Chaga mushroom, also known as Inonotus obliquus, is a type of wild mushroom. Primarily, it grows on birch trees or other deciduous hardwoods in cold climates. Chaga often grows on parts of the tree that have suffered damage, or after the tree loses a branch. The mushroom essentially functions as a protective covering, because its antibacterial and antiparasitic properties safeguard the tree from infection.
Chaga mushrooms are unique in that they exist in a mutually beneficial, or symbiotic, relationship with the tree. This relationship enables the birch tree to live for many years while supporting the fungi. Because of this, you can harvest Chaga mushrooms from the same tree year after year. When harvested, Chaga mushrooms somewhat resemble lumps of burnt charcoal.
You can find Chaga mushrooms in the northernmost regions of the United States, Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, Japan and Korea.
History of Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga, along with many varieties of medicinal mushrooms, has a wide range of benefits when consumed as a dietary supplement or holistic health aid.
The benefits of Chaga were first noticed thousands of years ago when indigenous people in Russia and Siberia began to use the mushroom to treat a variety of ailments. During the 16th or 17th century, Chaga was first documented as a traditional folk medicine in Russian and Northern European texts. In these books, it states Chaga is an effective treatment for cancer, gastritis, ulcers, tuberculosis, and parasitic and bacterial infections. Plus, having protective benefits for the heart and liver. Most of the western world was introduced to Chaga when Russian author and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn included the mushroom in his 1968 novel Cancer Ward. Here, he referenced the anti-cancer and healing properties of Chaga.
Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms for Your Health
Chaga mushrooms contain a number of biologically active chemical compounds. These compounds are responsible for its wide range of health benefits, including
- antioxidant enzymes,
- betulinic acid,
- and more.
These components help to facilitate holistic wellness through:
- boosting immunity,
- fighting inflammation and oxidative damage,
- increasing stamina and fighting fatigue,
- and potentially encouraging the death of cancerous cells.
Supports Immune System & Fights Infection
Many medicinal mushrooms including Chaga, reishi, and cordyceps are known for their ability to support healthy immune functioning. Chaga mushrooms help protect the body from infection by interfering with a bacteria cell’s ability to communicate with other bacteria cells and spread. This interference is known as anti-quorum sensing. The effect was demonstrated in this experiment. In it, Chaga effectively disrupted the spread of a common and potentially dangerous bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Additionally, Chaga affects cytokine secretion levels. Cytokines are chemicals within our body that act as the messengers for our immune system and control the production of antibodies. This study shows changes in the cytokine secretion levels from immune cells in a mouse, after exposure to Chaga extract.
Inflammation is a natural and protective mechanism of the body. It is initiated in response to harmful pathogens or tissue damage. When inflammatory pathways within the body are triggered, this stimulation causes the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals such as nitric oxide, interleukins, and prostaglandins.
Although this response can assist the body in fighting infection or healing from injury, if the inflammatory response remains activated for an extended period of time, it can cause cellular damage and lead to a range of inflammation-related chronic illnesses. Chaga has been found to have potential as an effective tool in the battle against destructive inflammation. This is because it suppresses the activity of pro-inflammatory agents.
Another common benefit of several types of medicinal mushrooms is their ability to act as antioxidants. These are substances that help protect the body against oxidative damage. This type of damage is a typical part of aging. However, it can be compounded due to environmental exposure and other factors.
Chaga has been shown to protect against DNA damage in human lymphocytes. In one experiment, it was demonstrated that Chaga extract reduces oxidative damage in patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Disease, a very common chronic illness that is believed to be at least partially caused by oxidative stress from free radicals.
Another recent study supported the potential antioxidant capability of Chaga by demonstrating that Chaga decreased the oxidative stress associated with UV radiation.
Increases Stamina & Reduces Fatigue
Some research involving animal subjects shows that Chaga may have potential in
- the treatment of fatigue,
- and may help to increase stamina when engaging in athletic or physically-demanding activities.
In a recent study of sixty-four mice, results showed that Chaga “extended the swimming time of mice, and increased the glycogen content of liver and muscle, but decreased blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen levels”.
Potential Anti-Cancer Benefits
Chaga mushrooms contain a triterpene called Inotodiol. Inotodiol helps to induce apoptosis, which means “programmed cell death”. Some recent experiments have shown that Chaga mushrooms could be an effective cancer treatment by encouraging cancerous cells to eliminate themselves through apoptosis. While more research is needed to determine the efficacy of this treatment for human cancers, it is nevertheless an exciting frontier.
Considerations & Potential Interactions
Before beginning any new supplement, we always recommend consulting with your own personal, trusted healthcare professional. Chaga is considered safe to consume in most cases. Of course, some patients will want to avoid taking Chaga due to allergies or interactions with certain medications. We especially advise caution with respect to any patients currently taking anticoagulants (blood-thinning medications) or medications for diabetes that lower blood sugar. Chaga can compound these effects, which may lead to excessive bleeding or dangerous hypoglycemia.
