Written by: Mick Simmons, MD
Since you’ve now already familiar with Chaga, it’s time to show you how to harvest Chaga. Some people want to harvest it themselves, and others want to buy online.
I always suggest harvesting Chaga yourself, because only then can you control the quality.
However, there are many people, who can’t harvest it themselves.
Read Also: Chaga & COVID-19
Whether you are a beginner or an advanced hunter – I will guide you on how to harvest Chaga.
In this page, you will find:
- How to find Chaga
- How to identify it
- When – Where – How to harvest
- How to prepare and store Chaga
- Key takeaway points
- Chaga harvesting FAQ
There is mainly three stages of harvesting Chaga: Searching – Harvesting-drying – preparing.
If you don’t want to harvest Chaga, then you can always buy it online. However, be aware that the Chaga should be pure and natural.
First of all, if you plan to find Chaga by yourself, do it right. There are some things you need to know before harvesting Chaga.
Let’s take it step-by-step.
Chapter #1 – Finding Chaga
Where do you find Chaga?
First of all, you must be patient.
Chaga grows in most cases on birch trees in the forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the US, Alaska and in the North Carolina mountains and Canada. If that’s someplace you can go – go there!
Chaga grows on other hardwoods also, and of course on different birch types – paper birch, yellow birch and cherry birch. The cherry birch is found in lower elevations in the south. It has non-exfoliating bark that is dark and resembles cherries. Hence, the name.
Where does Chaga grow?
Typically, Chaga grows on yellow birch and paper birch.
Yellow birch is a quite common tree in forests, and it usually has a yellowish bark that exfoliates as small curling shreds.
Paper birch is the most common tree in the forest that has white bark. It’s found in both low and high elevations, especially in North America.
There aren’t “Chaga forests”. It can live pretty much everywhere there are birches. But there are no birches in coniferous forests. So to hunt Chaga, just go to places where there are deciduous trees – you’re on the right trails!
Great! Now you know, where does Chaga grow and where you can find it.
Chaga mushroom is always black with a rough outer shell. From the inside, it’s a golden yellow-brown. It appears that way on the contact zone with the host-tree. The shapes can vary widely from cone, honk, horn etc.
It’s often confused with birch gnarl but they are very different in form.
Let’s see the differences between Chaga and birch gnarl.
Chaga vs Birch Gnarl
The appearance might seem similar but actually, they are quite different. Birch gnarl is a tumor, not a mushroom. One is used as a drug, the other for making nice furniture because of the interesting wood.
Outside – From the outside, birch gnarl is quite smooth and it has the same color as the tree. It might be with or without the bark. Chaga, on the other hand, is always black and crocheted.
Removing: Chaga is quite easy to remove, by hand, axe or knife. Birch gnarl, on the other hand, is part of the wood, which is attached very strongly. You can remove it only with a saw.
Inside: Chaga is always golden-yellow-brown from the inside. No matter what – dried or wet. Birch gnarl has a wooden structure. Its made of wood.
Chapter #2 – When To Harvest Chaga?
The short answer is – you can harvest the Chaga throughout the year. There are lots of recommendations that it should be done when the temperature is below 5 °C s. What? We didn’t find any studies that said that, and we talked with seasoned Chaga-pickers. They all told the same story; When harvesting Chaga – you can do it all year round.
There might be some advantages to different seasons, but overall the Chaga isn’t seasonal. However, in winter, it’s also 5 to 10x harder to remove the Chaga from the tree because it’s frozen.
If we talk about the weather, then the best time for Chaga hunting is when it’s dry. During wet periods, Chaga fungus sucks up water and this increases the drying time.
Winter is better because when the leaves have fallen and you can see farther. Also, mushrooms put their “hats” on in winter, which help you spot them from farther away.
Chapter #3 – Where To Harvest Chaga?
Harvest Chaga from pollution-free areas!
Chaga fungus sucks in all kinds of pollutants, and therefore you should harvest it away from polluted areas. That’s the one reason why you should always be concerned about the quality of Chaga that you might buy online.
Areas where you should not harvest Chaga:
- Next to roads
- Close to cities
- Close to factories
- Close to railroads
Therefore, the deeper into the forest, the wilder the Chaga! No need to go near polluted areas because then you won’t get the healthy effect you are looking from the Chaga!
See the picture below, where to harvest Chaga.
Chaga mushroom harvesting should be a fun hobby too – walk in the forest with open eyes!
Harvest from living trees only!
When you spot Chaga, make sure it is growing on a living tree. The Chaga fungus is a parasite of the birch tree. So, when the tree dies, the same will happen to the Chaga mushroom. This is the reason why it’s crucial to pick it only from living trees.
How to make sure the tree is living?
During the growing seasons, you can tell from the leaves. However, often Chaga harvesting takes place in winter when there are no leaves. Then you can look for winter buds.
Typically on a dead host tree:
- There are no winter buds or leaves
- There are many mushrooms
- There are big rotten branches
- Big portions of the tree have fallen
- The tree is soft (knock on it to test)
So, there are many factors that let you diagnose the tree. If you’re not sure – let it be. Always keep in mind that growing Chaga is fresh and the insides, where you cut is golden–yellow–brown.
CHAPTER #4: How to Harvest / Remove Chaga From Tree
If you’ve found Chaga that is away from pollution, and on a living tree, then you can remove it by cutting it with a knife, using an axe or just pushing/pulling it with your hands or a stick (freestyle).
Typically the Chaga mushroom comes off quite easily, but needs several whacks to remove other chunks too.
PS! When harvesting Chaga, always leave about small chunk to grow. Leave back 15-20% for two reasons – one practical the other ethical. The practical reason is that it helps to keep the Chaga healthy and allow the sclerotia to regrow so you or somebody after you can harvest it again. Ethically, if you take something from nature – give something back, or at least harvest responsibly, and always respect nature!
