There are so many ways to consume mushrooms, many types of mushrooms are eaten raw. Chaga is unlike many types of mushrooms. So can Chaga be eaten raw, just like other mushrooms?
Chaga grows in a very unique way. It develops on the inside of a birch tree. Then, the fruiting body bursts out of the tree in a sort of conk. This conk looks black and charred on the outside and is a rich, orange color on the inside. The inside has a slightly more spongy look. While Chaga looks spongy, the conk is very hard. It must be removed carefully from the the tree with a sharp hatchet or chisel.
Can Chaga Be Eaten Raw?
Because this mushroom is so hard, it is not likely that you would be able to or want to eat it raw. Presumably there would be no ill effects if you ate it raw. However, you might not receive the full benefits of the mushroom. Some of Chaga’s most beneficial components are locked up inside chitin. There are several different processes that make these components more bioavailable than if you were to eat it raw.
How is Chaga Prepared?
Typically, Chaga is broken into small chunks. The chunks are then dried and can be stored, simmered for tea, or ground into a powder. The powder or the chunks themselves are then brewed into a tea. It is this tea that is both beneficial and delicious to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy hot drinks, you can steep a thick concentrate by brewing the Chaga on a low temperature for a long time. The concentrate can be stored in the fridge and added to smoothies or chilled coffee drinks. An extract or tincture is another way to consume Chaga. This potent form of Chaga can be added into any drink such as coffee, tea or juice.
There is still some discrepancy over whether or not Chaga should be boiled or simmered at a temperature under the boiling point. Some arguments claim that some of the healthy components in Chaga stand up to boiling without any problem and some won’t be available without boiling. Others claim that some of the components break down when boiled. An article from No Taste Like Home, points out that the best way to brew the tea may be to make a concentrate that is steeped for long periods of time. This allows most of the healthy components to become bioavailable without degrading them in boiling temperatures. No Taste Like Home suggests brewing chunks in a slow cooker for a few days.
Ultimately, Chaga is full of healthy components. One of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to get those component into your body is by brewing a delicious tea. If you would prefer not to drink tea, you could use powder or extract to add it directly to foods and drinks. It is probably unwise and certainly not fun or delicious to try to consume Chaga raw, directly from the tree.
Photo: “Chaga” by Will Power