Rarely have I seen and read such utter malarkey as what I've come across lately while I research Chaga, the new darling of the "herbal" biz. Nearly everything I've read - the mumbo jumbo about its healing powers, the rigamarole most sites say is necessary to prep it for use - is way over the top. Just shameful.
I'm not saying it isn't a good tonic - it is a very good tonic. But I am going on record right here and now to say if you can't gather it and garble it yourself then my friends, you need to really do your research and look into your heart before deciding if you want to use it. Despite what the sellers tell you, this is not a terribly sustainable product. In my opinion, it is not suitable for commercial exploitation.
I happen to live in Chaga territory. I've been curious about it for some time, but up til now I've never had the opportunity to harvest and try it out. To be honest, I knew it was there, I just wasn't that motivated. But lately I've been seeing something very troubling, the wilful destruction of birch trees in our area as some bastard Chaga poacher goes about his business to supply people who buy it from him off the internet.
Chaga is a very slow growing fungus that develops inside birch trees and then erupts from within in the form of a hard black lump, looking something like the tree has been burned; I've seen it on both white birch and yellow birch.
The above mentioned poacher spots his targets from the road, it seems, then rings the trees to mark them so he can come back for them later. Ringing a birch tree (peeling the bark off all the way around the trunk) kills it. It's unnecessary; you can take a Chaga without harming the tree. He could carry ribbons and mark the trees that way but no, he rings them. Bastard. He's also trespassing, those aren't even his trees.
So that begs the question - can you be absolutely sure of the source when you buy Chaga? Can you really? I know who this son-of-a-bitch is. He and a family member have a seemingly lovely little herb and wildcrafting operation going on near here. Everything about these people appears to be above reproach. Little do his customers know his real methods. Heaven knows what else they're up to if this is how they treat Chaga.
That poacher has been pissing me off for some time; I hate to see Nature's gifts whored out this way. It happened to ginseng in the old growth forests of North America - if you're buying ginseng, it is farmed, no matter what the label says, or it better be, there is so little left in the wild. Same with goldenseal. Commercial herbalism can be a nasty business.
Malarkey aside, Chaga has been recommended to me by people I trust. People who gather it themselves and use it sensibly, and who swear by the tea and tincture as wholesome stuff. I needed to find out for myself what it was all about, and see for myself just how easily and sustainably it can be gathered. Yes, I even considered making it one of the medicines I provide to my tiny customer base. No, I won't be, as I'll explain later.
When our good friend R invited us up to his land to see if we could find some Chaga, we jumped at the chance. Four of us sure had a great time getting out there and learning about Chaga in the bush.
Because really, how can you not have a good time somewhere like this?
|Those golden trees are tamaracks. I really love tamaracks. High up on the hill, the rust coloured leaves are oaks.|
|Sigh. Can you smell that air?|
After hanging out in the cabin and taking a glass of some fortification for the ramble we climbed up the hill that the camera man (Paul) is looking down from. It's steeper than it looks here and this is just at the foot of it. First we wandered through the waist high grasses and clingy raspberry canes of a nice sized meadow, then into the forest. I kept lagging behind, of course, dragged this way and that by things like usnea hanging from old pines, rabbit tobacco in the tall grasses and ravens overhead.
I'm a meadow girl. I saw things in the forest I have never seen before, like this:
|Does anyone know what the heck this is? Those spikes were loaded with pollen.|
|Mystery solved: Clubmoss, Lycopodium Digitatum. Thanks Tim & Gemma!! That means the powder on the spikes was spores, not pollen.|
We wandered for the better part of an hour. R knows his land like the back of his hand, but up until a few days ago he'd never even heard of Chaga. He was seeing his land through new eyes. He loved it.
|Yellow birch and hemlock trees growing intertwined. No Chaga, but beautiful, yes?|
|Typical Chaga in a white birch tree. Not easy to spot and pretty far up the tree.|
And then things got interesting. We found a couple smallish ones near this spot pictured above. Happy, tired and hungry we were heading back. I was wandering along by myself and smelled something just gorgeous. You know that smell, when pine needles and fallen leaves and soil and moss mingle just right? Yeah, that smell. It stopped me in my tracks, I even took a couple steps backwards to get the full effect. I looked up, wayyy up and there they were, two big old Chaga in a tall yellow birch.
|Spot the Chaga?|
Thing is, the foot of the tree was partway down a very steep slope. No way we could get to it .. but R. is a lumberjack by trade (among other things). A hunter all his life, too, and the Chaga hunt had his blood up. No way was he leaving those two behind.
|We ladies fear for his life as we hold the ladder. The drop is 30 ft.|
|Heads up! Flying Chaga!|
Two good sized chunks, one for me, one for a friend of R's.
Next post, we'll talk about the garbling, I'll give you a link to some (accurate) information about its uses and I'll explain why I don't think this is something that should be exploited for sale.