Forager: Wayne Seidel
My wife and I have made Northern Minnesota our home since 1980, where we raised our four sons. We live along the Knife River just west of Two Harbors where we have large vegetable and flower gardens. I retired from a 33 year career in Natural Resources with the University of Minnesota Extension and the Cook & Lake County Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
In other outdoor pursuits, I planted 500 trees for each of our four boys when they were born – for their college savings fund. We started by selling the white spruce, Norway pine and white pine as Christmas trees but then quickly transitioned into landscape trees. This was harder work but gave us both spring and fall seasons to move trees. We learned how to transplant six to eight-foot tall trees with hand tools and labor and later added an ATV to help pull the trees – much to our boys’ delight!. My goals of teaching them a strong work ethic along with graduating from college with no debt were realized…thankfully, God has truly blessed my life and I am grateful.
Foraged: Tell us how you got into foraging. How long have you been a forager?
WS: Two years ago, I was researching ways to strengthen our immune systems and discovered the power of Chaga mushrooms. A good friend had told me about Chaga in 2013 and even gave me some ground Chaga for tea, but I was skeptical until I did my research. My research confirmed that Chaga is “off the charts” in terms of antioxidants, plus the hard mushroom contains numerous other beneficial components including betulin, betulinic acid, beta-D-glucans, and polysaccharides (which they derive from the birch tree). With my university-level work in natural resources education and management, I have a strong science background. Because of that training, I am leery of testimonials, so I sought out bona fide research and looked at the data.
I started harvesting for my own use and quickly discovered that I loved the foraging process as it is a form of “hunting.” The side benefits include great exercise for both me and my golden retriever, Sophie (who loves any outdoor adventure), as well as spending time hiking in wilderness areas that I truly enjoy.
F: What state do you forage in? Why is your local environment good for wild mushrooms?
WS: I harvest exclusively in Northern Minnesota near Lake Superior where the air and water quality is excellent. This area has a healthy native population of both White and Yellow birch, which are the host tree species for Chaga. In my time foraging, I’ve noted that I most commonly find Chaga on older age class birch trees with a high percentage of conifer trees in close proximity. I theorize that the conifer trees (typically white spruce) moderate the temperature somewhat, but most importantly may provide a higher relative humidity that allows the Chaga spores to germinate more readily.
F: Tell us about your products. What do you make, and what’s special about your process?
WS: I harvest and process myself so I have complete control over the entire process. I am meticulous about cleanliness because I want the best product possible for my family, friends and customers across the U.S. This includes cleaning and processing immediately after harvest, air-drying to preserve the beneficials (no additional heat), and storing finished products in glass containers in a cool, dark area out of direct sunlight.
I specialize in making Chaga tincture but also prepare ground Chaga for tea, as I know this is the more traditional way that people enjoy it. I choose to process my raw Chaga into a finely ground form as opposed to leaving it in large chunks. I believe this increased surface area allows the beneficial compounds to be more readily available during the tea and tincture making processes. My 10+ week tincture process includes freezing as well as the more traditional alcohol and hot water extraction methods. I term my process a Triple Extraction Process as It is intuitive to me that the freeze-thaw cycle will further break down cell walls and release additional beneficials from the Chaga. I go through the extra effort because I want to make the best tincture possible. Furthermore, I never go above 176° F during the hot water bath phase to avoid evaporating or denaturing the beneficial compounds.
F: What do you like most about foraging? What’s an interesting fact about foraging that you’d like to share?
WS: What is most satisfying to me is to see lives changed as a result of using my Chaga mushroom products. Helping people is incredibly important to me. Hearing their success stories provides encouragement on the long hikes and sometimes tedious hours over the stove! Customers have shared how it has improved their breathing markedly (COPD), how it has eliminated or greatly reduced pain caused by inflammation (some as quickly as one day!), increased their energy levels, reduced their level of sickness, lessened the severity of COVID and allowed a quick recovery, and even cured psoriasis. I have also seen it used in non-traditional ways such as an enema solution. Yes, you read that correctly. One customer put out a YouTube video on using the ground chaga (tea solution) as an enema and then taking the tincture daily (sublingual – under the tongue). He is adamant that it is the secret to his incredible health and his many subscribers agree.
F: Finally, what’s your favorite wild mushroom recipe?
WS: An additional bit of tasty advice I share with customers is the idea of sweetening the tea with maple syrup and honey (both very common recommendations), but then I also share that they even consider adding whipped cream…a Chaga latte!