- Chaga is not a mushroom, though it is often included in mushroom books and referred to as Chaga Mushroom. Rather, it is a hardened mass of mycelium (the underlayer of growth that produces mushrooms). The proper term for this hardened mass is Sclerocium, and the plural is Sclerocia. See, that’s fun to say, isn’t it?
- Chaga grows exclusively on Birch trees. Other trees have similar looking growths, and mostly those are Burls. Burls are an abnormal growth that is covered by bark, often caused by an injury or a virus. Chaga starts growing in the heart wood of the tree, and slowly pushes its way out through the bark.
- Chaga is medicinal. It has been used medicinally for many years, and like many folk medicines, our science is slowly beginning to ‘prove’ it. It strengthens our immune system and even has some cancer fighting properties. Here are links to a couple of studies:
- We don’t eat the chaga – it’s much to hard and woody. We simmer the chaga chunks or powder for a long time and then drink the ‘tea’. It tastes like coffee, but much smoother.
- It can be harvested in the winter. In fact, it’s much easier to harvest in the winter-time because we can easily see the blackened outside part of Chaga against the white of the Birch without all the leaves in the way. Some people say we should ONLY harvest in the winter, but that’s just not true. There is no change in the medicinal value of the chaga in other seasons, and you won’t harm the tree by simply cutting the chaga off.
Here is a link to more detaily information about chaga by a fellow forager in Eastern Wisconsin. Enjoy!