Chaga is a fungus that parisitises Birch trees in the eastern United States. It is commonly found from central North Carolina up to the northern range of birch trees. This fungus is hard to misidentify as it appears as a black, cantanquerous growth where the tree has sustained an injury. Unilike almost all other fungus that are foraged, this growth form is mycleium and not a fruiting body. This does mean that it’s found year round and continues to grow the longer it’s left on the tree. The actual fruiting body only appears when the birch tree dies and the chaga needs to move to a new host.
Chaga, as I have mentioned, is a sought after fungus for foragers. The ugly apperance of this little wonder shroom is pretty deceptive, I’ll admit, but as the old saying goes “don’t judge a book by its cover”! The inside of a healthy piece of chaga should have a nice burnt-orange color fading to a cream towards the black, hard crust. The interior “meat”of the chaga is hard, corky, and altogether impossible to chew.
“Well what good is it then if i can’t roast it and eat it?” The unfamiliar forager might be asking themself while reading this, and that is a good concern, but please continue reading as I’m getting to that.
Take this interior and scrape off a powder of this meat till you have about a table spoon. Treat the powder like you would any instant coffee mix, or even mix with your instant coffee. Another method for making Chaga Tea is to cut it into chunks and toss into your kettle. Let it simmer for 30 to 45 minutes and strain into a cup. Sweeten with honey or your preferred sweetener to taste.
That's all there is to it! Chaga is one of the best replacements for tea I have had the pleasure of trying in the field. If the various books written on this mushroom are to be believed then the health benefits rival that of the mythical Fountain of Youth. To stick closer to proven fact this mushroom has a variety of antioxidant compounds, antiinflamitories, and mild stimulants similar but weaker than caffine.
Another use chaga has is an emergency tinder box. If you take the time to split and dry a chunk out next to your evening fire, take a small coal and place in a hollow in the middle of the now dry chaga where it will smolder a fair portion of the day. It will also catch an ember thrown by flint and steel far easier than a bird’s nest alone once dry, carrying a small lump with you would not be an ill advised course.
If you find yourself in a birch forest near streams, springs, and spruce keep an eye out for this lumpy fugus on the white bark! It’s worth the detour to grab a chunk for the trail.
For more information check out this book dedicated to Chaga by David Wolfe: https://www.amazon.com/Chaga-Medicinal-Mushrooms-David-Wolfe-ebook/dp/B007M11SMO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534618940&sr=8-1&keywords=Chaga%2C+David+Wolfe