harvesting chaga

How to Harvest Chaga – The Ultimate Guide

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As the word spreads about the medicinal benefits of the Chaga Mushroom, people are now looking to harvest this special mushroom for themselves.

Unfortunately, many people are struggling to find quality wild chaga and are not harvesting it in a sustainable way for future generations to enjoy.

This guide aims to tackle these problems by pointing beginners in the right direction and ultimately teaching them how to harvest chaga in a sustainable way.

Note: If you’d like to learn more about harvesting chaga after reading this post, please check out Chaga: King of the Medicinal Mushrooms by David Wolfe. In particular, the section starting on page 63 contains some great harvesting tips.

Chaga: King of the Medicinal Mushrooms
  • North Atlantic Books
  • Wolfe, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 09/11/2012 (Publication Date) - North Atlantic Books (Publisher)

So, if you’re feeling ambitious and wish to harvest Chaga for yourself, read this guide before you set off on your first chaga foraging adventure!

How To Identify Chaga

Chaga is a medicinal fungus that grows on birches found in the Northern hemisphere. In general, Chaga is found in very cold habitats and grows predominantly on birches.

More specifically, Chaga grows wild in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States and in Canada. When harvesting Chaga, only the sterile conk needs to be collected.

Remember that host trees are living beings and Chaga is a finite resource, therefore, it should be harvested in a careful, sustainable manner.

Chaga grows in all shapes & sizes on the outside of the birch trees it infects. However, you’ll typically see it in the form of a dome, cone, and horn with crusty ridges.

The outside part named the Sclerotium, is black, cracked and very hard. You’ll notice that it resembles burnt charcoal (Fig 1).

The softer inside part is softer and has a yellow/brown color (Fig 2).

Chaga Mushroom
Fig 1. Chaga Sclerotium sticking out from the main stem of a birch tree.
Inside of Chaga
Fig 2. The interior has a rusty yellow-brown color

Where to Harvest Chaga

In North America, Chaga is almost exclusively found on birches in the northeast. In particular, it is most commonly found on paper and yellow birch trees.

Paper birch is a common forest tree with a white bark that exfoliates in broad, curling sheets (Fig 3). It’s found both at low and high elevations in the northeast of North America.

Yellow birch is another common forest tree and usually has a yellow bark that exfoliates as small, curling shreds (Fig 4).

Harvest Chaga
Fig 3. white bark on paper birch which exfoliates as broad, curling paper-like sheets on mature trees
Fig 4. yellow bark on yellow birch, which exfoliates as small, tightly curling, strips on mature trees.

Chaga can also be found on Cherry birch and Heart-leaved paper birch.

Cherry birch is found more in the south and occurs at lower elevations. It has non-exfoliating bark that is dark and somewhat resembles certain cherries.

Heart-leaved paper birch is found in the north at high elevations. Its bark is similar to the paper birch but has patches of pink, salmon and orange bark.

When to Harvest Chaga

During fall, wait until there are 20 straight nights of 5°C or below. This is when the birch trees have gone dormant for winter and the Chaga is at its peak nutrient values.

Harvest through the fall and winter as long as possible until the sap starts running.

Do not harvest chaga when the sap starts running and/or the summer months, as at this time the chaga will have as much as 80% water content and will be flushed of all its nutrients until the next fall. When fall rolls around, the trees start gathering their water and nutrients for the coming winter.

Harvest From Living Trees Only

Chaga is a parasite of the birch tree, so when the tree dies, so does the chaga mushroom. This means that chaga must always be harvested from living trees.

So how do you determine if the tree is living or not?

During the growing season, the presence of leaves on at least some branches will tell you that the tree is living. However, during the winter months (when chaga is traditionally harvested), this is harder to determine.

Living trees produce winter buds (Fig 5), so finding living winter buds is evidence that the tree is still alive.

For yellow and cherry birches, living branches will give off a wintergreen odor when the bark is bruised. This scent is yet another way to determine if the host tree is living.

Harvesting Chaga Mushroom
Fig 5. Winter buds

Sustainable Harvesting

The chaga infection will ultimately kill the host tree, but the tree can survive for decades if not mistreated.

When collecting the chaga, leave some behind (about 15-20%) as this will help keep the chaga healthy and allow the sclerotia to regrow.

If the tree has multiple instances of sclerotia, leave at least one instance completely intact for the benefit of the chaga fungus as a whole.

Also, avoid harvesting the small specimens, and stick to pieces roughly larger than a grapefruit (7 lbs-10 lbs) in size.

Harvest Chaga From Areas Free of Pollution

Harvest chaga from trees that are found in forests far away from urban areas, sources of pollution and roads. This prevents Chaga accumulating environmental toxins that could be passed onto the end-user.

