Used as a superfood by generations of Siberians and Alaskans, chaga is fast becoming known the world over for its immune-boosting properties and anti-aging qualities. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to use chaga. In particular, chaga needs to be dried properly before it can be used to make tea or any other product.
While chaga vendors will typically dry out chaga before bringing it to market, users who pick their own chaga will need to dry it themselves before using it. Here’s how to do it.
Chaga must be dried for long-term storage and use because moisture causes chaga to lose its nutritional value once harvested from a tree. When harvested during peak months, chaga is typically full of water and moisture, and removing this water is part of the preparation process. Improperly dried chaga has a much shorter shelf life and is likely to become moldy, which ruins the chaga and makes it unsuitable for human consumption.
While you may not think that chaga needs to be immediately dried if you are just going to enjoy a cup here and now, it is unlikely that you are going to use every single chaga chunk you harvest all at once. Drying your chaga out preserves its nutritional value and allows you to store it for the future, so you always have chaga on hand when you need it.
Before you dry your chaga, you should separate it into smaller chunks in order to make the process go faster. If your chaga is in “conks”—large pieces that you harvested directly from a tree—you’ll need a hammer or hatchet to smash it into pieces. This can be time-consuming due to the toughness and thickness of chaga mushroom fibers, but it is considerably easier than trying to dry out an entire conk all at once.
Once you have separated your chaga into small, manageable chunks, you are ready to dry it out. The fastest way to do so is via an oven. Place your chaga chunks on a baking sheet and warm them in your oven at 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 24 hours. This will ensure that all traces of moisture are removed from the chaga without running the risk of burning it.
If you aren’t pressed for time and don’t mind waiting a few days, you can air-dry your chaga by placing it in a warm, dry section of your house. If you own a dehydrator, you can speed up the rate at which your chaga dries out. While it is also possible to dry out your chaga by placing it outdoors if the weather is sunny and nice, it isn’t recommended as you run the risk of contaminating your chaga with dirt and other additives.
You will know that your chaga is 100 percent dry by the touch. Chaga found in the wild has a spongy feel akin to cork, but dried-out chaga is as hard as a rock. To retain your chaga’s dryness and maximize its longevity, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. When dried and stored properly, chaga has a shelf life of several months at the minimum and possibly even longer.
It should go without saying that if you have purchased chaga from a vendor, they will have already dried it out for you, so these steps are not necessary. Drying your chaga out is only required if you have harvested the chaga yourself.
Proper storage of chaga is critical to maintaining its nutritional quality. Poorly-stored chaga will be stripped of its nutritional content and could potentially be harmful to anyone who consumes it. Not only that, properly stored chaga will keep for a long time, allowing you to build up a store of it and never run out.
It is because of this that drying out your chaga is critical to storing. Unless you plan on consuming chaga almost immediately after picking it, you need to dry it out either with your oven or by air-drying it to preserve its quality. You don’t want to risk allowing your chaga to retain moisture, because this will not only reduce its shelf life, it runs the risk of contaminating the chaga with mold, ruining all your hard work in harvesting it in the first place.
If you take care of your chaga by drying it out properly, it will serve you well in the future. Don’t get lazy: take your chaga conks and prepare them for long-term storage by drying them the correct way. While drying out chaga is hard work and time-consuming, it pays off considerably when you have a large amount of chaga you can keep stored for whenever you need it.
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