The Sustainability Debate on Chaga

Many times along the way I have encountered people who have asked me, “how sustainable is it to harvest Chaga?” I’ve heard some debate on this issue in various conversations, forums, posts and groups. That’s an important conversation and a worthy concern. Chaga is a sacred medicine, to say first, it is an unusual growth on a very medicinal tree, the combination or relationship is very special. I, myself, believe in this, give gratitude when I find it and approach my business the same way. As a forger, wild crafter, herbalist, or what ever title you give it, those of us that gather herbs, mushrooms and plants and make medicine and other products, should all be as responsible and sustainable as we can. Chaga and other medicinal mushrooms should not be looked at as a novelty or trend or used as such. I see that in marketing and bigger companies selling it in ways that don’t bring the customer the proper benefits, though it is sold as if it does. To explain better, Chaga should be slow brewed, for several hours. There are many, many videos online of different methods people use, some quite interesting and I recommend watching some. Some products I have seen show quick steeps of minutes and adding it to coffee grounds, also a fast method. I can see some benefit obviously getting out but surely not it’s full potential. These end up being mass produced and kind of a waste of this precious resource. I believe in individuals that have the proper practices and harvesting techniques. They can provide for their local communities, if not in one of those communities I recommend researching if the company you get your Chaga from is sustainable. There are many people in a community that physically can’t or don’t have time or lack the skill to gather their own medicine. Small forgers like myself help them get what they need. There are only a few places in our country where Chaga grows and within those places there is vast untouched, unseen forest. To try and guess how much of that forest contains Chaga is just not possible, without first hand knowledge. When it comes to bigger companies, they seem to be in Chaga rich environments such as Maine, Canada, Siberia, Russia, parts of Europe and Alaska. The Blue Ridge Mountains are a rich environment as well. As long as I have been in Asheville, I have only met a hand full of people who harvest Chaga, even though I see where others, unseen have left their marks out in the forest. That being said, I feel Chaga is not in danger in our region at all. Chaga grows really well in some of our State and National parks here and all of that is protected by law.

So when I say I do sustainable harvest, I mean I practice the method of leaving 30-50% to regrow, and it regrows! I can say I have seen this happen several times. I travel around often on private property that has given me permission. I don’t forage in State parks or Federal areas. Chaga only grows in our high elevations in areas that are predominantly Birch and Pine forests. I have traveled to upstate NY, Eastern Canada and Maine to forage and study and though each area had different elevations and ecosystems, our region is similar in how well it grows in abundance. I would be curious to see any studies done, by who and what the results were. People believe that it is not abundant in our region, judging from small areas that are popular and where people use careless methods. I have seen where people dug into the tree or took very small, still growing pieces. I have seen where areas that have multiple trees full of Chaga, hot spots I call them, have been stripped and all of it taken. I believe in leaving a good percentage growing wild, untouched. I have been doing my work on a small scale for over 10 years and have witnessed the  regrowth of several pieces I once collected, it regenerates itself until the tree finally dies! That to me is amazing and the definition of a sustainable resource. I have seen its abundance over the years on countless hikes in different areas, I study these trends as well as foraging. I often get deep in the forest, off trail and see so much growing, it’s a magical sight, I doubt anyone is keeping count on that. We are in an ancient forest, peoples long before us gathered Chaga and used it for medicine, it is here for us to use. i have seen examples of Chaga that molded, fell off the tree and went unused completely, that is certainly part of the natural system of the forest and is needed but also it is medicine gone unused. I also have worked with other Chaga foragers to learn the best methods to keep it sustainable. I do see bigger companies that over harvest and also I have heard and believe logging and development to be the two biggest dangers to wiping out resources such as Chaga.

There is also the science component to the debate. Some say it hasn’t been tested enough, and there is no clinical human tests. I disagree with that statement. There has been testing done in other countries by established researchers and great results shown. Besides that, peoples in Eastern Europe, Canada, Japan and in Chinese medicine, have been using medicinal mushrooms such as Chaga, Reishi and Turkey Tail for centuries! That seems enough proof for me. I do know that over the years of doing this and talking with people that use Chaga and other mushrooms daily, weekly and continue to come back with details on how they feel better, that is also proof to me. There are people all around us that have weak immune systems, have arthritis, cancers, nerve problems, kidney, liver, stomach problems, depression , and the list goes on, these people can be benefiting from these wild medicines. They can improve those conditions without pharmaceuticals that have lasting effects, while supporting local small business.

I am a very small little business and don’t just sell Chaga, that’s a portion of my offerings, I sell equal or more of Reishi, Lions Mane, and Turkey Tail products. All these have important healing properties that benefit many people. I believe also in teaching others, I learned from many people, and it is tradition to hand on our knowledge, not hoard it to ourselves or keep it secret simply for profit. I teach people how to identify, gather, and make their own food and medicine. There truly is enough for everyone. It’s important to keep the practice of wild crafting to a healthy minimum and only harvest what is needed and used properly. I don’t see Chaga going into danger in our region in our lifetime, there’s way too much wild, unexplored areas. It was here long before us and will be here long after we are gone. That’s why I teach my son, in hopes he to will pass that knowledge on, as has always been done. In short, Chaga is a special resource, it should be carefully harvested, and regarded as a treasure. It should also be respected for it’s medicinal properties and healing elements. One last part to mention is that Chaga is an extremely slow grower, taking 3-5 years to reach maturity and can grow for up to 20 years. I have not found any research on how it spreads, though I see various patterns in the forest. Keeping in mind that it does take time to grow and regrow, is all the more reason to treat it with the utmost respect. It’s important to keep an eye on plants that are over harvested and put in place the correct protections. Mushrooms in general are amazingly resilient, they have the ability to reproduce, regenerate and survive, Chaga, though not an actual mushroom but rather a mycelium mass, is just the same. And that’s my take, respectfully, on this issue. Thanks for reading.