Where can I find Chaga Mushrooms?
You will typically find Chaga mushrooms growing from the side of birch trees or other deciduous hardwoods in cold, northern climates. Many regions of North America, Europe, and Asia are habitable to Chaga. Although it is most likely to be found at higher altitudes.
Bear in mind that Chaga, like all wild medicinal and edible mushrooms, should be 100% positively identified before it is consumed. Many species of wild mushrooms have similar physical characteristics. Thus, it is very possible that a poisonous mushroom could be mistaken for an edible species. Ultimately, this can lead to sickness or even death if consumed. If you decide to forage for wild mushrooms of any type, we advise that you only do so with the assistance of an experienced local guide.
How do you take your chaga: Tea or Tincture?
Chaga mushrooms are frequently consumed in the form of a tea. If you are preparing tea from freshly foraged Chaga mushrooms, we recommend the following method. First, acquire raw Chaga either through foraging or from a reputable supplier committed to sustainable harvesting practices. If you have foraged your Chaga, you will want to allow it to dry until all of the moisture has been removed and the remaining Chaga is hard and crumbly. When drying fresh Chaga, make sure that the environment is not too damp. If it is damp, it can quickly lead to mold formation within your mushroom. Cutting the Chaga into small pieces also facilitates faster drying time.
Making ”tea” from Chaga is essentially a hot-water extraction. First, you’ll need to break up your Chaga into smaller chunks if you have not already done so. You can then grind the chunks using a coffee grinder if you wish, but this step is optional.
To brew the tea, place approximately one-half cup of raw Chaga into a large pot or slow cooker. Then, add two quarts of fresh, filtered water. Heat the mixture to around 150 degrees (Fahrenheit). You want to be careful not to boil the tea. This is because temperatures over 180 degrees (Fahrenheit) can start to break down the mushroom’s beneficial compounds. In order to release the maximum amount of biologically active chemicals from the plant material, let the tea simmer for eight hours.
After simmering, strain out the residual Chaga plant matter, but do not throw it away! Your tea is now ready to enjoy! The remaining Chaga has not yet released all of its active components.
While a hot-water decoction will release some of the mushroom’s beneficial elements, not all of its desirable ingredients are water-soluble. After making your tea, you can process the leftover Chaga through an alcohol extraction in order to release the remaining bioactive chemicals into a tincture. Place your leftover Chaga into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (mason jars work well). Fill the jar with alcohol. Many people use vodka or gin (40% alcohol) for this step. However, in order to extract all of the mushroom’s valuable compounds, you may want to choose stronger alcohol for your tincture. Just be sure only to use alcohol that is safe for consumption. So, do not use isopropyl or denatured alcohol, which include bittering agents to discourage drinking.
If you find the preparation of fresh Chaga to be too labor-intensive, but you still want to enjoy your Chaga as a tea, we are happy to have ground Chaga tea available in our shop. To prepare, simmer one tablespoon of ground Chaga in four to six cups of filtered water for at least twenty minutes. When done, the water will be opaque and resemble black coffee. Strain the grounds out of the water and set aside. Reuse Chaga grounds two or three times. When reusing, be make sure to simmer for additional time, following the ‘looks like black coffee’ rule. You can then add cream and maple syrup to taste if you wish.
For those customers who prefer to take medicinal mushrooms in tincture form, but who don’t have the time or desire to create their own extractions, we also have several high-quality Chaga tincture options available in our shop.
If you are looking for a pure Chaga tincture, the North Spore Chaga Mushroom Tincture is an excellent option. North Spore forages Chaga from the forests of Maine. The tincture is made from fruiting bodies, instead of mycelium, for maximum health benefits. North Spore’s tinctures are double-extracted in a process that follows up a month-long alcohol soak with a hot water decoction. This allows both water- and alcohol-soluble components to be released from the plant matter.
Chaga is not only a fantastic health supplement on its own, but is also one of our favorite ingredients in combination blend tinctures. If you are looking for daily total immune support, the North Spore Immunity Blend tincture is an excellent option. It consists of four immune-boosting mushrooms: Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, and Shiitake.
We also have a “Stay Well” Herbal Glycerite that may provide an additional boost to your immune system in times of need. Our “Stay Well” Blend is made in-house on our small Colorado farm, from organic and sustainably grown ingredients. It contains astragalus, echinacea, ginger, wild blueberries, reishi, and (of course) Chaga. These ingredients create the perfect blend to help protect against minor colds.
All chaga tinctures can be taken alone, or added to your favorite beverage. Each can be taken up to three times a day.
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Beautiful article! Chaga has an ever-growing reputation as one of the most health-giving foods on the planet.