Monday, November 30, 2015

Minnesota Mushrooms: Chaga Foray, How to make Chaga tea

Does this look familiar? If you have ever hiked in the north woods where there are large populations of birch trees, chances are you have seen the Clinker Polypor before.
File:Inonotus obliquus.jpg




I have had this blog post on the back burner for some time. Since my first failed attempt to collect chaga a few years ago I have been very successfull at a couple of Minnesota locations. My mom and I now feel like we have a bounty of chaga, and when we go snow shoeing we only go for the easy "low hanging fruit". It is still exciting to find a large chaga, I think because foraging is tough in the winter, not a lot going on compared to Minnesota in the summer with berries, nuts, and mushrooms growing everywhere.
Chaga mushroom broken into pieces ready to grind.
Chaga is actually the mycelium of the mushroom not the fruiting body. It is very hard, the best way to harvest it is with a hammer, hit it just right and it will kinda pop out of the tree. What about the tree you ask? Don't worry chaga is only present in dead or dieing birch. The fungus usually starts growing where a tree has been damaged and then continues to grow and take over. So as long as you are just hammering or chopping the chaga you are not damaging the tree.
The inside of the chaga is a beautiful golden color.
Break chaga into pieces by putting it into a pillow case and hammering on a hard surface(like concrete). You will then need to grind into smaller pieces the easiest way is a food mill. Some people make a tea out of the chunks of chaga without grinding but I think that wastes a lot of chaga.
Using a grain grinder to process chaga.


Ready to make chaga tea.
How to Make Chaga Tea

Once you have your chaga ground it is time to make chaga tea. If you look around the internet there is no one set way to make chaga tea for every person who makes it ti seems like there is a different recipe. I start with about 8 cups of water to 1/2 cup ground chaga. Bring it to a boil then let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. Then I cover it and let it steep for about 8 hours.
Making medicinal chaga tea, makes the house smell like a damp forest.
After the first steep, stain the tea into a container and return all grounds to the cooking pot. Add about 5-6 cups of water this time and complete boiling steeping process again.
I will usually boil chaga grounds 3 times using less water each time. Combine all tea together. I think the taste of the tea is diffferent from first to last batch not just the strength. You don't get all of the flavors until the last boil. You will know when the chaga is spent because it will not make the water darken immediately.
Cool the tea and drink it cold or hot. You can alter the strength by adding water.

 What is chaga you ask and why would I want to drink it, well lets see what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as chaga mushroom (a Latinisation of the Russian term 'чага'), is a fungus in Hymenochaetaceae family. It is parasitic on birch and other trees. The sterile conk is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. It is not the fruiting body of the fungus, but a mass of mycelium, mostly black due to the presence of massive amounts of melanin.

There are several unique things about the chaga mushroom
  • It is not the fruiting body of the mushroom but the mycelium itself. You usually don't even notice the mycelium of a mushroom as it is spread out under the ground or under the tree bark.
  •   number of studies on cell cultures show that chaga possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating properties.
  •  Chinese medicine where it earned the names: “King of the Herbs” and “A Gift from God”.
  • It brews up to be a tasty tea with good tannic acid. with a very north woodsy flavor.
  • 40-60 dollars a lb wholesale, making one of the most expensive mushrooms out there!
Last winter I went on my first Chaga hunt with the MMS(Minnesota Micological Society).  Here is my account of the foray.

"This past weekend I went on a winter mushroom foray! My mom, daughter, and me piled in the car early saturday morning and drove up to the north shore to hunt for chaga. It was a crazy drive, they actually have snow up north.  Here in Minneapolis the snow has been spotty. The trip was a learning experience, I learned that Chaga is easy to spot, but usually out of reach. And if you do find some within reach it is really hard to get a frozen chunk of hard mushroom off of a tree. This is a mushroom that requires more than plucking from the earth. I also learned that trekking through snowy woods is exhausting! My mom had snow shoes and faired a little better, but the ten inches of snow Saturday night cut our Sunday foray short. After hiking through waist deep snow Audrey (age 7)was exhausted.  I wasn't feeling all that spry myself.  We left with a meager amount of chaga and a determination to do better next time. We will build our stamina, and muscles, hone our axes, hone our winter sporting skills. You haven't seen the last of us Chaga. When we meet again I will be less wussy and wrest you from that dieing birch with one swift chop of my ax. Or I will bring my husband along and he will do the chopping."

Luckily for us a few weeks after our unsuccessful Chaga hunt my sister happened to find a large chaga mushroom while skiing in the northwoods. It was just laying behind the cabin she was staying in so she generously gave it to my mom and I. Now that we had the Chaga we began a new adventure, turning it into Chaga tea, elixer of life. From what I have read online Chaga can cure everything from ringworm to cancer. There aren't many scientific studies yet, but I hear some are taking the anti-cancer properties of chaga very seriously.

Many of the mycophiles in the MMS  attribute various health benifits to chaga. Some say it helps thier high blood pressure, others say cleared up IBS. I dont know what it has done for me but I haven't suffered from the common cold since I started drinking chaga regularily. also haven't had as much trouble with acid reflux.

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