‘Harvesting To Heal’ - Ethical Chaga Mushroom Harvesting
by Blairish Azure - Annanda Chaga
The Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus Obliquus) has been growing steadily in popularity and awareness in the past several years, but in recent months has begun to soar in popularity. Just like many other re-discovered wild foods and natural medicines that have been re-emerging from ancient memory, many have begun to realize that there is ‘mushroom gold’ in the hills and the mad mushroom rush has begun.
As a mushroom lover and nature enthusiast, it was my own severe illness which led me to the forest and the Chaga Mushroom as a means to cure myself of a host of conditions, including a desperate need for detoxification. Having been exposed to heavy metals at my place of work for almost seven years and taking conflicting prescription medications, which was making matters worse, both were taking a serious toll on my health. The Chaga Mushroom, being one of the most powerful anti-oxidants found in nature, in my opinion, saved my life.
After taking Chaga for about six months I began regaining my health and eventually no longer had the need for any prescription medications and I was no longer toxic. During these transformative months I learnt as much as I could about this miraculous mushroom and how it works with the human body. Awe struck by the powerful healing the Chaga Mushroom gifted me, I became almost obsessed about sharing its healing powers with others. So moved in fact that I decided to start the company Annanda Chaga in 2012 to help bring a pure form of the Chaga Mushroom to market and help others heal themselves too.
My own health transformation has heralded and deepened my respect for nature and this incredible polypore fungus. So it is quite disturbing to me to bear witness to the disrespect, greed and overharvesting of forest medicines like the Chaga Mushroom which has now become rampant. Not long after launching Annanda Chaga pharmaceutical companies began contacting us eager to source metric tons of Chaga Mushrooms to which, still to this day, we flatly say ‘no’. Large companies offering payouts to those harvesters who are willing to scour the woods to take Chaga for greed and profit. Not unlike most other Canadian natural recourses, selling Chaga Mushrooms to large companies south of the border only to be resold to Canadians, who pay top dollar for what is already in their own backyard.
"Using Nutraceutical foods as a means to cure, are key to the evolution of healing in the 21century and beyond; we need to ensure they don’t become mired in the bog of ‘old science’ only to benefit those geared toward greed and profit." - Blairish Azure
The Truth about Chaga is that many factors play a contributing role in regards to how ‘healing’ this healing mushroom can be for our immune system, anti-oxidant effect and abundance of nutritional vitamins and phyto-nutrients. As a slow growing polypore fungus, Chaga has to be at least 3 to 5 years of age before it contains enough medicinal value to benefit the human body. The inner growth within the host tree has little or no medicinal value whatsoever. When the host trees dies, so does the Chaga Mushroom, leaving it vulnerably to become toxic itself with other molds, fungus and mycotoxins. Chaga grows on many different species of trees but only Chaga from the white or golden Birch can offer the plant based sterols, betulinic acid and other constituents that can help with serious disease like cancer. When harvesting sustainably, between one and three inches of chaga growth should remain to enable mushroom re-growth and allow the host tree to survive ensuring the symbiotic relationship remains intact, allowing up to three harvests within its lifespan. The Chaga Mushroom obtains further medicinal power due to the harshness of the environment in which it grows. For example, Chaga Mushrooms found in the far Northern Boreal forests within The Canadian Shield would contain more medicinal value than Chaga growing at lower latitudes. Chaga harvested from higher up in the host tree will also have more vitamin D1 and D2 and melanin due to more exposure to direct sunlight.
With all these caveats in mind, those with the intention of harvesting for greed gravitate to easily assessable forested areas near roadsides, within proximity of urban areas or from hydro-cuts, provincial parks and crown lands. Often disregarding ethical harvesting practices there is increasing evidence of Birch trees being felled for higher chaga formations, harvesting ‘dead’ chaga, taking smaller formations with no medicine and removing chaga from species other than Birch all of which fuel the cash-crop mentality. Another species of polypore fungus ‘Piptoporus Betulinus ‘ also known as the ‘Birch Polypore’ has often been mistaken for Chaga simple because it too happens to be found on the Birch Tree. Confusion with species identification doesn’t end with the chaga mushroom, the Birch tree itself is also mistaken for other white barked species like the Aspen and Poplar tree which litter the forests of Northern Ontario and North Western Quebec.
These are just a few of the concerns which many are presently unaware of when it comes to the truth about the Chaga Mushroom.
"If our intention is pure, so is the cure." - Blairish Azure
The rarity of this fungus, its life span of up to 20 years and slow and unusual reproduction are earmarks for The Chaga Mushroom to quickly become high on the endangered species list. Overharvesting and mistreatment of the Birch tree and the Chaga Mushroom further amplify concerns for the existence of this species of polypore. In order to safeguard this precious gift of nature, action and awareness must start now before the Chaga Mushroom follows the same path as Canadian Ginseng; over-harvested to extinction for greed and profiteering.
Annanda Chaga opens a dialogue with other commercial Canadian harvesters of Chaga, expressing mutual concerns of over harvesting and sustainable harvesting techniques. Participating in like-minded organizations like the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Ontario Herbalist Association and The Mycological Society of Toronto Annanda Chaga explore avenues to increase our own knowledge base, to spread awareness and seek support. Speaking publicly about The Chaga Mushroom during The Annanda Chaga Tea Party has become an excellent means of spreading awareness about sustainability, how to use and prepare Chaga and to give others the opportunity to benchmark how pure medicinal Chaga Mushroom Tea should taste like and to be weary of impostors.
Annnada Chaga keeps to our intention of helping others by ‘harvesting to heal’ this gift of nature. Annanda Chaga only harvests Chaga Mushrooms from pristine far Northern Canadian Forests from private lands. Annanda Chaga Mushrooms are harvested sustainably from larger mature living Birch trees and are organically certified and wild crafted; offering assurance that the Chaga and host tree, are at minimum 1km away from urban sprawl with additional safeguards of 3rd party laboratory testing for heavy metals and pesticides. Annanda Chaga Mushroom Tincture is made under license with Health Canada and offers the maximum potency wild Chaga Mushrooms can offer to help with serious disease like cancer.
All are welcome to attend the next Annanda Chaga Mushroom Tea Party taking place near you to learn more.
The more I observe the wild world the more I understand it is the beacon I have lost sight of along my way.
If I learn to live in harmony with nature again, I shall once more become human for myself, for my fellows.
It is my own species that I will protect.
This love for other living beings is within me, somewhere. It still speaks to the soul of the child I once was, it resounds in my heart when I feel the emptiness of death.
So let us all open our eyes to the world and see it with respect.