Posted by Matt Barrows. Matt finds fungus fascinating, and is a Senior at UVM majoring in Environmental Studies.
Chaga is not your typical mushroom. In fact, to the untrained eye, you might never guess that it’s a fungus at all! It’s rough and hard throughout, yet porous. The outside looks like charcoal, while the inside has an orange-brown tone. Its size varies as well depending on where you find it. But, where do you find it exactly?
Chaga thrives in colder climates, and can be found across the state of Vermont, yet, it doesn’t grow on the ground or on fallen trees. Rather, it appears as a growth on living trees, birch trees to be more specific, as a parasite (detrimental, but not fatal to the tree). Because the fungus is so hard and grows on standing birches, harvesting it is an arduous process. If you’re lucky to find it growing low enough where you can touch it from the ground, a well-placed hatchet strike can separate it from the tree. If you can’t reach it from the ground, prepare to climb. Just make sure to brace yourself when attempting to harvest the chaga! It seems we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves, though. What’s so special about this fungus anyway? Why harvest it?
This strange fungus, typically consumed by making it into tea, is said to have miraculous medicinal properties to say the least. It’s said to have an abundance of antioxidants, as well as having cancer and tumor prevention and alleviation properties. It’s also said to be an immune system booster! Does this sound too good to be true? There’s not a lot of scientific evidence surrounding these claims, but there’s plenty of buzz in the holistic-healing community about this fungus.