Where Does Chaga Grow and How To Identify
Chaga grows almost exclusively on Birch trees in Northern latitudes. It is found in Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Northern Europe. Sometimes it can be found as far South as Upstate New York and Vermont, but there is reason to believe chaga is less nutritious at lower latitudes.
Chaga will grow anywhere on the tree, high or low. Usually it grows where the tree was wounded and a spore has found its way into the tree.
When looking for chaga, start by visiting a Birch tree forest. At the very least make sure you are in a forest that has a majority of Birch trees. This will make finding the chaga a lot easier. As you work your way through the forest, notice the age of the trees. Try to find a section of forest that has older Birch trees. Because chaga is so slow growing, you are more likely to find it in an older Birch forest. You can still find chaga in a young forest, it’s just harder to find. Birch trees are not very long lived trees to begin with, so one way to determine if you are in an old forest is to look for dead trees. In Alaska trees grow smaller due to the harsh conditions, but we can also guess the age of a tree by looking at its circumference.
Now look through the forest and look for the blackest spot you can find. Is it a burl, a wound, or chaga? Walk closer and find out! You’ll notice that as you walk, many new angles of observation open up allowing you to see more. Enjoy the process and breath deeply. One common thing chaga is often mistaken for is a birch burl. A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. Often they have a dark appearance that is almost black, like chaga. However chaga is much blacker than burls and as you harvest more, you will be able to tell the difference from a distance. Another way to distinguish the difference between chaga and burls is to cut into the growth with a hatchet. If it breaks away fairly easily and is bright orange on the inside, you’ve found chaga. If it is very tough to break, like hardwood, and just looks like normal wood, you’ve found a burl. Keep looking!