Chaga mushrooms have been nicknamed the king of medicinal mushrooms for their incredible antioxidant and disease fighting abilities. With a rough, dark exterior, it's far from the prettiest mushroom out there, but it ranks as the highest antioxidant level superfood on the planet!
Due to its medicinal and overall health benefits, chaga mushrooms have exploded with popularity as supplements and coffee/tea substitutes, which has caused a significant global rise in demand in recent years.
Leading mycologist, Paul Stamets, argues that chaga is rapidly becoming a scarce resource due to the onslaught of commercial harvesters.
Is this growth in popularity sustainable for harvesting chaga or will it lead to complete depletion of one of our favorite supershrooms?
Chaga mushrooms are unlike most other functional mushrooms in that they can't reproduce as frequently. The visible part of chaga that is harvested is actually not the fruiting body as most people believe, but a hardened, sterile mass of mycelium that has grown through the birch tree's bark.
Chaga takes about 5-10 years to grow into its full form and is found on less than 1 in 1000 birch trees. This incredibly long growth cycle and overwhelming surge in popularity is creating demand that far outweighs global supply. At any rate of growth, we may run into a situation where chaga becomes a scarce resource and over priced.
So how can we combat the over harvesting of chaga to consume this mushroom more sustainably?
Our growers and researchers at Alchemi Mushrooms have developed methods of growing chaga sustainably on suitable substrates for the mushroom. Our cultivation technique replicates the growing environment that chaga utilizes in the wild by growing a sterile biomass of mycelium similar to the mycelial mass that we often mistake for a fruit body that grows on birch trees.
Although there is some argument that cultivated chaga may not be as potent as wild harvested chaga, we've learned and developed methods of growing our chaga to be more medicinally beneficial than wild chaga in terms of polysaccharides like beta-glucan by over 50%! It all comes down to the strong genetics and optimal growing environments that we employ at our farms.
Sustainably cultivating chaga also increases the consistency of the end product because we are able to utilize the exact same strain each time and carefully propagate the culture rather than harvesting wild chaga, which has significant genetic variation in the medicinal properties from tree to tree.
As our mushroom industry fruits into new frontiers, we need to constantly be exploring new ways to lower our ecological footprint on the planet. Sourcing sustainably cultivated chaga not only benefits our health with consistently potent mushroom powders, but ultimately helps protect our planet's biodiversity and sets the stage for other foragers and farmers to follow suit.