Collecting Chaga with an untested forager

It’s Chaga hunting day!

Karoline arrives at my door with her backpack in hand. I look down at her feet and notice she is wearing ankle high hiking boots. Not quite the boots I was hoping she would be wearing. She will soon learn when I say wear your boots, it means up to the knee boots, or at least mid thigh boots. The snow is soft and we will sink in some places, above the ankle. I decide she will have to persevere through it. We are bush woman after all aren’t we? But to be fair to her, I do have a bit more experience than her and I know what we are up against today.

Karoline is a bit of a newbie to foraging. She has went out and found her own Chaga before, but today, I’m going to teach her more about the areas Chaga favors. Also, I’m going to share the wealth of the Chaga I already know about.

We place our gear in my van. Our gear consists of a five-gallon bucket, a hatchet, a backpack, a queen sized bed sheet, and an extendable tree pruner.

The trailhead to the birch stand is not far away; the drive takes us ten minutes. We unload our gear from the van and head down the trail. The trail is nice and packed, but a bit slippery in spots. We need to watch our step. About a kilometer down the trail we arrive to the spot I remembered. It’s an open spot with tall, mature, creamy papery Birch scattered through out. The Birch stand is quite large, but I can see its borders in the distance. Poplar, spruce and fir trees start to fringe upon the Birch stand a few hundred meters away in all directions. It’s these kind of areas that I find Chaga prefers; mature Birch with very little different tree species mixed in.

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Birch Stand
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Chaga canker

I point to Karoline where a canker of Chaga protrudes. We have to go off trail now and make our way through the soft snow. The Chaga is up high. We will need the extendable tree pruner for this job. Karoline spreads the sheet out on the ground under the Chaga; this will help collect all the little bits of Chaga that fall down. We want every morsel of this fungus. I extend the tree pruner and set the saw to the Chaga, making sure I cut flush against the tree. It makes for awkward work; sawing vertically with little leverage. Karoline and I take turns and within minutes the chunk of Chaga falls to the ground, landing onto the sheet.

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Karoline sawing off a chunk of Chaga



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Gathering the Chaga

We place softball-sized piece of fungus into the Backpack. It’s easier to carry this fungus in a backpack; the more we collect, the heavier the backpack will. It’s much more pleasant to carry ten pounds or more on your back through the bush than in a bucket in your hand.

In a 200-yard radius, we collect more Chaga. It’s all up high. We were hoping to find some down low where we could use the hatchet. However, every Chaga find is a gift and we are thankful we can still obtain it using other tools.

Karoline points over at another tree in the distance and asks me if that black protrusion is the fungus we are hunting. My eyes widen with her find. It’s Chaga alright and it’s quite large. After cutting it off the tree, I make a guess to how much it weighs…three pounds? Nice score!

Karoline and I wander throughout the Birch stand but can find no more Chaga. We decide to head back to the van. The backpack is loaded. I take another guess at the weight…11-12 pounds? Not bad for two hours hiking through the bush.

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Leaving the Birch stand

I have to commend Karoline; she made a good foraging partner for the day. She had a keen eye, shared in the work, kept up with me, had a positive attitude and didn’t complain about the snow getting in her ankle high boots. I wouldn’t expect anything less from her though; she is ten years younger than me, she has many of the same interests as I do, she is fit, healthy,  and loves nature. All in all, a bush girl. She passed the test and will be invited out on more foraging outings.