Ever harvested the chaga mushroom?
If you’ve never lived in the north woods (or spent time in these environments), I would expect you to say “no” – but I wouldn’t put it past you, either.
I, myself, have never harvested chaga. I have to thank my good friend, Lisa Maas, up in Alaska for handing off these priceless, healing nuggets to me that she herself received as a gift (no doubt from a seasoned chaga harvester).
They could indeed be called the “black gold” nuggets of the medicinal mushroom world: looking much like gnarled charcoal that, once busted open, reveal tawny-gold, clay-like insides.
She passed these on to me while still in Iowa before relocating to Anchorage – ironically, a northern Alaskan city near boreal forests where chaga spores are known to roam, spreading from birch tree to birch tree.
Not knowing what to do with them on her part – and me, on my part, being completely inexperienced with them – I took them gladly, seeing them as a new herbal adventure.
Why take the chance on an unknown mushroom, you might ask?
Because any healing mushroom, especially one rich in polysaccharides and triterpenes, can be made into a healing double extract – a recipe for which we will delve into later in this article.
Healing & Background
As stated above, chaga mushrooms are denizens of boreal forests, northern woods that host mostly conifer tree species, but also a mix of poplars, willows, and birches. And it’s the birch trees that are what chaga especially love.
From small little knots to oversized chunks, these mushrooms crack and burst through the wounds, crotches, and notches in the trunks of these beautiful trees.
While some might think these harvestable parts of the fungus are the reproductive fruiting body, that’s actually not the case: they’re called sclerotia, a part of the actual mushroom’s mycelial network, and the literal living, breathing organism part of chaga.
Traditional use of the mushroom is well-documented, with especially important roles in the folk medicines of Russia, Eastern Europe, Siberia, northern China, Japan, Korea, and First Nations in the northern latitudes of North America.
It was used as a healing tonic, brewed similar to tea or coffee, and given to strengthen the body against weakness and disease, to defeat cancers, prevent wasting, and even to promote longevity (markedly better than other mushrooms used by the very same peoples). Studies today are confirming a lot of these uses as very accurate for today’s illnesses, too.
A north-woods, alpine, boreal, and/or taiga dweller, you’ll find it growing wherever it’s regularly cold in the northern latitudes, and where there are plenty of birches to be found.
The northern ranges of Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia, and Russia/Siberia are the most well-known chaga haunts. But apparently you can find it in pockets of northern Minnesota, the Appalachian mountains, and the Adirondacks of the Northeastern U.S, as my well-traveled, well-mushroom-learned husband informed me.
Chaga in Iowa?
Being an Iowa local these days, a state that’s not quite northern enough to host chaga, I still wonder: maybe it could have, at one time in the forgotten past, at least in very hidden pockets and corners.
After all, Iowa is host to the largest number of algific talus slopes in the world, small little micro-climate environments speckled across the northeastern portion of the state (known as the Driftless area). You can read more about Iowa, algific talus slopes, and herbalism here.
Rich in yellow birch trees and mountain ash, these year-round cool habitats are supposed to be much like fragmented bits of northern high-altitude boreal forest, trapped deep within the heart of Midwest forest, prairie, and oak savanna.
So who knows. Back when the state was home to a lot more algific talus slope habitat (which does host plenty of birches), perhaps there was a population or two. We’ll never know.
The Marriage of Chaga and Birch
Returning back to their love of birch trees, fascinatingly, chaga’s predilection for them has a lot to do with their healing properties.
These fungi absorb betulins, a triterpene found in birch species (of the genus Betula), which are responsible for a great deal of their vigorous anti-cancer properties, and famous for surpassing those of most other highly touted mushrooms (including reishi and shiitake).
It is theorized in one study that chaga takes betulin, a potent anti-tumor compound, and synthesizes it into betulinic acid – chaga’s cancer-fighting triterpene.
The clincher here: betulin is powerful, but not bioavailable to humans; betulinic acid is, and can be taken orally.
I forget where I heard this (it’s scribbled in my herbalist notes, for which any source is missing), but chaga was known to be the most potent when grown on a yellow birch tree. Apparently, the tree is much richer in its signature betulins compared to other birch species, thus lending any chaga growing upon it more powerful healing properties.
So if you’re keen on learning to harvest the mushroom on your own, finding one up on a yellow birch means that you’ve stumbled on a prime specimen!
Some Notes on Harvesting and Sustainability
Writing about everything to do with harvesting chaga would take a whole other article to properly illuminate. Still, there are some very important issues related to harvesting that absolutely must be touched on– particularly in regards to foraging it sustainably.
