Chaga is a wellness trend that’s been seeing a huge explosion in popularity. With good reason. They’re a beneficial part of your diet and has been becoming popular as a coffee substitute in the morning.
However, Chaga harvesting can have an environmental impact, especially as their value increases and people begin to use less ethical harvesting practices.
So here are some things to consider about why Chaga harvesting is bad for the environment.
What Is Chaga?
First, let’s understand the Chaga mushroom and how it grows. Chaga grows on the outside of trees in a symbiotic relationship. It takes three to five years to get to full maturity and grow the compounds make Chaga so good for you.
This makes it difficult to grow commercially since most farmed or homegrown mushrooms take much less time. They also don’t require finicky birch trees.
This symbiotic relationship also means that you cannot take too much Chaga each time. Responsible harvesters need to leave three inches on the tree so that it can grow back just as healthy. Killing Chaga can kill the tree too.
Bad Chaga harvesting can also mean chopped down trees from commercial profiteers chopping down the trees to easily get to the Chaga at the top. This is considered the best Chaga since it gets the most sunlight.
This can mean there is an incentive to do more environmental damage to harvest Chaga mushrooms. Especially as their price continues to rise, and their rarity increases with greater interest.
Can You Harvest Chaga in the Spring?
Chaga harvesting is traditionally a winter activity. This leads to confusion on if you can harvest Chaga in the summer or spring. Many people think that you have to wait for winter.
This isn’t true, however. There is nothing about Chaga mushrooms that means you can’t harvest them at any time. they will be filled with just as many adaptogens and minerals and be able to be cut sustainably.
There are still advantages to waiting until winter. Mainly that there are a lot less other things to forage at the time. Also, without leaves on the trees, it can be a lot easier to spot Chaga on birch trees.
Ethically Sustainable Chaga
If you can’t grow it yourself, and big companies are killing birch trees and exploiting forest to get it, how do you get sustainable Chaga?
You have two options. First, you can find sustainable foragers. This will require more than just looking for buzz words on the packaging.
Instead, check out their websites and social media. Do they show themselves treating the forest well? Do they give you any information about where they get their mushrooms?
If you can find a local forager and actually talk to them, that’s your best bet. Still, there’s plenty of good places online if you make sure to find them. Remember that organic is relating to the way that chemicals in fertilizer are derived as overseen by a governing body. It does not mean anything in relation to harvesting practices, or even necessarily toxicity.
This is a common thing that so-called wellness and green brands hide behind when trying to make money off the natural world.
You can also forage your own Chaga. You will have to be lucky enough to live somewhere with clean forests full of healthy birch trees. It will take some knowledge and patience, but is also a rewarding way to spend a grey winter day. Plus it’s already socially distanced.
This will mean taking control of the ethical standards yourself. You’ll know exactly how much was harvested, from where, and what quality it is. This can be very empowering and bring a sense of connection to nature you can’t get from simply buying your food.
After this year’s supply chain disruptions caused food shortages in countries whose population has never dealt with them before, we are craving this reassurance and connection more than ever. It really is the perfect time to start growing and harvesting your own mushrooms.
Chaga Harvesting by Yourself
Chaga harvesting will require a lot of research to get good at identifying them. You might want to check if your local extension agency or mushroom grower offers online classes. That way you can get information that is custom to your part of the world and its concerns. They’ll probably even know some good local places to get you started.
Some things to consider before you get started. First, never harvest more than you need. Leave some for other people who might also be foraging. These are mushrooms that took three years to grow in tandem with a tree after all.
After all, you’re supposed to be cultivating a healing relationship with nature, not plundering its resources for success in capitalism.
Be careful when you harvest not to damage the Chaga or the birch tree. Leave plenty of fruit to grow back, and you will have a healthy forest for years to come. It might never come back if destroyed.
Ethical Chaga Harvesting
Chaga is a wonderful thing. It is healing, delicious, and can be ethically harvested to be good for the world and people. However, Chaga harvesting can also be done very wrong and lead to deforestation and lead to Chaga becoming scarce and endangered. Like all wellness trends, it is not enough to simply follow the Instagram trends. You need to be thoughtful about your purchases, and maybe find a way to skip the store entirely.
If you enjoyed learning about Chaga harvesting, please read more. We have lots of resources about ethical mushrooms growing and buying.