As all herbal enthusiasts know, whenever an herbal remedy craze arises, there is a risk that the item will become overharvested to the point of extinction.
Correct and sustainable harvesting of Chaga is vitally important because Chaga takes so long to regrow—from three to ten years, in fact. In order for us to enjoy Chaga for decades to come, we’ve put together this very researched guide on how to harvest Chaga sustainably, ethically, and responsibly.
First, Finding Chaga in the Northern Hemisphere
Chaga is found on birch trees found in the northern hemisphere of the world. Chaga grows in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, and Eastern and Northern Europe, as well as the northernmost areas of USA and Canada.
The four types of birch trees Chaga grows upon are yellow birch, white birch, heart-leaved paper birch and cherry birch trees.
How to Identify Chaga
Chaga is an unmistakable crusty black formation (called a sclerotia) that forms on the bark of trees in large protrusions. It forms into domes, suave cones, and horn-like protrusions. Sometimes it forms into more irregular masses but the crusty black surface is easy to identify and unlike any other formation on trees.
The sclerotia is a parasite that feeds off of the tree and should be harvested in order for the tree to survive (just not over harvested). Chaga will fell a tree if left to its own devices and able to completely penetrate into the tree.
When and How to Remove the Chaga from the Tree
Chaga can be harvested virtually any time of year. What is important to keep in mind is to wait until Chaga is at least the size of a grapefruit, and leave 30% of it (at least) to ensure more and continued Chaga growth.
Never, ever damage the host tree. If you do, the tree will die and you cannot harvest Chaga from a dead tree. The two living creatures, Chaga and the tree, are in a natural symbiosis with one another and in order to assure the life of each, you must harvest from a living tree.
Getting to the Chaga – Eyes Up but Don’t Puncture the Tree
Chaga usually grows somewhat high up in trees and is visible from the ground below. However, it is vitally important that one does not puncture the tree or it will become infected by other parasites that will kill the host and ultimately, the Chaga. So, if one is climbing a Chaga-bearing tree—never, ever use leg spikes or any other equipment that will puncture the tree.
Also, when you use any type of rope, always use equipment such as branch savers to protect the tree from being cut into by rope and harming the bark of the living tree. A ladder is always ideal, as long as there is a friend along to help you carry it and spot you when you climb it.
Dislodging the Chaga: Leave 30% and Again, Don’t Puncture the Tree
To remove the Chaga, you’ll need some type of chisel, saw, or hatchet, and a hammer to pop off some of the Chaga while leaving a third of it intact.
What you want to do is to dislodge the Chaga by popping a part of the top surface of it by prying or cutting into the Chaga only. Never puncture or cut into the tree itself. You don’t even want to take the Chaga down anywhere near to the bark of the tree, or you will not leave enough Chaga to inspire more infectious growth (and, hence, more Chaga growth). Taking only 70% of the Chaga is a good rule of thumb.
Leaving at least 30% of the Chaga not only ensures the life of the Chaga and the tree in that area but also assures that when you come back in a few years, you’ll see that more sclerotia have developed on the same tree as well.
Yes, Chaga will ultimately kill the host trees, but trees can survive for decades if the tree is monitored and Chaga growth is not allowed to completely take over, as it will, and penetrate into the center of a tree. Therefore, Chaga must be harvested and harvested responsibly.
In fact, if you see three protrusions of Chaga sclerotia and you only take half of two of them, then when you come back later, you’ll find the one you left intact is really flourishing and two more sclerotia are on its way as well. Leaving some Chaga ensures a forest with more Chaga to look forward to and assures you have left the tree undamaged as well.
Harvest From Clean and Green Forest Areas Only
The general rule on Chaga collecting is that the deeper you penetrate into the forest, the richer and more potent the Chaga will be.
It is vitally important, also, that you harvest far from busy roads or other areas where pollutants can affect the quality of the Chaga, poisoning it environmental toxins.
Drying, Preserving, and Keeping the Mold Away
It is very important that you know how to begin work to preserve the Chaga immediately after collection. It does not take long at all for mold to set in (which will turn that black crusty outer layer white), but you can avoid mold altogether if you dry and store your Chaga quickly and properly.
First, to facilitate drying, chop any large chunks of Chaga into smaller chunks that will dry more swiftly and easily. Next, you can put your Chaga in a dry area for several days with a fan constantly blowing on them. If you cant do these steps promptly, put the Chaga in the freezer until you can.
Lastly, Never Waste Chaga
Remember, we are grateful that we have Chaga at all and want to only harvest enough for client orders or as needed for our own personal use. You don’t want to have to throw precious Chaga away—ever.