This past Christmas, my partner gifted me a delightfully mysterious brown paper bag. After gingerly peeling back the paper and peering inside, I reached my hand inside to pull out a brown, crusty chunk of — well, I didn’t know what. “They’re called chaga mushrooms,” he explained, as if an expert (he's not). And ever since then, it’s been all chaga, all the time.
As it turns out, the chaga mushrooms have quite the story to tell.
The chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) looks not quite like a mushroom, and more like a chunk of brownish charcoal. Found in the world’s northern regions, chaga grows primarily on birch trees. While relatively rare, they're also not that uncommon to spot.
Chaga holds a firm place in ancient folklore as a medicinal mushroom. In Siberian shamanism, chaga is known as ‘the king of all mushrooms’.
King, indeed. Chaga enthusiasts boast its unbeatable concentration of antioxidants, potassium, melanin and vitamin D — to name a small few. Known for its antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal properties, they say that chaga is great for pretty much whatever ails you. This week, a few cups of chaga tea allowed not one, but two in our household to sidestep a nasty cold. And that's good enough for me.
One person's superfood is someone else's concern. While it is great to think that coffee houses in Maine are putting chaga in coffee blends, there is indeed a major concern about the over harvesting of chaga mushrooms in North America due to its boom in popularity.
I would not recommend harvesting chaga if you come across it, and would instead seek out the advice of an expert before doing so — or better yet, seek out an expert that can show you where to source ethically-harvested chaga.
The most simple preparation is chaga tea, where you can steep a small chunk of chaga whole, or ground up into a powder. Ground ghaga powder is a great addition to a morning smoothie.