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The Chaga mushroom is a dense woody growth approximately 25 to 40 centimeters across that can be found on the trunks of birch trees. It is composed of a gnarled, sooty black exterior called the sclerotium and a softer golden brown, cork-like interior. The fungus has little aroma when raw, but when cooked it releases slightly sweet, dark cocoa, tobacco and vanilla notes. This is due to the naturally occurring vanillin in Chaga, the same compound found in the vanilla bean.
Chaga may be found growing year-round, but is best harvested in the spring and autumn when the tree is circulating optimal nutrients into the Chaga.
Chaga is a non-toxic parasitic mushroom that grows on live birch trees. It is botanically known as Inonotus obliquus and unofficially referred to as the ‘king of medicinal mushrooms’ due to its vast healing properties. OIther common names include, Cinder Conk, Birch Conk and Clinker Polypore. The Chaga fungus slowly pulls nutrients from its host birch tree and is usually ready for harvest within 3 to 5 years of growth. If a portion of the mushroom body is left to regrow, other crops will mature year after year for as long as the birch tree is living.
Considered a ‘superfood’, Chaga offers an incredible supply of nutrients including, B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, potassium, rubidium, cesium, amino acids, fiber, copper, selenium, zinc iron, manganese, magnesium and calcium. Some of the benefits these vitamins and minerals provide include, anti-aging properties, lowering of cholesterol and blood pressure, improved immune system health and inflammation reduction.
Chaga is rarely, if ever, eaten raw due to its almost rock-hard consistency. Large chunks should be broken down into pieces no larger than 10 grams and pulverized in a spice grinder. The Chaga powder can then be steeped hot water to make Chaga tea which is complimented nicely by the addition of maple syrup. It can also be prepared with alcohol for a stronger tincture for a flavor extract, much like vanilla, and used in baking recipes. The raw powder can also be added to soups, stews and sauces in the same manner chocolate is used in savory molés.
Chaga mushrooms are found all over Russia and have been used in Siberian folk medicine for various ailments for centuries.
Chaga has only recently become a mainstream ‘superfood’ in the west, but has been an historic staple across Siberia, Russia and other parts of Asia. It is mainly found in very cold climates where birch trees are prevalent and a hard frost allows a long dormant season for the mushrooms to thrive. Forests in Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States and in Canada provide prime growing conditions for Chaga. There have been some efforts to grow cultivated Chaga, however, tests show that when compared to wild Chaga it provides only a fraction of the nutritional benefits. It should therefore be harvested with careful conservation or purchased from a responsible foraging supplier.
Someone spotted Chaga Mushrooms using the Specialty Produce app for iPhone and Android.
Produce Spotting allows you to share your produce discoveries with your neighbors and the world! Is your market carrying green dragon apples? Is a chef doing things with shaved fennel that are out of this world? Pinpoint your location annonymously through the Specialty Produce App and let others know about unique flavors that are around them.
Nathan BochlerWisconsin, United States
About 31 days ago, 7/19/18
Spotter's comments : Chaga Mushrooms spotted at Hayward Wisconsin. Foraged Wild. Makes an excellent broth for risotto. Deep woodsy flavor.