Generally speaking, the deeper into the forest you can harvest chaga, the better.

How to Safely Remove the Chaga from the Tree

Remember to harvest chaga with larger conks, leaving about 15-20% of the chaga intact to ensure that the life-cycle, of both the chaga mushroom and its host tree, continues undisturbed.

To help guide you, put your hand on the chaga, and if any part of your fingers touches the tree, it’s best to leave it to grow for a couple more years.

Use either a large sharp outdoor knife or axe to cut away the chaga from the tree carefully, making sure that you do not cut into the tree and that you always leave behind roughly 15-20% of the Chaga.

Prepare and Store Harvested Chaga Properly

Chaga will mold if not properly prepared (dried) and stored after its collection. To facilitate drying, larger chunks should be broken into smaller chunks.

These chunks can be placed on a pan, sheet, tarp or other surface and then placed near a mild heat source in a dry portion of the house, but do NOT place it in the oven.

Drying the chunks for a few days on a rack near a wood stove or in a sunny window both work well. A dehydrator set at 120F/50C or lower also works well.

Harvesting Chaga – Summary

  • The Chaga Mushroom grows almost exclusively on birch trees. Several external pieces of chaga can often be found on just one birch tree. When harvesting chaga, collect only the external pieces and never cut into the tree.
  • Harvest through the fall and winter as long as possible until the sap starts running. Do not harvest Chaga through the summer months and/or when the sap starts running.
  • Harvest chaga with larger conks, leaving about 15-20% of the chaga intact. Put your hand on the chaga, and if any part of your fingers touches the tree, it’s best to leave it to grow for a couple more years.
  • Harvest Chaga from living trees only.
  • The Chaga will eventually kill the tree, but a healthy tree that has only one infection will live for many more years with proper care. If the tree has multiple infections, then it will most likely die within four to five years.
  • After you’ve harvested some Chaga, remember to check out our Chaga Preparation Guide.

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42 thoughts on “How to Harvest Chaga – The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Before I start harvesting. I need to make sure that this actually is the real stuff. So, is it, or could it possibly be? Thanks!

    1. Flip, so long that is a birch tree, it is chaga. Looks like a nice healthy chunk, and the time is about ripe for the fall harvest. Looks to me like years worth of chaga. Nice find.

    2. Hi, this is 95% sure not chaga, it is a burl. The reason i am so sure is that chaga, without exception, is totaly black on the outside and rarely grows in the shape depicted on your image. Burl is wood, used in woodcarving.
      A bit strange is the black part, tbat might be chaga. The reason it could be both is that trees grow burls itself as self-defense when it is damaged/hurt.
      Chaga however, is a parasite on the tree, not grown by the tree itself, but when the birch is damaged, chaga has a much higher change of invading.
      The test is simple: try cutting a small part of the lump from the tree, if it is indeed chaga (which i don’t think) this should be relatively easy with a knife or axe, if it is a burl, you’ll have a much harder time because that’s as hard as wood.
      Good luck

      1. Hi Marc, thanks for your feedback. I was doubting the fact that this was genuine chaga, due to the woodlike s-shape this “thing” has. It is a burl after all.
        I was actually very surprised to have found chaga in these regions. I’m living in the north-eastern part of Belgium (Flanders), and I guess this is a bit too far south.
        Thanks again!
        btw: Your name actually sounds very Flemish.

          1. Hi Marc, I also live in south norway (recently moved here), and have recently begun “hunting”/harvesting chaga. I was wondering where in south norway you live and hike. I am not finding too much chaga as of yet. I am interested in chaga mainly due to my partner’s ailments and I would love if you would be willing to share with me some of the areas you hike and find chaga in. We do not appreciate pharmaceuticals, thus we are looking to find the chaga.

      2. แทงหวยออนไลน์ บาทละเก้าร้อย

        hello marc
        i come from thailand ,some people take a photo in oslo, norway. but he not sure what is this?
        chaga or burl ? can do you know ? see photo below

    3. Hello, how are you? i want to know more bout this chaga, tell me how to prepare it and make it as tea, add me on facebook please

    4. That does not look like a birch tree to me. Birch trees have a bark that peels away from the tree trunk – we used to use it like paper when we were kids. There is white birch and yellow birch in the NE of the U.S. That looks like a poplar tree to me. I would pass that by.

  2. John sent me this picture of a nice 12 lb piece of chaga off a yellow birch from Porcupine Lake near Espanola, Ontario. Would love to see more pictures of your wild chaga and where you found it.

  3. I’ve never heard of chaga before but I know I’ve seen it just didn’t know what it was at the time. Took awhile but I found these on a big root coming off a yellow birch on top of a steep mountain.

