Inonotus obliquus. clinker polypore, cinder conk, black mass and birch canker polypore. Or natures gift
I pick a massive amount of mushrooms/fungi but until this weekend I’ve never had the pleasure of finding my own chaga , I’ve been given good blocks of chaga from friends and have enjoyed many good cups of chaga infusion and people who know me have at one point or another had to put up with me talking about finding my red list which chaga is in the top five ( not particularly rare item just ones that I have yet to find ).
As I said I’ve picked a lot of fungi but this was the first time I purposely went out with the intention to collect mycelium . As most people don’t realise the chaga we collect is not the fruiting body but actually a mass of mycelium called a sclerotia which seems to break out of the tree like a alien being born and the main thing that struck me was the weird and wonderful shapes it makes as I presumed it was cylindrical in shape but it has no set growing pattern , I have been to several places where friends have so called seen chaga and it turned out just to be another burl on birch but upon seeing it I can safely say when you see it there’s no mistaking it for anything other than what it is .
Whilst out I seen several trees with chaga on them and I was just gagging to harvest some but my mentor on the subject Anton kept saying no not that one and I was getting slightly impatient to take some home , he explained to me that his family origin was old Ukraine and collection of the chaga was a normal day to day job as everyone in the family ( everyone he knew in fact ) drank chaga tea everyday as part of there diet and even though he moved to the uk in his late teens has continued to do so .
He shared with me some harvesting tips that he regarded as common practice and to be honest may well be for everyone who harvests it but I am going to share anyway .
First he explained that the simple persons way of understanding the chaga and why use it and what we want to get from it , it is his understanding is that the chaga fungi indeed is a parasitic fungi and does eventually kill the tree but only because it is so invasive on the growing body of the tree and the chaga actually releases chemicals whilst growing back into the tree to strengthen and heal it as the life cycle of the chaga is not a short one it is in its interest for the host to last the duration and these are the same attributes that we want to extract from it , infact he told me that when he was young the cancer property’s of the chaga were not even a consideration for its use it was used as a life longevity aid .
He told me you should never harvest chaga under the size of a cricket ball , to my understanding this reflected more of a control / management for continued use than medicinal content .
And also about when it should be harvested he told me that the best time for harvesting the nutrients was at the coldest point of winter when the host tree was shut down as the chaga was also in shut down and retaining its nutrients he said never should you harvest chaga in spring when the sap is rising as it will actually flush the fungi taking all it can from it to aid in sap production and new growth and the nutrients would be at its lowest level and defeats the point of the harvest .
I never really made the connection before but as he explained it , it made perfect sense and like many wild foods it may be present but there are time to and times not to harvest .
He also told me that he would never take all of the chaga from a tree but he takes little to the volume of two thirds of the visible surface body and by doing this the chaga can recover and continue to grow and be re visited on several occasions and harvesting was done with what I recognised as a slaters hammer breaking part of the mycelium away and never cutting it with a saw as it struggles to re grow .
The next obvious fact he pointed out after I found a felled tree with good sized growths on them was that they had no use to us medically as if the tree is dead the fungi is dead and will not contain the chemicals we wanted and these he would collect for the use of tinder in the bushcraft community ( chaga being the true tinder fungus ) it’s important to add that by dead I mean disconnected from the ground or roots and it is obvious if the Chaga is also dead as it loses its golden glow and has a grey veining within .
Over time chaga has been validated due to its anti-cancer properties called turpines (such as betulinic acid) and immune system directing sugars (called beta glucans). More than any other medicinal mushroom to be tested to date .
I’m not going to get into all scientific about its properties or even it’s contents as there is no point as what ever I post will be a re write of the hundred other writings about this as I’m sure most of us are happy to know that yes it is supper good for us and in just about every way possible and if we learn how to use it correctly we can enjoy yet another one of nature gifts .
So next would be how to actually extract the wanted nutrients from the chaga and this is quite simple Heat is needed wether you make tea or a tincture the wanted bits need heat to be released .
To make a infusion (tea) I use dried powder ‘ to dry chaga I simply leave to air dry there is no need for any other method one thing I will say is not to dry indoors as it will go mouldy quickly just a dark airy place to naturally dry outside is best any warmth will cause you problems , obviously the smaller prices you break it into the better and quicker the results . And if you don’t have a dry outside store break it into small pieces and dry in a dehydrator or oven on a low heat .
I then powder the body simply with a pestle and mortar I have seen better results from a meet grinder but I wouldn’t recommend using one for this unless it’s a spare or old one as it isn’t the softest thing in the world and won’t be kind to a new grinder .
I do not allow the water to get to a rolling boil as it will taste of burning it is actually really easy to determine when it has realised the water soluble wanted medicinal qualities as a oily resadue forms at the top of the liquid and at this point it needs 5-10 more minutes then is fully extracted regarding water extraction and there is no need to continue , it is nice either hot or cold and doesn’t have a flavour even remotely like a mushroom I have had people say it’s like vanilla but that escapes me I taste a mild blossom but that’s probably different for each of us , you can make as much as you like as it will keep cold for over a week ,
As regards to amount of powder per cup of tea for my taste I use one level cup per six cups of tea any more than one to four is a waste I leave the powder in the brew for the first four days and then I strain it all , up until then I stir twice a day and before pouring to drink (obviously strained into cup) .
Tinctures are pretty simple you need a 80%-100% alcohol vodka fill a container just short of full with chaga chunks and fill with the alcohol and place on the top this then needs to be left for about 15 -20 days being shaken once a day , then decant the liquid and discard the chaga measure the liquid left and add an equal amount of water and put in a pan , this level needs to be marked at this point either at the side of the pan or by a wooden marker stick .
Fill the pan with a further equal amount of water and then boil until the original amount is left , this is then bottled and left to cool .
Repeat this again a further two or three times and then you can bottle as you see fit .