Suppose you are wandering in the forests of the Northern climates and staring at the trees, looking for Chaga mushrooms. In that case, you are probably also thinking about the best way for Chaga mushroom identification.
Inonotus obliquus, or Chaga, is one of the medicinal mushroom family's most well-known (1) members. Mushroom experts can quickly and easily identify Chaga on birch trees owing to its cracked, brittle, and a relatively black outer surface and unmistakable golden-orange interior. But looking for this medicinal marvel can be pretty puzzling for those in their early mushrooming days.
You will often run into black knots, tree burls, or other types of False Chaga or Fools' Chaga most of the time. Standing under the darkened mass, hoping that your search has been successful, you are most likely to wonder: Is this Chaga?
This article will guide you on Chaga identification and answer your queries, including what Chaga looks like and what trees Chaga grows on. Let's zero in on it!
How To Identify Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga mushrooms do not pop from the floors of the forests like most mushrooms. Instead, these fungi are found on the top of birch trees and appear as a black charcoal-like mass (known as the conk) with a golden-brown to orange, woody inner surface.
The mushrooms do not boast an attractive outer appearance. However, for people who know about the health benefits of Chaga, the mushroom's shape, size, smell, etc., are not their concern.
Packed with antioxidants, betulinic acid, and other bioactive compounds, Chaga is a mushroom that rarely resembles a mushroom. Instead, this traditional medicine looks like a burnt blister against the skin of a birch tree.
The exterior of the mushroom is a black clump which is a result of the process of oxidation. The golden interior resembles the cork of a tree, which can be seen naturally without any effort, or simply by removing a small piece by hand.
Best described as unsightly, Chaga is a parasitic fungus that looks like a big patch of tree rot. So, the most crucial step in identifying Chaga mushrooms is looking at the right place.
Chaga mushrooms usually grow in circumpolar boreal deciduous forests. You can find the mushroom in the cold forests of Siberia, Scandinavia, Canada, and some northern parts of the United States. They are almost exclusive to birch trees and attach to the trunk of both white and yellow birch trees.
However, sometimes the fungus can be found growing on other trees. So, what trees does Chaga grow on, apart from the birch? Inonotus obliquus can sometimes grow on elm, ash, alder, beech, and hornbeam trees.
What Can Be You Mistake For Chaga?
If your goal is to use Chaga tea for weight loss, it is imperative that you use the proper Chaga chunks and not something that resembles Chaga. Otherwise, you may use a poisonous lookalike in your tea recipes, which could harm your health.
Read More: Learn about the Chaga mushroom tea taste.
To help you avoid confusing Chaga for a lookalike, we will give you information on the most common Chaga lookalikes. New foragers may mistakenly identify the following things as Chaga mushrooms:
A tree burl is a tree outgrowth, meaning the tree's bark extends to include the burl. It results from environmental stress, including physical trauma, fungus, an insect, or even pollutants.
Chaga mushroom forms over several years within the tree and eventually erupts through the bark, pushing themselves out from within. It is, therefore, a distinct species from its host tree and appears as such. So, if the specimen seems to be a separate species, different from its host tree, it may be Chaga.
If the specimen appears to be an extension of the tree or bark, you may be looking at a burl. A tree burl's color resembles its host tree, if not a bit darker.
Chaga usually grows as a phallic, cone-like extension. Tree burls are generally rounded outgrowths.
Black knot is a widespread fungal disease caused by the fungus Apiosporina morbosa (Dibotryon morbosum).
You can find it on black cherry and other cherries, peaches, dates, and plums. You can also see it on small twigs, unlike Chaga on large limbs. Black knot is also woody throughout and does not have an orange interior like Chaga.
Questions To Ask To Identify A Chaga Mushroom
So, if you have found a black growth on birch trees, use the questionnaire below to confirm that you have found the black gold, aka Chaga mushroom!
- Is this the right environment for Chaga to grow?
- Is the black growth on a birch tree?
- What color and texture is the exterior?
- What color is the interior?
- Does the growth appear to be separate from its host tree?
- Is the black growth cone-like or rounded?
Harvesting Chaga: How To Extract The Mushroom From Birch Trees
At this point, we are assuming that your foraging trip was a success. You have managed to identify Chaga mushrooms on birch trees, and your goal is to get several Chaga chunks so that you can take them home and celebrate your victory with Chaga tea.
Read More: Learn how Chaga tea supports weight loss.
Harvesting Chaga mushrooms can be complicated. What makes it hard is that the mushroom is generally attached to the tree.
Use a small saw or a hatchet to acquire the Chaga fungus for your homemade Chaga tea. Avoid digging too deep into the tree so you do not kill it.
We recommend taking only a third of the Chaga mushroom for wild-harvested Chaga, as this allows the fungus to grow back over time.Moreover, you avoid wounding the tree by only taking a third of the mushroom.
