What I’ve learned about chaga and fire.
Firstly I want to say that I’m by no stretch of the imagination an expert in anything, I’m just a guy with an interest in outdoors skills. I have been hunting chaga for over a year and a half casually, and have found a small number of specimens. Recently I found and harvested a largepiece of quality chaga, and now that I’ve had time to experiment with good samples I’d like simply to share what I’ve learned.
Inonotus obliquus (also called chaga or true tinder fungus) is a parasitic fungus that grows on only a few species of trees, but is most commonly found on birch trees. The fungus is relatively rare and only grows on live trees. Do not bother looking on dead trees because the fungus cannot survive on a dead tree. To identify Inonotus obliquus I look for a black, charred looking section of the tree. I usually spot chaga in places where the tree has been damaged and it often looks like a burned burl. The fungus has a hard black exterior, an inner firm brown layer, and an innermost layer that is soft (cork like) and orangish-yellow in color.
|Chaga on a birch|
|Chaga cut open... note the orangish interior. This was a mediocre specimen.|
Harvesting, Preperation and Use
Harvesting chaga is simple… just hack or cut the fungus off the tree and section it into manageable chunks. That part of the fungus that works best for fire is the softer, spongy, cork-like orangish-yellow part. The firmer brown parts will work as a coal extender but I’ve found that they do not take a spark from a flint and steel very well. To prepare chaga for fire usage simply air dry it for a few days. I have not needed to dry chaga fast but I imagine that the process could be sped up with sunlight or by putting the fungus near a non-spark throwing heat source.
|"Good" chaga at left, "poor" chaga at right. Note the yellowish color and and spongy texture of the better chaga versus the woody texture and brown color of the subpar chaga.|
Once dried, chaga can be used to catch sparks from many sources. Ferrocerium rods obviously will work well. I like to hold the striker steady and pull the rod back, but whatever technique you usually use will work well. Here is a quick video of lighting chaga with a ferro rod (excuse my poor technique, I was trying to make sure the camera got the shot):
Even the small sparks from a flint and steel quickly form an ember. For flint and steel I use the fungus the same way I use charred cloth: I hold the fungus on top of the flint near the striking edge with my left (non-dominant) hand and I strike down with the steel in my right (dominant) hand.
I have a couple of pieces of chaga that I lit two days ago and then submerged the fungus in water for several seconds to extinguish the embers. Today I was able to easily light the same fungus with a couple of strikes of my flint and steel:
Be warned that the embers smolder very well and I've discovered that the tiniest of sparks can start an ember which may go unnoticed. Chaga embers are difficult to extinguish that you need to be very careful and either use the entire fungus chunk or extinguish it in water.
Here is a lit piece of Inonotus obliquus in the light:
And this is the same piece of fungus about 20 seconds later with the lights off.