Chaga is not an officially endangered fungus (yet), but it is fast headed in that direction. Because its healing properties are of such wide repute nowadays, the gnarled mushroom is often over-harvested (or, more accurately, incorrectly harvested) by commercial wildcrafters to make a quick buck with supplement companies meeting the consumer demand for chaga in their own lives.
Foraging enthusiasts can do their own damage if they harvest it incorrectly, too– and the problem with over-harvesting appears to be the greatest in North America, and especially Canada’s boreal forests. It not only depletes chaga, but harms the birch tree from which it is taken, making the trees these fungi need more vulnerable to disease and death as a result.
If you’re wanting to harvest (or purchase and use) chaga as sustainably as possible, make sure to examine a chaga-selling company’s harvest practices. Or, harvest it sustainably yourself: only take about a quarter of the chaga you encounter from each growth in the tree. That’s all you’ll need.
Read how to sustainably harvest chaga here at Black Magic.
Why Make a Double Extract?
Why not just make a simple tincture? Or, for that matter, pick up a convenient supplement at your local co-op or store instead?
Beyond sustainability, most folks who look into taking certain mushroom extracts may not realize: the properties of mushrooms (like lion’s mane, for example) are locked tightly away in one of nature’s hardest substances called chitin, a fiber that naturally occurs in these fungi. These contain the compounds you’re after, but your digestive system just isn’t equipped to get the betulinic acids out.
That’s why double extracts are the way to go for a home preparation, and why non-double-extractions are products you shouldn’t buy. The combination of alcohol and water (specifically hot water) guarantees that all the mushroom’s compounds– both triterpenes and polysaccharides– will end up in your extract, so you can enjoy ALL the benefits that chaga can give: reduced risk of cancer, immune-boosting, antioxidant troves, and more.
A powder or supplement alone won’t have it all, and solely a water or alcohol extract (separated) won’t have it all, either. Hence the need for a double extract!
This recipe is inspired by Guido Masé’s reishi double extract.
- Chaga mushroom
- High Proof Alcohol (I use 151 Everclear)
- Glycerin (though I consider this optional)
-Take your chaga and grind it up. I’ve been recommended hammers and cheese graters to do this, and really liked the cheese grater quite a bit. Chaga is tough, but I was surprised that it didn’t beat up the cheese grater at all. Grate or hammer the chaga into a powder or into the smallest nuggets possible, and then split that amount evenly in two parts.
-Using the first part, prepare a tincture by covering the powder with a solvent of 75 percent alcohol, 15 glycerin, and 10 percent water (if opting out on glycerin: 90 percent alcohol, 10 percent water. Glycerin is meant to help with the emulsion).
-Set tincture aside, and let it steep for four weeks, shaking it occasionally. Then strain it and measure its volume.
-After you’ve strained the tincture, take the second part of the chaga mushrooms and simmer them for at least one hour, preferably two or more, in twice as much water as you used for the total solvent volume. Keep adding water, if necessary.
-At the end of the simmering, strain it all out and reduce the volume of fluid you have left by boiling it down so that it equals the volume of strained tincture. Take this off the heat and allow it to cool completely.
-Combine the simmered broth and strained tincture, mixing well with a whisk. Make sure you are adding the tincture to the broth and not vice versa to reduce the amount of concentrated alcohol the constituents in the broth have to endure.
-Bottle and store, preferably in a dark-tinted glass bottle or container.
26 thoughts on “Crafting Chaga Double Extract”
Do you sell this already prepared?
Hi Yesenia! Thanks for reading. I have a very small batch I may sell some of if you are interested.
If I wanted to make a cream for psoriasis, what form of chaga do I use? How do you make it?
Hi Cheryl! Thanks for reading.
I have never made an herbal cream before so I regret to say I have little advice here. My guess is you should make a double extract and then use that as an ingredient in your cream. (If you find a recipe for an herbal cream online that involves use of essential oils/tinctures/extracts, just replace with the chaga double extract.)
How long will this store?
Hi David! Thanks for reading.
The average tincture’s shelf life is probably in the range of about 10 years. Chaga double extract may have a slightly shorter shelf life because it is also partially a water extract, but probably not by much.
I’ve been researching various tincture recipes and came across yours. Almost all of the other ones I’ve seen have said for a double extract to use all the chaga in the alcohol, then at the end of the infusion period strain out the chaga and boil that. I’m curious what the advantages are in your method to splitting the chaga and using half in each? I’m hoping to get the most usable compounds out but am not sure what the advantages of each method are.