How To Use Fresh Chaga Mushroom
If you have reached this point in the article, we assume you know how to identify and harvest Chaga. However, while you may already know how to use Chaga powder, one thing you may not know is about turning the Chaga from the forest into powder.
Below we will look at the various ways to take advantage of your fresh, foraged Chaga:
Step 1: Wash Your Chaga Chunks
Clean your foraged mushroom. Using a soft brush—you can use a soft toothbrush—wipe debris and dirt off the mushroom.
You can run the Chaga mushroom under warm water for further cleaning if you want to. Next, use a piece of cloth to wipe the mushrooms off gently.
Remember that you don't need water to clean the Chaga mushrooms. Also, using water for cleaning tends to make the drying process longer. Therefore, if you have found Chaga wild mushrooms and want to use the harvested Chaga sooner, avoid using water for cleaning.
Learn More: See how Chaga fights hair loss.
Step 2: Remove The Outer Black Crust
When showing you how to distinguish Chaga from lookalikes, we noted that the mushroom has a black crust on the outside. Unfortunately, while this black crust is suitable for fuel, it does not carry any nutritional benefits. Only Chaga flesh (the inner part) offers health benefits.
Using a chisel, scrape off the outside of the Chaga mushroom until you see the light brown inside. If you do not want to throw the black crust away, you can always use it as a firestarter.
Step 3: Cut Your Chaga Into Smaller Pieces
After removing the black crust, the next step is to cut your Chaga into small pieces. Lay this mushroom that grows almost exclusively on birch trees on a cutting board and cut it into 1-inch pieces.
Alternatively, wrap your mushrooms with a kitchen towel and hammer to break them apart.
Step 4: Dry The Mushroom
Set your Chaga on a baking tray, ensuring the mushroom chunks are not overlapping. Taking care to avoid overlapping ensures all the mushrooms dry at the same rate.
Set the tray in a sunny and cool area and allow the Chaga chunks to dry for up to 6 weeks so they do not become moldy.
If you do not want to wait for weeks before your Chaga is dry enough, you can speed up the process using an oven. Preheat the oven to about 50 degrees Celsius, then leave the mushrooms inside for about 8 hours. While the oven dries the mushrooms faster, you face the risk of your mushrooms getting burned.
Step 5:Grind Your Chaga Mushrooms
After drying your mushroom chunks, the next step is to turn them into powder. For this, you will need a coffee grinder or a blender.
First, pour as many dried Chaga chunks as possible into the coffee grinder or blender. Next, pulse your blender or grinder 5 to 10 times until you have a fine powder.
After grinding, you can store the ground Chaga in an airtight container for up to 12 months. During this period, ensure the powder does not come into contact with water, which can damage it.
Step 6:Enjoy The Health Benefits Of Chaga
You can use the Chaga mushroom powder to prepare tea. In addition to being used to prepare tinctures and tea, ground Chaga can also be blended into smoothies or added directly to stews! To enjoy maximum benefits, take the dried powder regularly.
Do You Have To Forage For Chaga Medicinal Mushrooms?
If you enjoy using Chaga mushrooms, foraging for Chaga may look like a good idea.
However, this process of acquiring Chaga may not work for everyone. For example, if you do not live close to a forest with birch trees, does this mean you cannot enjoy Chaga tea?
Read More: Does Chaga tea have caffeine?
The answer to the above question is a big NO.
Instead of spending your precious time in hardwood forests foraging for Chaga, worrying about cutting smaller chunks, turning the pieces into ground Chaga, and drying for weeks to prevent mold, you can get professionally cultivated Chaga. Even better, you can get Chaga extract and supplements.
Chaga supplements come from Chaga mushrooms of the highest quality, and the products' ingredients carry a nice flavor. In addition, professionally made Chaga extract and Chaga supplements have many beneficial compounds.
These mushrooms offer many benefits—from helping you maintain good blood sugar levels to improving your skin and hair and lowering your risk of high blood pressure. For this reason, do not miss out on your cup of Chaga because you do not have time to forage.
Read More: Learn how Chaga fights high blood pressure.
What Does Wild Chaga Look Like?
Chaga has a coal-black exterior crust and a cork-like, golden-brown interior. Chaga commonly grows on the trunk of birch trees in cold northern climates.
Chaga mushroom appears as a charcoal-black colored growth on a birch tree in the northern climatic zones. However, the interior of the mushroom is golden-brown to orange and should feel like a cork.
With our Chaga mushroom identification guide, spotting the mushroom will certainly not be that difficult! While looking for Chaga in the forest, pay more attention to birch trees than other trees in the woods. Chaga generally prefers birch trees to different types of trees.
Have you foraged for Chaga before? Were you able to identify the mushroom? Let us know in the comments.
- Review on Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes): Realm of Medicinal Applications and Approaches on Estimating its Resource Potential, (1)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25746615/