If you’re reading this, you are probably curious about chaga and why it is so popular. Chaga mushroom has been used as a folk remedy for generations in the northern parts of the world due to its numerous benefits, from boosting immune system health to reducing aging and much more. However, in order to reap chaga’s benefits, you need to obtain the best chaga you can find, and part of that is understanding chaga mycelium.
The mycelium is one of the components of a fungus, and chaga mycelium is the purest, most nutritious part of the mushroom. Read on to discover what a mycelium is and its importance when it comes to chaga.
What is Chaga Mycelium?
A mycelium is the central component of a fungus, the vegetative portion of it. It typically appears in the form of branding, thin threads, like wispy white hair, though certain mushrooms (chaga included) have unique-looking mycelia. The mycelium is the part of the fungus responsible for taking in nutrition from the fungus’ host; in the case of chaga, the mycelium absorbs nutrients from the trees that chaga grows on.
Mycelia are distinguished from fruiting bodies, another major part of the fungal body, through function and appearance. Fruiting bodies are responsible for creating spores, the means by which fungi reproduce. Mushrooms are a common example of fruiting bodies, as the flared main portion of the mushroom produces spores when planted in a suitable environment. The mycelium can be thought of as the “body” of the fungus, without which the fungus will die.
Mycelia that become compact and hard are known as sclerotia. A sclerotium is a tough, reinforced fungal structure designed to withstand environment extremes and ensure the fungus’ survival. Sclerotia develop in aged fungi, as young fungi do not have the time and resources necessary to harden against environmental threats. When a fungus becomes sclerotic, that is a sign that it has reached peak maturity in its life cycle.
How does this relate to chaga? The bulk of chaga’s nutritional content is found in the mycelium, due to the fact that the mycelium is the part of the mushroom that absorbs nutrients from its host. Other parts of the chaga mushroom do not possess the level of nutrition that the mycelium does, and thus chaga mycelium should be preferred when using chaga.
Chaga mycelium typically forms into sclerotia due to the extreme weather conditions in Alaska and other northern locations where chaga is harvested. These hard bodies are easily identified by their dark, knob-like appearance found on the sides of birch trees. Due to the life cycle and environment that chaga grows in, chaga mushrooms rarely sprout fruiting bodies in the fashion of other fungi, making the mycelium the most visible part of the chaga.
Chaga mycelia are typically removed from trees through the use of hammers or hatchets due to their toughness and thickness. The interior of the chaga mycelium has a yellow, cork-like appearance and is often spongy and soft to the touch. Due to the appearance of chaga’s internal flesh and its nutritional bounty, it is sometimes referred to as “black gold.”
In recent years, some chaga companies and scientists have attempted to grow chaga in a lab environment. However, while chaga can be cultivated outside of its native environment, artificially-grown chaga lacks the nutritional content that makes consuming it worthwhile. This is because most of chaga’s nutritional content is the product of chaga’s parasitic relationship with the birch trees it grows on.
In addition to this, chaga requires an extremely cold environment in order to unlock its full potential. While chaga can grow across a wide swath of the Northern Hemisphere, extremely cold temperatures are needed in order for the mycelium to develop into a sclerotium, preserving the nutritional content. In practice, this means that the only chaga worth consuming will be harvested in the wilds of Alaska or Siberia.
Understanding the science of fungi isn’t vital when it comes to enjoying chaga, but it helps. In particular, knowing what chaga mycelium is and why it’s so valuable is vital for understanding what makes chaga worthwhile. Chaga’s bounty of nutritional content, from its antioxidants to its vitamins and minerals, is the product of a symbiotic relationship between the chaga mushroom and its host trees. The mycelium is the junction point of that relationship, leeching resources out of the tree and into the mushroom proper.
When seeking out chaga, you should only buy from reputable sellers who are able to guarantee the quality of the product they are offering. Too many chaga sellers are known for selling inferior products that are the result of laziness and cost-cutting. In order to get the most out of your chaga adventures, only use chaga from sellers who are committed to quality and transparency.