The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is found in the northern latitudes from Russia to Wisconsin.
I first started using Chaga for making fires. Drop an ember, or even a spark on to the right place and it will catch and burn, smoldering for hours. (depending upon size) It is VERY difficult to extinguish without water, so be careful where you try and light one!
The inner part of the Chaga, a light brown colored material can be powdered (allowing more air space between the particles) to better catch a spark or ember from a friction fire starter such as hand or bow drill, or from magnifying fire starters such as water bottles, magnifying glass, or ice lens.
But Chaga also makes a great drink that has been used as a cancer remedy in many parts of the world for generations. One of our students when asked to bring a dish to pass at a potluck brought “chagalatte”, or Chaga tea mixed with milk and sugar.
To make the tea either boil a whole Chaga mass, crumble, or powder. Supposedly you can keep using the Chaga mass for as long as it turns the water dark. After which you’ll need to harvest a new one. There is a lot more information on medicinal uses of Chaga here.
To harvest with no tools I take a stout stick and from behind the tree the Chaga is growing from, hit the Chaga outward as when using a battering ram. It will usually separate from the tree at it’s weakest point, near the bark. A saw will work as well, but knives will get stuck.
You don’t need a lot of this wonderful fungus to do the job, so if you find the “holy grail” of chagaland please take only what you need and leave the rest for someone else who needs it.