How to Pick Chaga
The Guide, to foraging Chaga.
First you must be in a northern state if you want to find Chaga. Chaga needs a long, cold winter that much of the country doesn't provide. Chaga doesn't grow well, if at all, in arid environments or places with very sandy soils. It thrives in lush hardwood stands around boreal forests.
Second Chaga grows only on birch trees, preferring paper(white), yellow and silverbirch. Unfortunately, these Birch trees are not an indigenous species to much of the western United States so Chaga foraging remains impossible there. If your so lucky to live in an area where birch trees are common then you will likely be able to find Chaga. Take a walk in the woods and keep an eye on any birch trees you see. Look directly on the trunk of the tree along the bottom 6 feet for a black growth which could be Chaga.
Once you find a black growth on a birch tree you will have to confirm it as Chaga and not a look alike mushroom or growth. This is the point where practice and experience matters, we do not advise anyone to consume any materials they find in the woods, but to leave the Chaga where they find it. We have added a few pictures below to help identify Chaga mushrooms among its look alikes. Remember if you do harvest some Chaga do so conservatively, leave some of the Chaga to regrow, never take all the mycelium down to bare wood. Do not pick an area clean, leave a few unharvested mushrooms in every place you collect.
This image is not a Chaga, it is a growth on the side of the tree that looks strikingly similar to the fungus. It is easy to tell apart once you try to harvest it.
This is a strikingly similar look alike mushroom to Inonotus Obliquus. It also loves to grow on birch trees and in similar environments to the chaga. More often this mushroom and other mushrooms that look like chaga such as the horseshoe polypore will be growing on dead trees. Chaga relies upon the host tree while it is alive for nutrients, so is more often found on live birch trees. These polypores are often found on live trees too, however.
Unfortunately to an amateur collector the insides of these mushrooms also look very similar to the inside of a chaga mushroom. Sometimes until you become more familiar with what you are looking for the only way to be truly sure is to have an experienced eye look at what was collected. We do not recommend eating any wild mushrooms
How to Dry chaga
We recommend drying Chaga that you collect yourself the same way we do it here at CHAGA MAMA everyday. We recommend beginning the drying process as soon as you return home with the mushrooms to help preserve the Chaga. First ensure the mushrooms are clean and suitable for tea. To speed drying you should carefully split any large mushroom pieces(be very careful!!). Lay the Chaga out on clean food grade drying racks (cookie cooling racks work great). Put the Chaga someplace where it wont be disturbed for a few days. To speed drying put a fan in the room blowing on the trays of Chaga.