Tag Archives: Chaga

What is Chaga?

What is Chaga?

Although it’s not much to look at, Chaga, or the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms” as some like to call it, is a very special medicinal mushroom that is gaining popularity in the west for its health benefits and appealing taste in the form of chaga tea. These benefits have long been known in the East, where Chaga has been used for centuries by people in Siberia, Russia and other parts of Asia.

What does it look like?

What we know as “Chaga” is actually the dense black mass of mycelia (roughly 10″ to 15″ in size) that appears on the outside of birch trees infected with the non-toxic parasitic fungus Inonotus Obliquus. The hard & cracked black exterior, which looks like burnt charcoal, is called the sclerotium (plural sclerotia).

The hard & cracked black exterior (sclerotium)
Inonotus-Obliquus

The interior is softer and has a rusty yellow-brown color that can be seen when it’s removed from the birch tree and broken into chunks.
Chaga Chunks

Where can you find it?

Most typically, well-formed sclerotia are found on birch trees older than 40 years, however, the fungus infection starts much earlier. Once infected, it takes about 3 to 5 years until the Chaga can be harvested. During this time, the mushroom is actively drawing nutrients and vitality from its host and utilizing them for its own development. Once harvested, Chaga can grow to a harvestable size again in about 3 to 10 years, and this cycle can be repeated until the tree dies. The time from initial infection to tree death can vary with the number of infections and the tree’s resistance, but is typically around 20 years. It’s important to remember that removing the Chaga does not stop the infection.

What are the Health Benefits?

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please consult with your doctor and read the latest information provided by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center before taking Chaga for any health condition.

Although research is ongoing, credible studies have shown that the Chaga Mushroom may provide several health benefits, including:

  • Stimulates and regulates the Immune System
  • Nutritional support in the fight against cancer
  • Reduce Inflammation
  • Anti-aging & Skin
  • Ulcers and Gastritis
  • Supports normal Cholesterol levels & Blood Pressure

Please read our Health Benefits post for more information about its medicinal potential.

How do you consume it?

Chaga Tea and Chunks

Chaga has a naturally occurring vanillin, the same as found in the vanilla bean. Therefore, it takes on a slight hint of vanilla flavor when consumed as a tea and doesn’t taste anything like a regular mushroom.

There are several ways to consume Chaga, but hot water extraction (e.g. Chaga Tea) is the most common and simplest way to enjoy it. However, a quality dual extract is the only way to extract all of the healthy bioactive ingredients that are locked inside. This method typically combines both hot water and alcohol extraction methods, but can vary in sophistication. For more ideas on how to consume Chaga, check out our Recipes post or Chaga Buying Guide.

For more recipe ideas on how to prepare chaga, click the button below to receive your FREE Chaga Recipes eBook.

How do you harvest and prepare it?

Chaga Harvesting
In general, Chaga Mushrooms are mostly found in very cold habitats and grow predominantly on birches. More specifically, Chaga grows wild in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States and in Canada.

Chaga should only be harvested from living trees and great care should be taken not to damage the tree or over-harvest the chaga. If you’re feeling adventurous and wish to harvest Chaga for yourself, read our guide on How to Harvest Chaga to learn more.

After harvesting, the Chaga is dried and then broken into small chunks or ground into a powder for tea. When prepared at home, the chunks are typically brewed/steeped in hot water to make a medicinal Chaga Tea, or mixed with alcohol and left to mature into a powerful Tincture. The raw powder can also be added to smoothies, soups, stews, etc., to add nutritional value to everyday meals. Please read our guide on How to Prepare Chaga for more info on how you can make your own tea or tincture.

The Future of Chaga

As more & more respected institutions, such as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, produce credible and detailed studies into the medicinal benefits, the more people will discover this special mushroom. Furthermore, improvements in the extraction techniques from producers such as Oriveda will help consumers get the most out of it’s numerous health benefits.

Chaga Mushroom: The Immune-Boosting Superfood

Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) is a mushroom that typically grows on birch trees in colder climates across the Northern Hemisphere. At first glance, the mushroom doesn’t look very appealing; actually, it doesn’t even looks like a mushroom at all! Appearances can be deceiving, however, as this special mushroom packs a punch when it comes to its health value.

What Is Chaga Mushroom?

Chaga has been consumed for centuries in the East, most typically as tea, where its health benefits are well established. More recently, chaga has been gaining popularity in the West, where its numerous health benefits are now being recognized by many health gurus. Technically, chaga is a highly-concentrated black mass of mycelium that protrudes from birch trees infected with parasitic?but non-toxic?fungus Inonotus Obliquus. The dark, hard and cracked exterior, which often appears like burnt charcoal, is called the sclerotium. The interior has a rusty yellow brown color.
What Are the Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms?

