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Medicinal Mushrooms

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

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Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

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Chaga
(Inonotus obliquus)

 

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Chaga before and after I chopped it off this mostly dead yellow birch.

 


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Chaga, also known as clinker polypore, is not immediately recognized as a fungus by many people. Recently a person commented to me that they had seen them before but thought they were a bug infestation. Rather than being mushroom-like it is a large black canker. It is dense, very hard and deeply cracked on the surface resembling something that has been burned. Sometimes hints of the yellow interior can be seen. It often gets it's start on a scarred birch.

Flesh: The interior is yellow to yellow brown often with some bits of white mixed in and is moderately hard with a somewhat pebbly, corky texture. The outer surface is dark brown to black, very hard, with a deeply cracked texture. It can be brittle with pieces easily rubbing or falling off.

When and where to find them: (ecology) Chaga can be found all year round since it persists on the tree for many years. It is most always found on yellow, or white birch. It's probably possible to find it on gray birch but gray birch is more likely to be infected with Piptoporus betulina, the birch polypore. Since gray and white birch occasionally hybridize in this area, exact identification of the tree can be difficult. They have been reported to grow on hardwoods such as beech or hornbeam but I have never found one on anything but birch. Current information suggests that chaga found on birch has the best medicinal qualities. Chaga can be easier to find in the winter because birches will be easier to spot and because the chaga may grow high on the tree where the greenery may obscure them during the warmer months. A hatchet or axe is usually required for removal. A hammer can also be effective in some cases. Chaga can be easier to remove when frozen. Scarred trees created by excavating or skidding logs during lumber harvesting can develop chaga. Older trees are more likely candidates although they can be found on middle aged trees as well.

Preparation: Chaga is usually prepared as a tea or tincture. As always try a small amount at first. If you have health issues or take medication there is a possibility of interaction. Check with your doctor. Tea can be made from fresh cut chaga but it is more often dried first. It must be chopped or broken up into smaller pieces for drying unless the pieces are small. A hatchet or hammer is best but you may want to do it in a box because pieces can fly. A bench vise will work well. Drying at 110-125 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended. Dry it for at least 24 hours then remove it for a few days so any remaining interior moisture will stabilize. Then dry it again for another 24 hours or until it is bone dry. I have successfully dried chaga by placing it on top of my water heater. It takes longer but saves on energy bills. A warm attic also works well. It can then be ground for use with a meat grinder or grist mill. It can be further ground in a heavy-duty blender to make it finer. You can use a cheese grater if you want to use a bit at a time.

Steeping ground or powdered chaga in the normal way makes a pleasant tea. For the best medicinal benefit there is evidence that decocting it by boiling for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours is best. In either case, the tea is surprising good with a more tea-like than mushroom flavor because of its tannic qualities. It brews up darker than you would expect and blends very successfully with other teas and spices. As far as mushroom teas go, it is "choice".

I have recently brewed India pale ale using chaga as a replacement for boiling hops. It was exceptionally successful.  I decocted (long hard boiling) chaga powder in a separate pot, adding it to the wort at the end. I found it extremely good with itís tannic qualities also adding a positive note to the brew. Chaga aleís character was very different from the brew I made with the same recipe substituting reishi (Ganoderma tsugae) as the hop replacement. I will definitely make chaga ale again soon.

A tincture of chaga can be made using alcohol and water. That makes 80 or 100 proof vodka a good choice for making the tincture. Fill up a container such as a bottle or jar at least 1/2 with chaga powder then fill it to the top with the vodka and allow it to sit for a few days or up to 2 weeks. Strain off the liquid and run it through an unbleached coffee filter then squeeze the filter when it has stopped dripping. That yields a "single extraction". You may take the leftover single extracted chaga mash (marc) and boil (decoct) in water.  Reduce the liquid by half and add it to your first extraction making a stronger "double extraction" maintaining an alcohol concentration of at least 25%. Chris Hobbs' book Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing, & Culture (Herbs and Health Series) covers this in detail.

Comments: Chaga has been used as a tonic and tea by the Siberians for hundreds of years. Chaga contains inotodiol, betulin, and active polysaccharides that have various medicinal implications. A preparation called Befungin has been used in Russia for cancer treatment since the 1960s. I was surprised to see that you can buy Befungin on eBay. Find some recent science HERE.

Chaga can be used for dyeing textiles or paper and will yield a yellow or sepia color depending on what mordant or modifier is used. It can also be used as tinder for fires and as incense. Dried chaga does burn well but the incense is not particularly fragrant. 

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Chopped off showing the yellow inner tissue.

 

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Sometimes they are too high to get without a ladder!

 

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This one is right outside my house on a scarred birch.

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In winter they often have a snow "hat" that makes them easier to spot.

 

Unusual shapes are more the rule than the exception.

Snow hat.

Sometimes a tree may reject a chaga or the tree dies and the chaga falls off. This tree has a living right side with a living chaga and dead left side where the chaga has fallen off.

 

Here is a cross section of a tree infected by Chaga, a tree pathogen.

 

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Another outside my house right next to the ground where excavating equipment scarred the tree.

Find more information here:

Inonotus obliquus at Roger's Mushrooms

 

If you like my photography, I have products like tee shirts, aprons, coffee cups, and other items available here Medicinal mushroom of the north.
 

 

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