Processing Dried-out Čhaŋšáša

Oops.
I let the čhaŋšáša dry out — again.
Have you ever gotten so busy that you just didn’t get to processing the čhaŋšáša you harvested before the bark got all dried out? Or maybe you just forgot about a piece, and discovered the poor, dried-up stick in a corner somewhere, months later?

I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. But even though it will take more work to process when I’m starting with a dried-out stick, I believe it’s important not to waste this gift, and to honor the shrub that gave up a limb for me. So “just compost it and try to pay more attention next time” is not an option for me.

In case anybody else finds themselves in this predicament, I want to share what’s worked for me. Through trial and error, I’ve improved my methods over, well, more than a couple times that I’ve found myself in this situation. But I am by no means an expert, and if anybody has better ways of doing this, I would love to hear them! Please feel free to comment here or contact me.

Step 1 for processing dried-out čhaŋšáša is always going to be soaking it in water (see pic above).

I haven’t found much difference between soaking it overnight and just soaking for an hour or so. But once it’s been dried, it seems to return to its dried-out state much faster than a fresh piece would normally dry out while you’re working on it. So I keep returning it to the water, even in the middle of shaving/peeling it, to rehydrate and make the process easier — as you can see, 2 of the 4 sticks in the pic above are in the middle of being peeled, but needed to go back into the water for an additional soak.

Different pieces seem to rehydrate differently. Some regain their vibrant red color. others stay darker red. Some, like this piece, become mottled:

Step 2 is going to be peeling off the outer red bark, as you usually would. Some pieces will come off easily, like they do for fresh čhaŋšáša, and others will take more work. You can see that some of the pieces have jagged edges, which I’ve never seen when working with the fresh plant, as long as you have a sharp enough knife*:

(*and you don’t need a fancy knife. I found the red one pictured above sticking out of the soil in the garden plot behind my place after the previous tenant moved out. A little soap, water, and sharpening, and I’ve been using it for my čhaŋšáša ever since.)

Step 3 would be to continue rehydrating as necessary.

Step 4: peel off the inner bark. This may also come off differently than it does when it’s fresh — and the way it peels can be different from one stick to the next, even if they’re the same age and came from the same bush. But with persistence and repeated soaking, it should come off! The above pic is from several dried-out branches I processed over the weekend.

In the end, the water I’d been soaking it in was the same color as the tea you make from the red outer bark of the čhaŋšáša. I drank it, and it tasted the same, too, and had a bit of that energizing effect. So I may have inadvertently found a passive method of making a cold-brew čhaŋšáša tea!

Another thing I noticed this time around is that it’s easy enough, if you’re careful, to hollow out the pithy/foamy-looking white inside of the stems to create a hollow tube, which can be used for wooden beads, among other things (not pictured).

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