Tips for Buying Chaga Mushrooms

I have been an avid wild foods forager (you have no choice when trying to feed a family of 15 in those days) since 1960, a mushroom hunter since 1987, and a professional hunter and buying agent for larger mushroom companies on the Pacific north coast since 1997-  right up until my return home here to New Brunswick, Canada in 2006 where I established 'Fiddlehead Heaven Forest Products'. We were the first company in North America to harvest and offer Chaga in it's natural form on the web to Canada & the USA at that time. 

As a mushroom buyer and harvester in some of the very most remote areas of North America, I have seen all the nasty tricks that some of the most unscrupulous people will try to get away with when it comes to selling their mushrooms and other wild harvested products to you.

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I have a saying that goes like this-

I know everything I need to know about a harvester just by looking in his or her basket of mushrooms or other wild harvested products they bring to sell me.  What they bring will tell me one of three things about that person:

  • One:  This  person has never done this before and needs training!
  • TwoThis person has done this before and their pride shows in how clean and perfect their product is.  (In which case, I will ask for all of their future harvest.)
  • Three, and the worst kind of harvesterThis person is experienced and knows how to do it right, but just doesn't care at all about quality, how their product looks, or what they pick.  They do it for the money only. Although they would never feed this garbage to their family, they would and will try to sell it to my family and yours just to get the money.

I hate to say this folks, but this is also true for some Chaga harvesters I have come across here and in other parts of North America.  And this is where a buyer of wild mushrooms has to be on his toes and know his stuff.  Mushroom harvesters are almost always paid by weight, and here are some of the things that people have done to add more weight to their mushrooms:

  • inject the Chaga with water using a large syringe (the water used for this tactic is usually from a pond or swamp on their way out of the bush)
  • try to cram rocks or sand into crevices or holes in the Chaga
  • Dip the Chaga or mushrooms in a creek or pond (this poses a risk of the Chaga becoming contaminated with bad bacteria from standing water. I had to destroy over 500 lbs. of dried Chaga two years ago after sending samples to a lab for testing. The results came back with the detection of a bacteria called "Aeromonas sobria" which is an aqua born bacteria that comes from dead or standing water such as beaver ponds and swamps. So to protect myself and my customers, I burned everything that I had picked myself and had purchased dry from other harvesters in my area that fall!
    Even though that cost me thousands of dollars; I am the second kind of harvester I talk about above, not the third kind.
    It is for this reason now that I will only buy fresh-picked Chaga from other harvesters in my area, so that I can spot this sort of tampering.  If it has been soaked, it will be very dark on the inside and mushy on the outside rather than the fresher golden color it should be on the inside and rough and dry on the outside.  But once dried, the color returns and looks natural;  we will not buy dried Chaga from anyone now because of this.
  • cut the trees down to get the Chaga they can not reach (unless you own the land, this practice is illegal on private or public lands)
  •  If you purchase Chaga and find that the tea made from it is too bitter to drink, then this Chaga was harvested from a tree that was  dead. When the tree dies, the Chaga no longer has the ability to disburse the water naturally back into the tree that it takes in from after being rained or snowed on. The mushroom then becomes water logged and will start leaching.

    The most important thing for us all to remember, is that Chaga is symbiotic to living trees, not dead trees!  So Dead Tree, Dead Chaga!!
Although I have trained many people to harvest wild mushrooms throughout North America since 1997 and some of them are very dedicated to what they do, I personally still check each and every mushroom that is brought to me for signs of tampering or soaking.

And again folks I hate to say this, but make sure you know and trust the person or company you are buying from before buying either powder or tea bags from them. It really is okay to ask the company or harvester for references, including us! For those who would like some background on me here is a good place to start, this link opens the "Canadian Society For Social Development"

 There is another mushroom that grows on  dead Birch tree called Tinder Conk and, although it looks nothing like Chaga on the outside, the inside (after dried) looks very much like Chaga after it is ground up into powder.  So just beware that there are people out there mixing this mushroom with the Chaga as a filler.  And as if that isn't bad enough, there are also companies adding bark (not the paper) from the Birch tree as a filler.

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Do not be afraid to ask the person or company you are buying from for such things as, business licenses, FDA registration numbers, and ask for references as well.. Also ask how long they have been in the business of harvesting Chaga, and do they harvest other wild mushrooms? Ask what they are doing to ensure  a sustainable future harvest for Chaga.
And the most important question of all to ask is, Have  they ever taken a food safety course, or have a Food Safety program in place. Are they using Food Grade tools for harvesting and are they processing in food grade bins & tubs ( Rubbermaid bins are not food grade) and process and package on food grade surfaces?

When you buy Chaga or other wild mushrooms from my family, you know that you are buying from a  experienced, and trusted source in North America for wild mushrooms and other wild foods since 1997, and that we have gone the extra mile and have the experience to protect you as well as ourselves from these kind of people.

I would like to say: "Here's to a cup of good, healthy Chaga Tea!"

If you deserve the best, then we have what you deserve!

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