It’s true. My kids sometimes call me Mama Chaga. One reason is because I can spot Chaga from a mile away and the other is because they love my Hot Chaga Chocolate. (Recipe is further down for all of the chocoholics)
What is Chaga?
Chaga (Inonotus obliguus) is a super medicinal mushroom that grows primarily on paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). It can be found in the northern hemisphere.
What does chaga look like?
It is very dark brown or black. It almost looks like a charred loaf of crusty artisan bread. When broken, the inside reveals a sponge-like appearance that is a rich, deep orange color. This mushroom does not have gills, but instead, pores. It can grow in all sorts of shapes and sizes on the outside of birch trees. I also want to mention that it only grows on living trees. The photo of chaga above is one I took early in the winter.
Chaga has been known in many parts of the world for its immune boosting qualities for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese medicine, chaga was used to balance qi.
Studies also show that chaga has cancer fighting properties! Check out this study done by Showa University in Japan.
So, why am I so excited about chaga?
Well, not only does this magical mushroom have immune boosting qualities and cancer fighting super powers (betulinic acid) but it’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antiviral. It’s packed with melanin too. And, for those that want to fight the aging clock, grab a cup of chaga tea because melanin nourishes, hydrates and heals skin. It makes your hair shiny and soft and it’s good for your eyesight! Keeping a younger, youthful appearance. Bonus!
Chaga contains many nutrients as well. Here is a quick list of some of the vitamins in this super mushroom: vitamin B2, vitamin D3, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, and phosphorus to name a few.
Here are a few tips on harvesting chaga:
First, forage ethically!
The bigger the mushroom, the older it is. The older the mushroom, more beneficial properties inside. We pick the big ones and leave the little ones to grow.
Never over pick! Take what you need, leave the rest.
Chaga is best harvested when dormant. So, October through early February for my zone (zone 4-5). You never want to harvest chaga when the sap is flowing as that can cause further stress to the tree leaving a large wound and it could kill the tree. On another note, try to harvest when temps are just above freezing. It will just make it easier on you and the tree…chaga is pretty hard.
Use an ax or a handsaw to cut the chaga carefully off the tree.
When you have your chaga fresh off the tree, it needs to be dehydrated. We use this one and absolutely love it.
Break the chaga into smaller, manageable chunks and dehydrate on a low setting (106-115 degrees) for about 2 days, maybe longer depending on the humidity and size of the chaga pieces. Once completely dried, you can either use a mortar and pestle to grind the chaga or a food processor to turn it into a fine powder. Store in an airtight container. (I prefer glass jars for my dehydrated goods.)
Don’t live in an area where chaga grows or are unable to forage? Check out this link for some awesome chaga.
Love chocolate? Here is my recipe for Hot Chocolate Chaga. It’s super rich and indulgent. Perfect on a cold and snowy day.
2 1/2 cups water
2 tbsp chaga powder
1- 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1- 13.5oz. can of coconut milk
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Pinch of sea salt
In a medium size saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add powdered chaga, cover and lower to a simmer for 3 to 5 minutes then remove from heat. Steep chaga tea for 20 minutes. While the chaga is steeping, mix sweetened condensed milk, coconut milk, cocoa powder and salt in a large saucepan. Heat on low, stirring constantly to break apart coconut milk solids and to incorporate the cocoa powder and prevent sticking.
After the chaga steeped for 20 minutes, strain the tea through cheesecloth.
*DO NOT discard the chaga! It can be used and used again several times to make more tea!*
Add the chaga tea to the milk mixture. Stir and heat until steaming. Pour into your favorite mug, add a few marshmallows and enjoy!