Mushrooms – Part Three
Turkey Tail & Chaga
In the first of this series, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer”, I shared my experience foraging for, harvesting, and preparing mushrooms, namely, the Giant Puffball and Chicken of the Woods. In the second article, “Be a Hunter/Gatherer – Part Two“, I tips for finding and preparing Lobster Mushrooms and Morels.
Before consuming wild mushrooms you must be able to positively identify them. Get a field guide and get comfortable identifying fungi and their development stages before you handle any. Misidentification can lead to serious sickness and even death. If you’re looking for a mushroom identification book, pick up “Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America: A Field-to-Kitchen Guide”.
On to the mushrooms!
Turkey Tail and Chaga mushrooms are very different from the other mushrooms featured in this series, as they are not the type of mushroom you consume for their delicious, earthy flavors. In fact, neither of these two are tasty treats, but are instead used for their medicinal properties. Not as painkillers or hallucinogens, but as natural immunostimulants, with anti-tumor properties, and as anti-inflammatory and antiviral/antifungal remedies.
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) is very common in most forests around the world. It grows on dead and downed trees, stumps, and branches in fall-colored, fan-shaped, clusters resembling a wild tom turkeys tail. Coloration varies during development, by location, and with seasons. I overlooked these mushrooms all my life until I developed an interest in hunting and gathering. They have gills underneath, with a leather-like or rubbery texture when collected. It’s not an impressive mushroom upon inspection, but as a potential treatment for cancer and a beneficial anti-oxidant that can be added into your diet with ease, it’s amazing.
Preparation takes a little time but isn’t hard. After gathering several good species, clean off the dirt and dry it in a paper sack or food dehydrator. Once brittle they can be ground in a sturdy coffee grinder and seeped like any other loose tea. Put as much in as you can fit into a filter and enjoy. For the most benefit, warm at a low heat for several hours in a pot and then filter into your tea-cup. Turkey Tail isn’t a particularly flavorful tea, but that’s not exactly what we’re going for here with this one…
Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) too, is a mushroom that’s sought after for its medicinal properties. It has a high level of antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals like copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron. Is it your replacement daily supplement? Well, if you have enough of it, it’s worth far more at the market than your cute little multivitamins.
Growing from birch trees in northern climates, and only for harvest during the bitter cold of winter, chaga is difficult to come by. When you see it, you might not even recognize it. It looks like a large black woody growth growing out the trunk of the tree. It can easily been overlooked. Fortunately, it doesn’t have any other look-alikes, so if you harvest what isn’t actually chaga, you’re probably just ingesting a dead tree branch. Key indicators are the interior color once sawed off the tree. And yes, you need a saw to harvest this fungus.
Keep it in cool, dry, dark storage and break off chunks to be ground in a powerful grinder. Prepare similarly to the Turkey Tail as described above. For maximum benefit, Chaga needs to go through an extraction process in order to make most of the beneficial properties available to our digestive systems. There are a ton of resources online that explain in great detail the benefits of Chaga. I’ve begun to include this in selection of regularly consumed teas and tinctures. And if I ever have any extra, I’ll sell you some – at a premium…
I hope you enjoyed the Hunter/Gatherer series on Mushrooms and my personal take on some of the greats that I’ve had the joy of harvesting and preparing. If you want to see more content about homesteading and hunting and foraging, follow my blog to receive notification of updates in your email!