LIVERMORE FALLS — Chaga is a multibillion-dollar business globally, part of the booming trade in mushroom derivatives driven by consumers in search of healthier or alternative lifestyles.

Nikki Leroux holds pieces of a chaga mushroom Dec. 8 that were in the freezer of her and husband Justin Triquet’s home in Livermore Falls. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The business is projected to grow at a compound annual rate of 7% or more.

Indigenous to Maine, chaga is already being foraged, farmed and commercially sold.

Mention the word chaga and people seem to have two distinct reactions — either they’ve never heard of it, or they sing its praises and seek it out. Scientists are divided and, naturally, skeptical.

Chaga — scientific name Inonotus obliquus — is a fungus, frequently called a mushroom, that has become wildly popular in Europe and the United States in the last decade. But it has been foraged and consumed in China, northern Europe, Siberia and other parts of Russia, and by Indigenous peoples in North America for thousands of years to treat diseases and ailments.

It’s found only in the boreal forests of the northern hemisphere: think cold, think Maine. It grows on birch trees, but can also be found on beech and hornbeam, part of the birch family. According to Aaron Bergdahl, a forest pathologist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, beech/birch/maple and poplar/birch forest types describe more than 50% of the forests that cover 89% of Maine.


Skip, who did not want his last name used, toasts with Nikki Leroux and Justin Triquet on Dec. 8 at their home in Livermore Falls. The contractor, who is working on a room in their home, said since using the chaga mushroom elixir his chronic stomach issues are cured and he has more energy. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The attraction is its potential healing power for ailments and conditions from diabetes to cancer, and chaga is highly touted as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune booster. Most of the testimonials on its medicinal value are anecdotal, because there have been only a few scientific human studies on the compounds contained in the conk that protrudes from the side of birch trees.

A 2011 study found the triterpinoids in chaga can inhibit the growth of carcinoma cells, and a 2005 study found that chaga extract can bolster immune response and reduce inflammation. There are also studies in animals that point to the potential health benefits of chaga.


Two entrepreneurs in Livermore Falls didn’t need a scientific endorsement to get excited about chaga. Nikki Leroux and Justin Triquet are so excited by the unsightly fungus they’ve made it part of their daily routine, spent hundreds of hours doing research, formed a corporation called JustNiks Mycosilva and forged a business partnership with a chaga company in Estonia.

The couple had some health issues they wanted to deal with — anxiety, depression, stress — common issues that are frequently treated with prescription medications. Friends and acquaintances pointed them to chaga, which they knew nothing about at the time.

“So we heard about chaga and went out in the woods and the whole point was, wow we can actually remedy ourselves from these afflictions,” Triquet explained. “And within a couple of weeks we started seeing remarkable changes in just our energy, our skin, our hair started looking a bit nicer.”


They immersed themselves in everything chaga, including spending 28 out of 30 days in the woods in the snow, just to learn and observe. “We’re about giving back,” Triquet said, “we’re about that circle going back — that reciprocal circle — we can’t give anything other than hug the trees,” he added. “We said there’s got to be a way to stick chaga back in the trees.”

More hours on the couch researching were to no avail.

“We were about to give up, when we found this little blip that said and we said, what’s an EU?” Triquet said.

It’s a domain for European Union websites.

Triquet was giddy even recalling the story. “Our eyes lit up. We looked up on their website and found the video — we saw them drilling the holes in the trees and we said, oh my goodness we can do this!”

Chaga grows naturally when airborne chaga spores penetrate a wound or split on a birch tree. A mycelium mass begins to grow within the tree and within five to seven years a charcoal-like growth, known as a conk, protrudes from the side of the tree. Chaga, which is a parasite, can grow on other hardwoods, but does not contain the same beneficial compounds as the chaga on birch trees.


The growing demand for chaga — be it in powder form, in teas or extracts — has some conservationists concerned about overharvesting in Alaska and New Hampshire’s White Mountains, among other places. Leroux and Triquet believe they have found a solution to that, and scientists at the Department of Agriculture and here in Maine are watching to see what happens with their bold experiment.

Until now, commercial harvesting of wild chaga could only be accomplished through foraging. It’s possible to cultivate chaga in a lab, but it would not have the same level of beneficial compounds found in wild chaga, they said.


Leroux and Triquet say their method for chaga regrowth is not being done anywhere else in North America. They’re drilling holes in birch trees, inserting chaga-inoculated wooden dowels into the trees and waiting for the chaga to take and grow. The technique has been used in Finland and Estonia for the past five or so years and the first harvests are proving successful.

These dowels infused with chaga mushroom spores will be pounded into trees. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

JustNiks Mycosilva has a permit from the United States Department of Agriculture for the next 10 years to import the dowels from a lab in Belgium, although the permit was initially denied over concerns about whether the source of the mycelium was indeed from Maine, which it is.

Bergdahl, from the Maine Department of Agriculture, whose job as a forest pathologist is to monitor and protect the health of Maine’s tree and forest resources, said, “I have concerns about purposefully augmenting the abundance of this tree pathogen in the important hardwood forests of our state.”


But after meeting with Triqeut and Leroux, the USDA and other agencies involved in the application process reversed course and granted the permit. According to Vickie Brewster, an agriculturalist with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the USDA, “the permit isn’t necessarily exclusive,” and the agency “would consider issuing a permit to other stakeholders who submit an application.” But as of now, no one else has applied for a permit.

Eater, a food news and dining guide website, just predicted that functional mushrooms — immune system boosting foods like reishi, lion’s mane and cordyceps and chaga — could soon replace CBD gummies in popularity. The CBD gummy market in the U.S. is a multibillion-dollar industry. The spread and popularity of functional mushrooms is taking hold in the food, beverage and supplements markets and predictions on the growth of the industry range from 4% to 20% annually, with a value of $1 billion to $20 billion globally.

So, while it may be hard to pin down a precise valuation of the market, suffice it to say it is big and getting bigger.

Triquet and Leroux are not sitting around and waiting for the chaga to grow. They’ve negotiated deals to distribute chaga elixir from Estonia and are inking deals with landowners to farm chaga in Maine. For a small fee, JustNiks Mycosilva will insert dowels into your trees and buy back the chaga when it’s harvestable. Each tree is catalogued with its GPS location, date and time of the inoculation. In order for the practice to be sustainable, the chaga conk is not entirely harvested, leaving about 30% behind for the next harvest in a few years.

The pair has also developed their own teas and is partnering with a Maine distributor for chaga-infused beverages. They also started JustNiks RENT-A-FARMERS and Forest Fungi Farms.

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