Chaga-Spiced Nuts and Why We Should Talk About Mushrooms

By Krystal Thompson of Hotel Wilderness

Mushrooms are magic. And I am not talking the "I'm floating on a triple-rainbow made of stardust" kind of mushroom magic. I'm talking deep medicine, co-evolution, physiological alignment magic. Did you know that humans are more closely related to fungi than any other kingdom? Read that again. Once more, please. Now turn to the person next to you and let them know. Write it down to remind yourself to tell your partner when he or she gets home tonight, and tell your friends at the pub this weekend. There is a stigma that precedes most conversations about mushrooms because people immediately think of psychedelics- an idea that carries all kinds of cultural weight and biases. But the conversation about medicinal mushrooms needs to shift, because what is happening in the face of the unknown, of the unsure, of the "mysticism" that has understandably billowed around mushrooms, is that we are ignoring unprecedented medicine (and ecological solutions!) that is available in bounty all around us. This is not about the doors of perception; when we're talking about medicinal mushrooms we're talking about the path to cellular longevity. Real deep medicine, people. So today we're going to talk about Chaga. And then, obviously, in true Hotel Wilderness style- we're going to cook it and eat it.

Chaga is a birch-loving parasitic mushroom in the polypore family. In the wild it looks like a charcoal-burnt growth, but dries and powders into a beautiful cacao-colored dust.

+ Organs/systems: blood, liver, immune system
+ Nature: bitter, sweet
+ Medicinal uses and benefits: supports healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, supports regular metabolic function. Also provides significant amounts of antioxidants via melanin, which supports a healthy inflammatory response and boosts cellular regeneration. And finally, as if these aren't enough, the polysaccharides found in all medicinal mushrooms are potent immune system modulators. Research suggests that Chaga stimulates the immune response in both acute and long-term cases.
-notes from The Herbal Apothecary by JJ Pursell

It's important to note that mushrooms contain both water-soluble (beta-glucans) and alcohol-soluble (triterpenes) constituents. These together are the building blocks of mushrooms' powerhouse of benefits, which is why you'll often see mushrooms prepared in the "double extraction" method. This ensures that you're getting these constituents in their entirety via one preparation and final product. But for this recipe it made sense to only pursue the water-soluble beta-glucans. Any medicinal boost to a snack is a great boost to a snack. Let's make some Chaga roasted nuts!

4 cups raw (unsalted, unsweetened) mixed nuts
1/2 cup Chaga simple syrup (1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup organic cane sugar, 3 tablespoons Chaga mushroom powder- see directions below)
2 Tablespoons Coconut Oil
1 Tablespoon each of Ginger and Cinnamon powders
1 teaspoon Clove powder
1 teaspoon sea salt (divided in half)

Our first step today is to make the Chaga simple syrup. Simple syrup is always 1 part sugar to 1 part water, so here we'll use 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup organic cane sugar. Bring the water to a simmer on the stovetop and add your 3 tablespoons of Chaga powder. Stir well and allow to infuse on low heat for about twenty minutes. Bring the heat back up just below simmering, add the sugar, and stir until it dissolves. While your syrup is infusing, melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a double boiler. Measure out two liquid tablespoons from this and set aside, and use the rest to coat the inside of a large crockpot. Pour the mixed nuts into the crockpot. In a small bowl combine coconut oil, Chaga simple syrup, Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. You should get some beautiful marbling here from the dark chaga syrup, bright spices, and silky coconut oil.

Pour the mixture over nuts, and stir well until everything is coated. This next step was a first for me and it feels weird, I know, but trust me. Cook the nut mixture uncovered on high for two hours, stirring about every fifteen minutes. Leaving the lid off like this allows the sugar and spices to crystallize while keeping the moisture controlled so that your nuts still turn out crisp. Bonus: it will also make your kitchen (or entire tiny house, in my case) smell fantastic. After two hours, turn off the crockpot and transfer your new glistening snacks to a large bowl. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt over the nuts, and enjoy!

These can be stored in a tightly sealed container in the fridge or at room temperature (away from heat and sunlight) for 2-3 weeks.

If you're interested in learning more about medicinal mushrooms, I encourage you to check out Paul Stamets. He is the current leader of US-based growth, advocacy, and research on medicinal mushroom constituents and uses. Click here to watch an excellent TED talk that he gave in 2008. Christopher Hobbs is another great source for mycological information.

Krystal is the woman behind Hotel Wilderness, a food and project blog focused on bringing healing herbs into the nooks and crannies of our daily lives. She is a photographer with a deep-seated love for food and plant medicine, and can usually be found happily crafting between the three.