Balsam Fir, Chaga, and Chocolate

The Ottawa Valley is covered in a thick blanket of perfect white snow. Snow-covered trees, ice and snow-covered lakes, and ground so covered in snow that you need snow shoes to trespass where no one has shoveled or plowed. We may not always think of winter as a time to forage, but some very delicious treats can be made with winter-harvested botanicals.
Two of my favourite things to wild harvest and cook with in the winter are balsam fir (abies balsamea) and chaga mushroom (inonotus obliquus). You may not believe it until after you taste my recipes (six in total), but these two Eastern Ontario botanicals can go very well with chocolate! You can keep the balsam fir and chaga separate like the recipes or be creative and blend the two together. I find conifers compliment chaga well in hot chocolate and chai blends.
Don't have access to balsam fir? You can use Eastern or Western Hemlock Fir, Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, or White Pine instead, but they aren't as sweet. Don't try to use spruce unless they are the new spring tips as spruce can taste and smell a bit like cat pee.

Balsam Fir Hot Chocolate - Two Ways

Recipe No.1

balsam fir needles, branches removed (fresh or dried)
500 ml (2 cups) of milk or cream
4 tbsps dark cocoa powder (or 6 tbsp grated chocolate)
honey, sugar, or maple syrup to taste
Heat milk on med-low and add 1 handful of dried balsam fir needles or 2 handfuls of fresh. Heat to infuse for 15-20 minutes, but do not boil. Stir in chocolate and sweetener. Taste until the balance of bitter and sweet is to your liking and then strain out the fir needles and pour into a mug to enjoy. Best results come from using half and half (or at least 2% milk) or thick coconut milk for those who can't have dairy.

Recipe No.2

500 ml (2 cups) milk or cream
4 tbsp dark cocoa powder (or 6 tbsp grated chocolate)
3-5 tbsp balsam fir syrup (to taste)
balsam fir liqueur (optional)
Heat milk in a saucepan on med-low heat, do not boil. Stir in chocolate and balsam fir syrup with a whisk until everything is smoothly melted together. If you are using cocoa powder, making a paste with it first or sifting it into the milk will prevent clumping. Pour into mugs and add a shot glass of balsam fir liqueur to each cup.

Balsam Fir Syrup

balsam fir needles, branches removed
raw organic cane sugar
alcohol for preservation
The balsam fir can be fresh or dried. Fill a stock pot halfway with balsam fir needles and cover with cold water. The best results come from using older fall and winter needles, they will be sweeter and richer in flavour than the more savoury and tart spring tips. Simmer on low for 30 minutes to an hour. Strain and measure the remaining liquid.
Put back in the pot on med-low heat and add 1 cup of raw organic cane sugar for every 1 cup of balsam fir tea. Heat only until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat, allow to cool and measure how much syrup you have. Add 1 tbsp of 40-60% alcohol (such as vodka or brandy) per 1 cup of syrup to help preserve it.
Stored in a pantry it will last 3-5 months before going bad (moldy), in the fridge it should last a year, or can it by pouring into sterile jars and processing in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Balsam Fir Liqueur

balsam fir needles, branches removed
750 ml of alcohol (40-60%)
250 ml of honey or light maple syrup
To a 1 litre canning jar add: 1 cup of unpasteurized honey or maple syrup and then loosely pack with fall or winter foraged balsam fir needles. Again, the balsam fir can be fresh or dried. Pour a bottle of vodka, brandy, of whiskey over them until the needles are covered with booze. Put on the lid, shake vigorously, and allow to infuse for 1-4 weeks (to taste). Shake every day to help infuse all the things together.
Strain with a sieve lined with cheesecloth, pour into a clean 1 litre canning jar and allow to age for a week or a month before drinking. This allows any remaining sediment to sink to the bottom and for the flavours to smooth out with age. Shelf life is 1-3 years. The more sediment you can remove from the liqueur, the longer it will last.

Chaga Hot Cocoa - Two Ways

Recipe No.1

Make chaga tea as usual, 2 tbsp ground chaga or tea rocks per 1 litre of water simmered on low for 30 minutes. Strain out chaga granules and put aside for 2 more uses. Put the chaga infusion back in the pot on med-low heat and add 4-6 tbsps of dark cocoa powder or grated dark chocolate and sweeten with honey or maple syrup to taste. Stir until everything is blended and pour into your favourite mug. Add a dollop of cream or coconut cream and a shot glass of chaga elixir for an even naughtier treat.

Recipe No.2

2 tbsps ground chaga
2 tbsps raw cacao nibs
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
1 litre (4 cups) cream or coconut milk
honey, to taste
Pour milk or cream into a pot and add the botanicals in a muslin bag or a disposable tea filter bag. Simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes and add 3-5 tbsps of unpasteurized honey to your taste. Remove the infusion bag and pour into your mug. If you're completely in love with balsam fir by now, you might as well add a handful of needles to the brew bag for this recipe too!
Warm winter blessings!
~ Sarah Lawless



  • In reply to Marsha: no, never ingest an essential oil —it isn’t safe no matter how much you dilute it.

    Fern & Fungi
  • Can a drop or two of Balsm Fir essential oil be used as a substitute for the fir needles?

  • multikulinaria – It depends on the type of pine. White pine can be tasty, but others can be too acidic to be edible. A basic tea test of just pine needles and hot water will let you know if you find it palatable or not!

    Toby – We sell chaga foraged in Eastern Canada, but sell out quickly. We will definitely have more in February. When you buy online, make sure it is from someone harvesting legally and sustainably. A more detailed chaga blog post is forthcoming!

  • Where can I find Chaga? I don’t live in the delightful frozen north country, unfortunately.

  • Till now, I didn’t even know, that the dark spots on birch trees, I probably’ve seen before, were edible mushrooms. Very cool!
    I live in an area with mainly pine trees. They aren’t suitable for your hot chocolate recipes, are they?


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