Look to the Stella McCartney runway this season and you will figure out that mushrooms and fungus are making it to the mainstream fashion world. The London designer has incorporated fungus as leather and fabric into her clothing line.
Stella is picking up on the sustainability trend worldwide. Mushrooms, like a last frontier in the forest, are gaining credibility as a superfood but also as a sustainable material that can be used to create fabric.
Some foragers, long-lifers living in the forest, neopeasants, or just casual visitors to the forest now find themselves looking for the mysterious fruiting bodies of fungi for food and for super medicines. It’s exhilerating finding mushrooms in the forest and it feels like you hit the jackpot when you find what you are looking for.
Chaga or king chaga is a fungus that grows as a parasite on the silver birch tree. Some say it’s a parasite but I believe it is forming a long-term symbiotic relationship with the tree. The conk-shaped chaga is irregularly formed and resembles burnt charcoal. It takes years for a chaga to grow and is quite rare. It costs a pretty penny to buy online but with some luck, if you own a forest, you can find and harvest your own chaga. That’s what I did this summer. It was thrilling.
Chaga is believed to provide enormous anti-inflammatory benefits, helping all sorts of illnesses including cancer. One friend I met in the forest this summer told me that a Neandrethalic man was defrosted some years ago and in his pocket held two things: cannabis and chaga.
It’s something I want in my small but growing natural medicine cabinet, along with healing THC and CBD. In fact some CBD providers add a tincture of CBD and chaga together.
How to forage chaga mushrooms
Look for silver birch trees
A believer in foraging on one’s own land, and with some guidence from my friend Raven, I was lucky to find and harvest a chaga this summer. I hadn’t planned on finding one when on my walk with the kids, but there it appeared at eye height on a medium aged silver birch tree while I was walkeing along a brook with the kids.
With no tools my instincts kicked in and I quickly fuond a palm sized stone which gave the edge I needed to knock the chaga off the silver birch. It came after 3 blows and weighed about 5 pounds. It went into my mushroom basket.
Some people harvest the chaga off of fallen trees, while others swear by using the fresh stuff, straight from the tea. What’s important, Raven explains is that you dry it within a day or harvesting. I showed up at her house for a positive identification.
It is essential, and critical that you ID mushrooms with a local expert before consuming anything. Mushrooms are tricksters and there are plenty of lookalikes in every family. I take a mushroom book with me when I go out and if something looks interesting I try to find it in the book right away.
We got a positive ID and the chaga was chopped and dried over the next days. You can dry it low in a stove, at less than than 150F (70C). But only after it is chopped down into chunks about the size of a blueberry. I started with an ax and then progressed to a machete and over an hour it took to cut up the chaga into chunks I developed a few small blisters.
Once this is done you need to dry the chaga so it can be stored. You might use a natural solar dryer if there is no chance of rain or overheating and cooking to chaga; or you can use the heat from a woodstove or an electric stove set on low to less than 150F.
How to make chaga tea (ground)
- Add 2 to 3 teaspoons of ground chaga powder per 1 cup (8oz) of water to a tea bag/ball or a small teapot like a Bodum
- Boil the water, and then pour it directly over the ground chaga, and into the cup or pot.
- Steep for at least 10 to 15 minutes, then remove the tea bag/ball, or steeper, and serve the tea while it is still hot
How to make chaga tea from small cubes
- Take about 3 or 4 small 1/2 cm or less cubes of chaga, or chunks, however it’s been chopped and add it to a small or medium-sized pot
- Boil on low for about 15 minutes.
- Serve hot or cold and drink throughout the day. Makes 4 cups.
- Consider reusing the chaga again