February Newsletter

One month into the year and it’s off to a great start! February first saw me turn 42 years old with no signs of slowing down. I have been hard at work out foraging in the Blue Ridge Mountains and have had wonderful success. This year is seeing new connections as well, I have partnered with Mountain Sage in Hendersonville to carry tinctures and teabags, applied to do more tailgate markets this year, looking to do the LEAF festival again, confirmed a vending spot at the Floyd Herb festival in April, in Floyd, VA and continue to connect with fellow healers around our region. Though I have been stocking up pretty good on my outings, along the way I am also humbled by seeing Chaga that is just too far out of reach, I always appreciate and enjoy the hunt. Sometimes you have to stop and simply admire the ones that get away.

A beauty too high to gather

Besides Chaga, I have been gathering Turkey Tail and Birch Polypore mushrooms for tincture and tea making. These two mushrooms have similar benefits in boosting the immune system. Birch Polypore is also anti-septic and anti-fungal.

The Chaga hunt is always a special one this time of year. To me the winter is the season of Chaga and the cold weather mushrooms. I have plenty of tinctures brewing and ready to bottle soon. Everything is in stock! Along the lines of products, I will be discontinuing my Trifecta tinctures but keeping the Four Of A Kind going strong. I also have raised my prices a little for the first time ever, this is to cover sales tax, which is now included in the price. I hope everyone is healthy and happy out there!

It’s a new year! Happy 2020

So it’s January and it’s a new decade! Ive been spending this winter so far out harvesting in new places. It reminds me how vast this region really is! I’ve also been making medicine and stocking up. Last year was an exciting one for me in the mushroom world and this year is looking like it will be even better. I wanted to take a minute out to say THANK YOU to everyone who supported me and my venture. Thank you to everyone that purchased tinctures, teas, dried and fresh mushrooms, thank you to everyone who came out on a mushroom and plant walk, thank you to everyone who attended one of my presentations and thank you to everyone who simply stopped by the farmers markets or dropped a line to just say hi. Last year saw the business grow and I got to meet and connect with many new people. As I dive into 2020 head first I’m looking forward to doing more markets, adding new packaging, doing more presentations and walks and spending more time out doing what I love. I can’t do any of this without the support of all those who connect with me, you all truly keep my dream and passion going and are the most important part of Blue Ridge Chaga Connection. Please stay connected and spread the word, I’m excited to have you all on this journey with me and there’s so much more to come!!

December News Letter

Although Chaga season is all year long, the winter wild crafting is in full swing. There’s fair debate on when the best time to harvest Chaga is. I have found in research that Chaga may contain the most nutrients in the winter months. This also point to Chaga taking those nutrients from the Birch tree in a time when the tree needs them most. Using sustainable methods I ensure the Chaga will regrow with the tree living longer at the same time. In the spirit of this I find myself in the forest doing what I do. The atmosphere in the colder months defines Chaga to me, it is designed to survive the harsh winter. Coated with a thick, black layer that seals in the magic Chaga contains, while protecting it from the harsh climate. Chaga only grows in the high elevations in our region where the temperature and conditions change dramatically. I resonate with the cold times of year having grown up in upstate New York and find it be refreshing, you can say I feel at home in the woods in the winter. Bringing the best, nutrient rich Chaga to my products is very important to me. This time of year is one of the most productive for me as far as foraging and making medicine is concerned, I produce the bulk of all my products during these times. Besides it being Chaga time, another favorite is thriving in the colder temperatures, Lions Mane.

Lions Mane is a cold weather mushroom, growing on the trunks of dying trees. Lions Mane has gained a lot of attention recently for it’s powerful medicinal properties and rightfully so. This mushroom has been showing amazing results in regards to cognitive function and helping to fight against Alzheimer and Dementia. It works to generate new brain cells, improving memory and focus. It also is a powerful tool when it comes to nerve damage, showing it may speed up healing. Lions Mane has other wonderful benefits such as that it is Anti-Oxidant, Anti-Inflammatory and has immune boosting qualities. Lions Mane lowers risk of Heart disease, cancer, ulcers and diabetes. You want more, it is showing that it can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. I have learned the best way to get results is to eat it fresh with tinctures and powders next in line. I make tinctures from wild crafted Lions Mane in vegetable glycerin and also a double extracted alcohol base. Lions Mane can a tricky one to find, it’s not as abundant as many others. When you find a good one however it can go a long way! Might I add it tastes like crab meat is quite delicious to eat.

Here’s a few informational links:

I do have one last market of the year and would love to see all of you there, it is at the East Asheville Tail Gate holiday market, Friday, December 13th from 3-6pm. That is at 954 Tunnel road at Groce United Methodist Church. This will be inside the church. Please come out and support all of us local vendors. I am grateful for all the new and old customers that I always call friends, for all the support from those near and far. You all help to keep my dream alive and feed the passion I have to bring people healthy, healing medicine from the forest. Happy holidays to you all. I am super excited to see what the new year will bring.