healing · nomadique · wild foods

Chaga :: How NOT to harvest

queen chaga

Allow me to cut straight to the chase, here.

If anyone wants to harvest food or medicine from the wild, it must absolutely must be done with the safety of the plants in mind.  When harvesting the burdock root, only take less than 1/3 of the amount from a large patch.  Leave the flower of the Saint John’s Wort, taking only the ripe and leaving the young to provide food for tomorrow’s insect visitors and the spent blooms to make seed for the next year.  Wildcrafting is about RESPECT. Respect for the plants that provide you with what you’re looking for.  Respect to the other herbalists who walk these hills.  Respect for yourself so as not to be ignorantly damaging yourself by damaging the herb you are collecting.  Respect for the tools that allow you to pry off just the right piece of chaga to get you by.  There is no room for greed in wildcrafting as it is responsible for the scarcity of Goldenseal, American Ginseng, and Wild Garlic in these forests.  Do not add Chaga to this list.

Chaga is an incredible mushroom that has so many beneficial properties, Western science is far behind Eastern methods of studying the Chaga mushroom for its antitumor and anticancer properties, and the people are catching on.  I get many calls from people looking to score or sell Chaga.  Admittedly I am a bit leery in promoting just how amazing it is because the only way to harvest Chaga is from the wild.  For one, Chaga only grows on Yellow Birch, thereby limiting the locations in which it can be found.  Also it is very slow growing and from what I could find, no effective way in which to cultivate Chaga by inoculation, used successfully by commercial mushroom growers.  That leaves it to the wildcrafters to fill the supply or let every Tom, Dick, and Harry wander the Laurentian hillside looking for a hit.

On yesterday’s ski, I was unamused to be skiing along the trail only to have had it trashed by snowshoers. Strike 1.  Strike 2 came along as I was going up a hill, when I noticed the ground littered with OM.  The showshoe tracks stopped at a small coppice halfway up the hill, at a small group of young yellow birch.  There was bark and small pieces of chaga all over the snow, the trees gouged and not a crumb of chaga remained on any of the 3 trees harvested from.  Considering the mess they left behind, I wonder if these “wildcrafters” are even aware that Chaga sells for upwards of $38/lb.  This is not how you harvest chaga.

Instead of gouging out the side of the tree while harvesting, you might want to practice using a hammer and chisel somewhere on your property.  These are the tools that will allow you to optimally harvest without causing excessive harm to the plant.  Without Yellow Birch, there is no Chaga. Once you feel you’ve acquired a certain skill in chiseling, visit your nearest Chaga spot.  Now instead of chopping off the whole growth with an axe.  use your handy hammer & chisel and harvest ONE-THIRD of the the mushroom.  In whichever shape you deem appropriate, always be sure to leave at the very least half of what you find.  Pick up any scraps you might have flying around.  Be invisible.  The future thanks you.

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