Chaga has been used in folk medicine in the northern regions for generations. Due to its co-dependent relationship with birch, Chaga mushroom grows in colder climates, where’s an abundance of birch trees. In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about the health benefits of Chaga mushroom but not enough information on how to process and harvest it so that the fungus actually provides to your body these promised healthy compounds and minerals. Knowing how to dry Chaga plays a huge role in its quality.
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. Because once the fungus has been removed from the birch it’ll slowly start to dry out.
Chaga is often colonized by moulds, other fungi and bacterium. The biggest threat to your Chaga is mould. There are two most prevalent types, of which the more common is white mould on the Sclerotium – black outer layer and a greenish-blue mould in the inner layer. Both develop with improper processing and storage.
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. 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.
Can I eat my Chaga after cutting off the mould?
As mould grows on drywall, it will grow anywhere with enough moisture, making Chaga an ideal victim for it. Though not all moulds will make you sick, think about blue cheese for an example. It’s been made using Penicillium, a type of mould responsible for its unique taste, smell, and appearance. Since Penicillium does not produce toxins, it is safe to consume.
The problem with contaminated Chaga is that you don’t know which moulds are growing on your stash, and some can make you violently ill.
What is mould?
Moulds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. We don´t know how many species of fungi exist, but an estimate is up to 300,000 and more. Most of them are threadlike organisms, as the production of spores is characteristic of fungi in general. These spores can be transported by air, water, or insects.
Mould requires water, food, and oxygen to grow. It also requires an environment with a temperature it can survive. While mould cannot spread without these conditions, its spores may survive in a dormant state until conditions are suitable.
Unlike one-celled bacteria, moulds are made of many cells and can only at times be seen with the naked eye. Under a microscope, mould looks like skinny mushrooms. In many moulds, the body consists of: root threads that invade the food it lives on, a stalk rising above the food, and spores that form at the ends of the stalks.
Moulds have branches and roots that are like very thin threads. The roots may be difficult to see when the mould is growing on food and maybe very deep in the food. Mouldy foods may also have invisible bacteria growing along with the mould.
Meaning it’s not only hard to tell which mould is on your Chaga but it’s quite impossible to recognize how deep it is. In addition to that, you’ll have to consider the bacteria that is associated with the mould. Hence we recommend you to stay away from mould contaminated Chaga and note the following steps to keep the mould from accruing again.
Three tips to stop your Chaga from growing mould
- Cut your Chaga into small chunks right next to the tree, the smaller the pieces the faster they dry.
- Start the drying process right after leaving the forest. Set your car AC on warm, and set the chunks out to dry before you reach home.
- Make sure your environmet is optimal for drying. The longer the process, the higher the risk of your Chaga growing mould.
How can I determine quality of the Chaga?
If you’ve decided to buy your Chaga or Chaga products, you’ll simply need to get to know your supplier and trust their integrity. Money motivated companies or individuals have been known to sell people low-quality Chaga, which has grown in busy roadsides or close to polluting factories. Mixing their Chaga powders with other things like dirt to make their hauls look bigger or harvesting from dead trees.
Here are some things to keep in mind when looking into your supplier’s knowledge:
- Ultimately the best-harvested Chaga is from fall or winter, not only is the visibility better, due to fallen leaves. But the temperature is below 5 degrees Celsius, and that is when the sap starts to run. Sap is the fluid found in Chaga, containing dissolved mineral salts and nutrients.
- Make sure you trust the people to use best practices for sustainable harvesting. Chaga should never be harvested immature, it takes up to 20 years for the fungi to be considered fully mature. Around 40% (ideally 50%) of the Chaga should always be left on the tree, this allows the sclerotium to grow back.
- 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. Also don’t forget, the little chunks can be reused up to 6 times without losing their potency and long brewed tea from the nuggets tends to taste sweeter. If you’re interested in the topic, check out our recenlty published article on “Does Chaga increase melanin?”