I think either method works fine – though keep in mind that the alcohol destroys the compounds that are boiled out in the water. So you probably don’t want to put alcohol-soaked chaga straight into your decoction, it could destroy some compounds though the impact is probably negligible in the end and may boil out of the decoction anyway. I think reusing the chaga is just a matter of recycling or getting the most out of it in a manner of speaking.
hi Adrian,can i use the chaga from a dead tree and is it ok for my dog to chew on it without being processed.she seems to like it after finding some.
I really can’t say if chaga is safe for dogs or not. You should look that up! I don’t actually know.
Great article, really helpful! A Vitamix is perfect for pulverizing chaga and other hard dried fungi, bark etc. Also greatly speeds tincture-making in some cases. Pricey but worth it if you are doing a lot of herbal things.
Thank you for the recommend Jesse – though I think you’ll need to be buying a new Vitamix in not too long if you use it to grind chaga often! It’s a really tough mushroom to grind. If it damages or destroys cheese graters I can’t imagine what it does to blender blades or even the motor.
Hi Adrian 🙂 I bought some powdered Chaga extract from what appears to be a reputable source, however I noticed your comment and picture of a Chaga Tincture which appears to foam upon shaking with your comment saying,… it forms a frothy head like root beer etc… What if this isn’t happening, what does it mean if anything??? The Tincture I have made is 1:5 Chaga powder to alcohol mix? Looking forward to your answer.
Hi Jennifer! My guess, and I’m not sure, is that the foam “head” from my double extract is thanks to decocting (boiling) half of the chaga before combining it with the alcohol portion. It may be saponins extracted from the mushroom body that create the foam and can only be caused by heat and water extraction.
It doesn’t necessarily mean your powder simply mixed with water isn’t as effective, though it could mean that it is missing some compounds (though not the best ones from chaga). That said, you could try boiling water, adding the chaga powder, straining, then see if it has that foamy top!
What about using only glycerin and water? Would I be able to extract everything with the two? Thank you.
No, the constituents in chaga are either water or alcohol soluble – I don’t think any are fat soluble to make a glycerin tincture worth it, but that is worth looking into.
Hi! I have question of about the ratio of chaga to alcohol. Does it depend on the % of alcohol for example i would be using a 41% vodka how much vodka to alcohol would i use. Ive heard in videos with a 75% alcohol they used a 1:5 ratio (chaga:alcohol) for the extractions. In most places i just see they say just cover the chaga with alcohol which would make it close to 1:1 ratio. thank you!
I would recommend Richo Cech’s book “Making Plant Medicine” to learn how to properly extract herbs/mushrooms. There isn’t info on chaga in the book but you’ll learn about the science of how it works in the book and you can take it from there!
Hi Adrian, getting ready to make my first Chaga tincture. I was wondering if since the alcohol destroys the compounds extracted by boiling, would it make sense to gas off some of the alcohol before adding it to the water extract? Thanks!
I’m not sure about this one or how to “gas off” alcohol, but per Guide Mase’s recipe in his book the Wild Medicine Solution, he simply recommends combining the double extract by adding the alcohol half to the decocted half, and not the other way around, so that the compounds aren’t immediately obliterated when mixed. I think this could use a closer scientific look, though.
Hey! In my province 75% and 90% alcohols were kind of banned so I only have access to 40% alcohol (food-grade). Is this enough?
I would recommend Richo Cech’s book “Making Plant Medicine” to learn how to properly extract herbs/mushrooms and the different proofs of alcohol, and how they work. There isn’t info on chaga in the book but you’ll learn about the science of how it works in the book and you can take it from there!
I made a duel extract of the chaga mushroom, following your page. Is the tincture supposed to be clear or cloudy? I’ve purchased some from a small family owned business, and theirs was cloudy. Mine was clear. Wondering if I messed it up some how. TIA
Hi Debbie! I’m Mina, Adrian’s personal assistant. Thank you so much for your inquiry or question.
For questions and inquiries like yours, Adrian would be more than happy to address these in an herbalist consultation! For information on these consultations, visit the “Consultations” link above and click on “Herbalist Consultations” in the dropdown menu. You can also visit the Online Shop to purchase and book one with her.
If you do purchase a consultation booking she will be in touch with you as soon as she can about the best time for this to take place, and what format you would like it to be: write-up protocol, phone call, or Zoom session.
Thank you so much for your interest!