Last Updated - 2/24/2015
Edible Wild Mushrooms Commonly Found In Pennsylvania And Personally Eaten Regularly
Formerly Aborted entoloma
Bear's Head Tooth
Brick Caps / Brick Tops
Chicken of the Woods
Corrugated Cap Milky
Hedgehog Mushroom Big
Hen of the Woods
Horn of Plenty
Xanthoconium separans / Boletus separans
Lingzhi / Reishi
Ganoderma lucidum & G. tsugae
Lion's Mane / Old Man's Beard
Meadow Mushrooms / Pinkies
Quilted Green Russula
Trametes versicolor / Coriolus versicolor / Polyporus versicolor
RARE FINDS and/or QUESTIONABLE
The Prince ? or Almond Mushroom ?
Agaricus augustus or A. subrufescens
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Keep your eyes open for charcoal looking eruptions on birch tree trunks while out-and-about. If you check those eruptions closely you may have found a chaga mushroom, a medicinal mushroom of proven benefit. A treasure to be sure!
Other names for chaga are clinker polypore, cinder conk, black mass and birch canker polypore.
Chaga can grow to various sizes, depending on it's age. It can live and grow for decades.
It grows in size very slowly so wanton gathering will deplete the resource - similar to what happened to American Ginseng.
Mostly, chaga grows in cooler latitudes or, if more southerly, then at higher elevations.
Note the photo above showing the chaga on the tree.
See what was left on the tree after the big part of the chaga was removed.
The appearance can be described as burned charcoal.
The surface of the mushroom can also be described as having the appearance of lava rock. It even has the tecture and heft of lava rock. It is really strange to have a mushroom appear so 'unmushroom-like'.
The chaga mushroom is a parasite on trees. It grows almost exclusively on birch. Probably because it grows more preferentially in colder climates and because it happens that birch grows more prevalently in colder climates most often the association of chaga and birch can be understood.
The mass that is collected from the tree is not actually the 'mushroom' as understood by that term. The black mass is actually the mycelium of the mushroom ( the roots ). The actual mushroom is generally not seen until after the tree dies. The mushroom then produces a fruiting body and from it the spores are produced and dispersed. Definitely a long strategy for survival seeing how that some chaga mycelium can continue it's growth for decades before producing a fertile fruiting body.
The interior of the mass is the desired part. It is what is dried and thereafter processed into various products such as pills, teas, extracts, tinctures, emulsions, tinder powder, etc.
Searching for chaga
Here, in southwestern Pennsylvania, you can find chaga if you go into the 'big woods' and check diligently all the various birch trees that grow along some of the native trout streams.
Some folks say to limit the harvest of chaga to only those masses that are big and leave the smaller ones behind. That might be a good strategy if you are certain that no one will find that mass in the next 15 years and you are young. However, as more and more people age and get various maladies there is more desire for chaga to cure many of them and such desire will spur a demand.
Storing and uses
Trim off some of the outer portion of the chunks - leaving some is okay - then the chunks can be milled or ground into powder and dried thereafter by various means.
Chaga is a medicinal mushroom of worldwide fame. It has been much studied and a lot of research has confirmed that it has the constituents in it's make-up that fight many diseases, maladies and ills.
The mushroom also is a great firestarter. The millions of strands of mycelium that make up the mass that you find, when dry, are spark catchers. A strike from a steel and flint and usually the spark on the chaga piece will create an ember that will glow long enough to manipulate from your hands to a kindling bunch and get a fire started.
Inonotus obliquus. Chaga.
Weather conditions are not relevant since chaga is long-lived. What you will likely find will be chaga mushrooms that are at least 5 years old - and more likely - much older than that.