Chaga Brownies (vegan, gluten-free)
Get to know chaga, learn how to make rich and moist chaga brownies, and enjoy its medicinal benefits in the most delicious way!
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a pretty unique fungus that you can find growing on birch trees throughout the northern hemisphere. Looking like a dark clump on the outside, the tissue on the inside has an lighter, orange-like color. The name 'chaga' comes from the Russian word for mushroom. Chaga has also been called 'black gold,' and has been used as traditional medicine in Northern European countries and Russia for hundreds of years.
Recently, doctors and researchers have become increasingly interested in the potential health benefits of chaga, and studies have yielded promising results. Not only is chaga an incredibly nutrient-dense superfood, but it can also help our immune systems, work as an anti-viral, and help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It even has cancer fighting properties!
Chaga can be used to make delicious teas and coffees, or immersed in alcohol to make tinctures. A less common but very enjoyable way to benefit from the medicinal properties of chaga is to make chaga brownies.
Chaga is a white rot fungus, which means that it slowly decomposes the internal heartwood of the living host tree. Once it takes hold, it slowly grows outwards and after several years until it starts to burst through the tree's bark. Once this happens, it forms conks on the trunk that resemble burned charcoal. There can be one or many on a single tree. The outer layer of the chaga conk is black, has a rough surface, and is very hard. Under this you will find a slightly softer orange-colored core.
Chaga can be found in Northern climates growing on different species of birch - commonly on paper birch (Betula papyrifera) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis). You can sometimes find it on other tree species too. There are different types of growths on trees that can look similar to chaga (e.g. tree burls and growths caused by corky bark disease). To avoid confusion, it's best to only harvest chaga from birch trees. Chaga growing on other tree species also doesn't contain the same medicinal properties as the one growing on birch.
Chaga can be harvested year-round, but in places where there is a lot of snow, winter is the easiest time to find it. This is because the dark growths will stand out clearly amidst all the white!
If you think you have found chaga, before you start harvesting it, it's best to consult foraging guidebooks or an expert to make sure you have indeed found this treasure.
HARVESTING & PROCESSING CHAGA
When you harvest chaga or anything else in nature, it’s important to walk softly on the Earth and to forage with care. We are guests and receivers of gifts from wild lands and forests, so always consider how you can do this respectfully.
First look if the tree on which you have found the chaga on is still alive. If the tree is dead, the chaga will most likely be dried out or contaminated with mycotoxins making it unsuitable for consumption. Harvesting chaga is quite different from harvesting other fungi in the forest, and you will need to bring one or more tools with you for this. You can use a small hatchet, knife, or chisel and hammer to remove a piece of chaga from the tree. Make sure that the chaga is located and shaped in a way that removing some of it won't harm the tree. Leave at least half of all the chaga you find, and only take what you need. Don't forget to thank the tree and the fungus for offering this valuable medicine to you.
Once you have harvested the chaga, there is still a bit of work to be done before you can use it in your recipe. After you have cleaned the piece(s) from debris and insects, the next step is to grind it into a powder. This can be done by first breaking it into smaller pieces and then using a coffee or spice grinder to turn it into a powder. Make sure to completely dry any chaga that you don't use immediately to prevent mold.
Have you looked everywhere in nature, but haven't found any chaga yet? You can also find chaga powder in most health food stores these days, so if you don't want to wait, you could get started with this recipe right away! However, there is nothing like finding this special medicine in the forest yourself, and developing a relationship with its gifts and unique place in the web of life.
RECIPE CHAGA BROWNIES
Disclaimer: Every year there are people that are poisoned or experience other negative health effects from eating inedible wild plants or mushrooms that resemble edible species. For this reason it's essential to ensure proper species identification and to consult multiple quality sources for doing this. It's also important to always check and follow all local foraging regulations before you harvest anything in nature.