not to let the temperature exceed 50 degrees Celsius. Feel free to use a dehydrator or dry them in an oven by keeping the oven door somewhat open for airflow, perhaps you’ll even find a dry, warm, well-ventilated spot to leave the Chaga to dry safely. Experiment with different tools available for you. The drying process generally takes a few days, up to weeks if dried in the sun.
When your Chaga is dry you want to store it in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight – stored properly, dried Chaga can last for years.
05. Chaga must be processed to be bioavailable for human body
Chaga is a hard, dense polypore mass, that’s properties need to be extracted. The extraction requires prolonged simmering or soaking. This process makes the beneficial components bioavailable to the human body – meaning the body is able to absorb the nutrients.
Whilst consuming raw Chaga does no harm other than potentially causing slight digestion problems, it does no good to your body either.
Traditionally, the polypore is broken up into small pieces, then boiled to make tea. The fungus is removed before drinking the tea. It is also commonly finely powdered and mixed into liquids. As well as combined with binders to make a salve or medicinal application.
06. Chaga shouldn’t be boiled
It’s best to keep Chaga under boiling temperatures. The key to a good Chaga tea is letting it simmer and steep over a longer period of time. The length of brewing is something we recommend you experiment with and adjust to your taste. The longer you let your tea simmer, the richer the color, flavor, and potency. Some people like to let their tea simmer over several days. If you’re curious about this topic or would like to see our favorite Chaga tea brewing method, check out our article: “Does boiling Chaga ruin it?”.
07. A double extraction tincture is the most concentrated way to consume Chaga
For the ultimate healing potent, a combination of alcohol and water (specifically hot water) is used. This guarantees that all the mushroom’s compounds, triterpenes, and polysaccharides, end up in your extract. That way you’ll be able to enjoy all the benefits that Chaga can give, like reduced risk of cancer, boosting the immune system, antioxidant troves, and more.
It is best used at the onset of colds, during seasonal swings, or to combat recurring immune-system issues. Tinctures are also easy to store since they don’t need refrigeration.
To learn more, check out our recipe Chaga Tincture | Double Extraction.