Chaga is rapidly growing across the world as an alternative health remedy due to its proven ability to fight disease, combat cancer, reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and much more. Harvested and used by native Alaskans and Siberians for generations, recent developments have made chaga available to people across the globe. Given that chaga is harvested from forests, some individuals are curious about harvesting it on their own and what tools they need to do so.
Harvesting chaga is not very difficult in and of itself, but because it must be harvested in extremely adverse weather conditions, proper preparation is key. Here’s a guide to what equipment you need to harvest chaga.
While chaga naturally grows across a wide swath of the northern hemisphere—since it grows wherever birch trees can be found—only chaga that grows in Alaska, Siberia, and similar climates can be harvested. This is because chaga loses its nutritional value when exposed to more temperate climates. On the same note, chaga must also be harvested during the winter, because running sap during the warmer months causes all of the nutrients in chaga mushrooms to be flushed out.
Because of the extremely cold temperatures in Alaska and similar locales during the winter, you will need to dress adequately, with warm, multi-layered clothing, thick snow boots, thick gloves, a hat, and a scarf. In general, as little of your body should be exposed as possible in order to keep yourself warm and prevent frostbite. You should also carry some snacks and water with you in order to keep yourself nourished while out in the forest.
In addition to this, you will need a map of the place you are going to harvest chaga from and a compass to help you orient yourself. While birch trees can be found in many places, trees that are located near cities, roads, and other forms of human development absorb pollutants, which contaminate the chaga and make it unsafe for consumption. For the cleanest, purest chaga, you will need to go to remote areas that typically lack cell phone service, so you will need a map, compass, and possibly a GPS in order to avoid getting lost.
To remove the chaga itself, you will need a hammer, knife, or other similar instrument. Chaga appears on birch trees as a hard, cracked growth, which is referred to as the sclerotium. Large chaga growths cannot be removed by hand because they are deeply embedded in their host trees, and attempting to yank an entire mushroom out of a tree is also environmentally hazardous. By using a hammer or large knife, you can surgically remove parts of the chaga mushroom without cleaving the entire thing off of the trunk.
The reason why it is important to not remove chaga mushrooms in their entirety is because doing so will expose a hole in the tree trunk. Chaga mushrooms derive their nutritional content by leeching from their host trees, embedding themselves beyond the trunk itself into the deepest parts of the tree. An exposed hole in the trunk weakens the structural integrity of the tree and also allows outside infections to get inside, potentially killing the tree. By leaving part of the chaga mushroom attached to the tree, you can prevent any holes from forming and allow the tree to continue growing.
On the same note, stripping trees of their chaga results in stock depletion. Overharvesting chaga in an area will quickly lead to that region becoming depleted, forcing you and other harvesters to travel further in order to gather more. Chaga grows slowly, and leaving a portion of chaga mushroom untouched allows the chaga to regrow itself over time.
Finally, you need a bag or some other container in order to hold the chaga that you have collected. Bags work best because they are small and easy to carry around. Chaga mushrooms can be quite large, and given the adverse weather conditions that you need to work in in order to pick chaga, it behooves you to collect as much as possible in a single outing so you don’t have to make as many trips.
Before chaga can be used, it must first be dried in order to get rid of any residual water or sap. Chaga that is not dried runs the risk of becoming moldy, posing a health hazard to anyone who consumes it. To dry chaga, place it outside in the sun or air-dry it in dry locations in your home. You can also dry chaga in an oven set to a low temperature.
If you have collected a large amount of chaga and want to store it safely, use Ball jars, Tupperware containers, or other airtight containers that keep out the elements and insulate against insects and rodents. Store your chaga in cool, dry places that are out of the way of sunlight, and be sure to label each container with the date of when you harvested the chaga in it so you can keep track of expiration dates. While expired chaga won’t make you sick, old chaga lacks nutritional content, so you’ll want to keep notes on how old your chaga is and when you need to use or dispose of it.
Chaga harvesting, while not particularly complicated or strenuous, requires careful preparation and the right set of tools. Given the extremely cold temperatures in which chaga must be harvested, you must guard yourself against frostbite, hypothermia, and other winter-related medical conditions. You must also be able to navigate dense forests that are removed from civilization and learn how to remove chaga mushrooms in a way that doesn’t damage their host trees.
While chaga harvesting might seem daunting, with practice and preparation, you’ll be able to easily harvest chaga on your own. If you live in an area where chaga can be harvested, why not try it out?
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