By Hilary Hilton
Mudita is both a Buddhist practice and a Sanskrit word meaning to find pleasure in the well-being
of others, to gain happiness from their joy.
Muskoka Mudita was founded in 2020 by Chelsea Bernas and Dan Porter, and focuses on artisanal chaga products including ready-to-drink teas, functional skincare, and sugar-free tinctures.
Chaga is a fungus that grows primarily on birch trees in cold climates and possesses a flavour reminiscent of maple and vanilla. It is known for its nutritional properties and has been a key player in the world of natural health remedies for centuries.
Bernas says she was first introduced to chaga by her mother, who had been drinking it to help relieve her chronic pain caused by endometriosis.
“It took some convincing but I did end up trying it,” she says, “and drinking it really seemed to work for me, it really helped my pain control [from endometriosis]. Then we introduced it to Dan and he really loved it and enjoyed the benefits. We decided we wanted to share it with everybody else too.”
Porter quickly became fascinated by chaga and dove into a world of research on the rich history and various uses of this curious mushroom.
“I realized chaga has a history that goes back thousands of years, and I was blown away by it,” Porter says. “Chaga itself is a Russian word meaning fungus, but it was used primarily by the people of Ukraine, the Ainu of Northern Japan, and even a lot of the Indigenous tribes throughout Canada.”
Bernas and Porter began connecting with a number of Indigenous healers who shared their stories on the profound health benefits they and others had received from chaga.
The duo soon realized that chaga was a potential business avenue well worth exploring.
“I thought ‘well there’s something here,’” Porter says. “I knew that if we were going to get this going, we have to make sure that it’s going to benefit people, but on top of that, we have to go from an angle that’s driven by sustainability.”
To understand the value and rarity of this exquisite fungus, one must understand the foraging process and how it is done in the most sustainable way possible.
Chaga is foraged from white birch trees, which give the fungus most of its nutrients, and only in the winter or early spring to avoid the presence of sap. Muskoka Mudita possesses a network of foragers in the Muskoka and Almaguin regions who mark and geotag trees that have chaga available. Only around 30 per cent of the fungus is taken from a tree at a time, and the tree is then marked again in order to prevent over-foraging. Porter expresses the importance of this, as even though chaga is technically a renewable resource, it grows at such an extremely slow rate that a fist-sized piece could take three to five years to regrow.
“We try to space it out and really be mindful of how we’re going about this, because we want to ensure we have this for future generations,” he says. “We want to be looking generationally at this, not transactionally.”
For every item sold, Muskoka Mudita plants a seed that will produce milkweed or wildflowers and for every one hundredth item sold, they will plant a birch or maple tree.
Chaga is extremely high in melanin content and is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet. Although more research is needed to confirm its health benefits, studies have explored chaga’s ability to support the immune system, inhibit tumour growth, and contribute to cellular protection, as well as its superior anti–inflammatory properties. It is also high in B vitamins, which provides caffeine-free energy, making it a great coffee alternative.
These health benefits and overall improvement in quality of life amongst many who have tried it is at the forefront of Bernas and Porter’s mission for their growing business.
“I’ve seen this helping the ones I love, so that’s just more motivation to try to get this out to more people,” Porter says. “A rising tide raises all ships, so I think the more knowledge we can spread on it, the better—that’s our mentality. We all rise together.”
Muskoka Mudita’s products are available at The Great Vine, Muskoka Gift Box, Muskoka North Good Food Co-op, and Deerhurst Resort. They will also be available at the Rosseau Farmers’ Market and other events throughout Muskoka this summer.
For more information, visit muskokamuditachagatea.com.
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