“Harvest Chaga bigger than an apple. Anything smaller we suggest you leave it. It takes about 5 years to grow that big in size. Come back after 5 years and you’ll find much bigger fungus.”
Once you’ve successfully removed the Chaga fungus, pick up all the small pieces that fell while removing Chaga.
TIP! If you are new in the world of Chaga then pay attention to these hints. Once removed, you should see golden–brown–yellow interior, both on the tree, and on the removed piece. Chaga is black on the outside and golden on the inside – always!
The second hint is that unlike other mushrooms, the outer shell of Chaga is rough, always!
Good! Now you know how to harvest Chaga.
CHAPTER #5 – Preparing And Storing Chaga
When you’ve successfully harvested Chaga, you need to prepare it. Chaga is full of water and can lose up to 4-5 times of its weight upon drying. You must get the water must vapour out before you can use it.
How To Prepare & Store Chaga?
Before you can start using Chaga, you must prepare and dry it. The easiest way is to cut it into pieces (chunks). It is easier to do it when the Chaga is raw because then the water content is higher, so the pieces are softer.
First of all, clean the Chaga of dust and birch bark. You can gently use water or a brush to get rid of the dust. Chaga mushroom harvesting isn’t just cutting. Cleaning a valuable product is also an important part of this job.
Take the and safely try to separate pieces from each other. Your aim is to get 1″ – 2″ size Chaga chunks. If you’re using a knife, be careful not to damage it. Don’t use a ceramic knife at all!
It’s better to do it outdoors because you’ll send away many small pieces when cracking Chaga. If possible, spread newspapers around so you can easily find and gather the small fragments.
If you do it indoors, here’s a tip: Put the Chaga in a cotton bag and hit it with a hammer.
Chaga is hard to crack and can ruin the surface you’re working on. Make sure you use something to protect the surface from scratches and cracks.
Reader’s tip: Nutcracker works well!
If you managed to cut the Chaga into chunks, you need to prepare it. This almost always means drying it. It’s good to lay out the chunks for drying on newspaper or some other sort of paper. Choose a windowsill or some other dry and well-lit place to let them dry. Leave them to dry for about 6 – 8 weeks, turning them once a while.
NOTE: Alternative – Drying Chaga in oven.
You can also dry the Chaga in an oven if you want quicker results. To do that, put the chunks in the oven overnight at around 50° C. This will be fine and safe.
Well, now you’ve prepared Chaga for consumption and it’s ready to use. Now you can use the chunks to make a tincture. Or, if you want to make the tea, coffee or just the extract or powder, you need to grind it.
When preparing Chaga, use a coffee bean grinder to turn the Chaga chunks to a powder. Keep in mind the smaller pieces the less trouble for the machine.
NOTE! Chaga cells walls contain chitin, which is one of the worlds hardest biological materials. Therefore, it could ruin your coffee grinder. When preparing Chaga, you might prefer the old school hand-cranked mechanical grinder.
When you have Chaga ready, you can store the Chaga chunks in a box or a glass jar. The powder can be kept in a jar where it’s easier to get it out. Just make sure it doesn’t get dusty.
There is no science about storing Chaga – but we suggest you store it in a dark place.
Storing Chaga in a tincture is a good idea because the alcohol preserves Chaga quite well.
I hope now you know how to prepare Chaga.
Important Points To Remember
- Harvest Chaga only from living trees, away from roads, factories, and cities.
- Harvest Chaga responsibly – only chunks bigger than an apple. Leave some Chaga to grow for the future. Do not damage the host tree
- Chaga must dry before use! Use an ax or strong knife to cut it into 1″ – 2″ pieces to allow for faster drying.
- When drying Chaga, you can also use an oven – 50° overnight is fine.
- Make powder or extract for different Chaga recipes with an old grinder (coffee bean grinder is fine)
- Store it in boxes or jars.
Frequently Asked Chaga Questions
Q: Is Chaga harvesting legal?
A: Harvesting Chaga IS legal, but you should do it in a way that respects the harmony of nature. Also, respect the landowner’s privacy and ownership. Maybe they’ve been waiting for the right time to harvest Chaga on their land. If done responsibly, then Chaga harvesting is legal
Q: Why not just buy Chaga online?
A: We always suggest harvesting Chaga yourself. Only then you can be sure about the quality. However, if you buy Chaga online, we suggest checking the background of the seller. You want only natural grown Chaga mushrooms, grown in pollution free forests. You can check the Chaga buying guide here.
Q: Are there specific “Chaga forest” you can recommend?
A: Short answer – NO, there aren’t. Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests are where you want to go.
Q: What if I mixed up the Chaga from birch gnarl or some other fungus?
A: Those mushrooms aren’t toxic but there are some things you can do to be sure you have not confused these other mushrooms with Chaga. Chaga may differ in size and shape but it’s always black with a rough exterior. The inside at the cut is always golden-yellow-brown. If not, you should leave it there – it’s a different mushroom or it’s from a dead birch tree.
Q: What if I didn’t cut Chaga and now it’s dry? Is it worthless now?
A: That’s no problem, it just needs some more force to crack it. Once you’ve managed to crack it to chunks, you should still dry it several weeks because it might be damp on the inside.
Q: I’ve managed to harvest and prepare the Chaga. Now what?
A: Congratulations! There are different recipes online about how you can consume your harvested and prepared Chaga. You can see our suggested recipes here.
Q: How do I cut up big chunks of Chaga?
A: Axe or knife will do fine!
Q: What if I did something differently? Is my harvest wasted now?
A: Actually no. Chaga is forgiving. All you really need to do is dry it before use and keep it away from polluted areas.