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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 buying agent and harvester for some of the largest mushroom companies in the world 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. And this is where the consumer needs a professional experienced buying agent of these wild food products who acts on your behalf  to protect  them from some of the people who harvest these products!

Pictur of Chaga Mushroom that has regrown
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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 me.  What they bring will tell me one of three things about that person:

  • One:  This  person has never done this before and requires some training, which I am more than willing to help out with!
  • Two:  This person has done this before and their pride & intergrity for quality shows in how clean and perfect their product is.  (in which case, I will favor their future harvests)
  • Three, and the worst kind of harvester:  This 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 their product to their own family, they would and will try to sell it to my family and yours just for 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 their toes. 

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 & in other mushrooms such as Morels.
  • Dip the Chaga or other 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 four 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 now, so that I can spot this sort of tampering.  If it has been soaked, I will know it because 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 unless the Chaga was harvested on a dead tree;  we will not buy dried Chaga from anyone at all 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!!
Look to living trees.... for that black charcoal-like outer layer and once knocked off the tree, look for the rich golden brown color of the inner part of the 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. 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.

That's why we prefer to offer our Chaga in it's raw form so people can see, feel and smell it, in its' natural state.

Here is a list of the most  important  questions to ask a potential supplier for your health needs, and they are as follows:

(1) Do you have a food safety program in place for yourself or your harvesters?

(2) Since there are no bathrooms or wash stations in the forest, do your harvesters use hand sanitizers after answering the call of nature?

(3) Can you provide pictures of your Food Grade processing facilities?

(4) When you or your harvesters come in with product, do you check to make sure that these products are not exposed to gas cans and other potential  harmful oil based products?

(5) Are you and your harvesters using food grade tools (stainless steel) to harvest with?

Since you will be ingesting these mushrooms it is important to know that they are safe for human consumption. So these are very important questions to ask.

Chaga Mushroom after four years after first harvest
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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.  I  personally have been certified twice through the 'Canadian Herb, Spice And Natural Product Coalition' which include CHSG & GCAPs international food safety protocols.

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.
Have  they 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 and process and package on food grade surfaces?
  All wild harvest products for food purposes deserves all of the food safety precautions to be taken as they do in the commercial production of cultivated food products.  Below is our Food Grade processing facility. 

Now with this said, I would like you to imagine if you would that you see a commercial for a big company like Mapleleaf or Schneider Meats and they show a butcher using a rusty old meat cleaver to cut up a big side of meat? Would you want to buy or eat that meat? No, I would think not!! Nor would any food processing company ever consider the use of non- ferrous tools to cut up any food product. Nor would we consider it! These ferrous tools are breading grounds for all kinds of bad bacteria!

This is what is so upsetting and confusing to me when I watch the majority of videos on YouTube now and for the last 10 years. All I see is rusty old axes,hatchets,chisels and dirty filthy  mill hammers and grinders that in my opinion, haven't ever been cleaned, nor ever seen a disinfectant used, ever!!

So my question to the public who views these videos, who seem to think that it is okay to use these rusty non-ferrous tools on a product that they will be ingesting for their health. Please tell me why would you buy and consume these products?

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

Copyright @ 2006   Fiddlehead Heaven Forest Products