    1. Hmm, picture didn’t take on my phone, try again on laptop.
      About a few hundred yards from the chaga I found some reishi, crazy, I never heard of either one until recently, and they grow in my back yard! Fortunately the weather has been extremely pleasant this winter or the reishi would have been dead, covered in ice and snow and I would have never found the chaga. The chaga on top was about the size of a football, root was huge, been looking up and down every tree I came across and nothing, found some on a huge root Lol! I was actually surprised at the mild taste, I was expecting bitter or at least fungal flavored, it’s very mild, like green tea. Thinking about the tincture method, would like to get the most out of it. Haven’t tried the reishi yet, have to get back up there and get them, wanted to be sure of a positive ID first.

  4. Glad I’ve been reading up more on chaga and sustainable harvesting. First video on youtube I watched talked about it (sustainable harvesting), but the guy still used a hatchet, just didn’t damage the tree, and I watched some other vids that they hacked into the tree! Below pic I decided to try snapping off the bottom left one, it worked and left a chunk on the tree. If I had to do it over again I would have left that one to grow and came back with a big knife and hammer and took the big one, but I wanted to make sure it was what I thought it was, and see if I liked it first. I think you could get them off with a sharp Bowie knife and a hammer leaving a little on the tree, no damage, and still get the majority. I chunked it up after cleaning most of the black off it, think I’ll leave the black net time, with my hunting knife and a hammer on a plate before it was fully dry into one inch or smaller chunks. Then I ran it through my meat grinder with the fine small holed disk, I tried it once with bean coffee, worked just as good with chaga, just had to put it in slower so it didn’t bog down, made a nice fine grind and no dust.

  5. i wanted to ask about the time when to harvest chaga. you write, it’s best to harvest it in end of fall, winter time. but i looked on the internet many many pages, oh man, a lot of pages, and i coudln’t find any other reason why it should be picked up only during this time. Most people, sources say, you can harvest chaga all year round, some even say, it is best in spring time. So now, i am confused about the harvesting time. can you tell me where did you get the knowledge? 🙂

    1. If the sap is flowing in the tree (spring/summer) the chaga will be saturated with water and most of its nutrients are dilute or flushed out. Wait until the tree has gone dormant and the chaga will regain its potency.

  6. Hi,
    I have several chunks of chaga that were accidentally left in a bag for more that a month.
    They have a slight white fuzz on them and are spongy and have a mildew smell. I’m guessing these should not be used?

  7. Hello, I am new to mushroom foraging and was immediately drawn to this fungus. I live in the perfect area to go out and start hunting for this mushroom. I also have a dehydration unit so I may properly store. My questions are: How long will this stay and keep its nutrient value? What is the recommend amount to use if making a cup of “tea” with it? I was reading up that boiling water is needed to be able to digest the mushroom enzymes properly. Could a tincture be made allowing the dehydrated mushroom to sit for a time in vodka? Sorry for all the questions, I’m used to herbs and flowers and mushroom are a new door for me! Excited to learn and appreciate any and all feed back! You have the best web site read by the way on this mushroom, I think I have read 2 dozen pages and yours is the best by far! Thank you.

  8. I have an area where there’s chaga all over the dead trees, but none on the live trees…
    is it rare for the chage to be on the live trees… the dead trees are full of it!!!

  9. Dave Beammeup Brannigan

    How long does dried Chaga keep for until it loses its medicinal value/properties? As a tip for all Chaga hunters……take a small pair of binocculars. I’ve shinned up many trees to find what looked like chaga to be a burl! Soul destroying! lol…….But good for fitness. 😀 Thanx, dave. Lake district UK.

  10. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3c40d1bc45aea03fea86f242aa7008369bcc2786081ef1281cbff01b68857b14.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d64ca1b95fbc530e71e077134dcc87d8088ce5696b952877c9d6957833731336.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9517e73590dd04fec58eb291bd8470654d10c76c657ef3465bb75ba48c676b50.jpg

    This is what I gathered on my first hunt a few days ago. Was quite surprised to find it so close to our house here in the Adirondacks. It weighed 5 lbs. I think it will be my first and last gathering of Chaga as some sunny days have the sap on the move but slowly. I am new to this and look forward to learning more.

  11. Thank you for this article… I was about to walk around the island to search for Chaga. After reading your article I learned so much of what not to do. So I’ll still do the walk and just observe the trees since the sap is already running here… much appreciated. liz

  12. Hello,
    I was recently hiking in New Hampshire US in late April (snow only melted a few weeks ago) and found a large piece of chaga attached to a large piece of birch bark on the ground. I read in your wonderful and informative article that it must be harvested from living trees. If found on the ground is it safe to use? It does not have any mold on it and it has it hard black cracked outer surface.
    Thanks Beth

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