The health benefits of Chaga are numerous, many of which can be attributed to its immune-boosting ingredients and antioxidants. [1] Let’s go through each of the top 6 health benefits:

1. Supports Immune System

Chaga has an abundance of Beta-D-Glucans which help balance the response of the body’s immune system. This means that chaga helps boosts the immune system when necessary, but slows it down when it’s overactive. This makes chaga a natural Biological Response Modifier (BRM). Research has also shown that chaga activates immune cells responsible for combating cancer initiation. [2] Research is still ongoing, as more studies are needed to determine chaga’s full role in cancer. Chaga has proven effective in supporting standard cancer approaches, such as chemotherapy, by compensating for the program’s negative side effects. I’m certainly not saying that chaga will ease cancer progression; however, evidence suggests there may be vital compounds in the mushroom that warrant further investigation into its role.

2. Soothing Properties

Chaga supports the integrity of blood vessels and provides soothing properties in times of irritation. This can be helpful for those suffering from pain, neuropathy, and even diabetes. [3]

3. Ulcers and Gastritis

Due to its immune-boosting properties, chaga has long been used to support gastrointestinal health in Eastern culture. Most ulcers are caused by bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, so a well-functioning immune system can fight off this pathogen. Ulcers may be soothed by the use of chaga, depending on the severity and the patient.

4. Normalize Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels

Studies have shown that the betulinic acid found in chaga is able to break down LDL cholesterol?bad cholesterol?in the bloodstream. [4]

5. Antimicrobial Activity

In one study, the chemical characterization and biological activity of extracts of Chaga mushroom were examined and showed high antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. [5]

6. DNA Damage Protection

In one study, cells were pretreated with a chaga mushroom extract, then treated with H202 to induce oxidative stress. The pretreated cells displayed less damage than cells that did not receive the chaga extract. [6]

7. Antiviral Properties of Chaga Mushroom

A limited amount of studies have been done to learn about the antiviral activity of chaga mushroom. In two recent studies, chaga mushroom showed protective support against harsh skin blemishes. [7] [8]

Antioxidant Properties

So what are the ingredients behind chaga that provide all these health benefits? Let’s go through the 6 key ingredients that make chaga so healthy.

1. Polysaccharides

Chaga contains structural polysaccharides within its chitin walls, which provide energy, cardiovascular health, intestinal and liver health, and promote healthy blood sugar levels. It’s also said to improve one’s mood.

2. Beta-D-Glucans

Beta-D-Glucans are known for their ability to modulate the immune system. Beta-D-Glucans also help with normalizing cholesterol levels and blood sugar.

3. Phytosterols

Of the phytosterols present in chaga, 45% is Lanosterol, 25% is Inotodiols and the remaining 30% consists of Ergosterol, Fecosterol, and several others. In vivo and in vitro testing shows a direct effect of both Lanosterol and Inotodiols on cancer cells, with lanosterol imparting a positive effect on viral compounds. [9]

4. Betulin and Betulinic Acid (Triterpenes)

Betulin and betulinic acid are powerful therapeutic agents that are currently being researched for their effects on supporting healthy cholesterol levels. In addition to their favorable benefits for maintaining a healthy cholesterol profile, betulin and betulinic acid are also being studied in relation to cancer and viruses. [10]

5. Antioxidants

Chaga sclerotium contains massive amounts of the natural black pigment known as melanin, which has high antioxidant levels due to the amount of polyphenols it contains. In fact, chaga has the highest ORAC score (the measure of antioxidant potency) of any superfood.

6. SODs

SODs are another important antioxidant present in chaga. SOD refers to a group of enzymes called Super Oxide Dismutase. These enzymes play an important role in protecting our body against the destructive effects of uncontrolled oxidation and free radicals. SOD potency is measured by the S-ORAC score. [11]

Chaga Mushroom vs. Superfoods

When it comes to health benefits, chaga performs very well when compared with several popular superfoods.

Quinoa vs. Chaga

Quinoa provides a great source of flavonoids, vitamins, and antioxidants. The high quantity of quercetin that it contains can help cardiac and respiratory health, in addition to protecting cells from free radical damage. Chaga contains a much higher level of antioxidants that provide the same benefits within the bloodstream.

Goji Berries vs. Chaga

Similar to chaga, goji berries contain high amounts of polysaccharides. Although unlike chaga, the main polysaccharide in goji berries is pectin. In contrast, chaga’s source of polysaccharides comes from chitin, a structural polysaccharide that is very beneficial for human consumption and much harder to source. The typical modern diet includes plenty of pectin and little to no chitin.

Avocado vs. Chaga

Avocado contains many beneficial nutrients such as folate and vitamin D. The combination of these nutrients plus lipids promotes lower cholesterol and heart health. The Beta-D-Glucans found within chaga also improve cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream during the digestion process.
Where to Find Chaga Mushroom

Chaga is not easy to find and people often mistake the mushroom for knots in the tree or burnt patches. You’ll find chaga growing predominantly on birch trees in cold habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including northern parts of Europe, Russia, Korea, Canada, and the U.S.

In North America, Chaga is almost exclusively found on birches in the northeast. In particular, it’s most commonly found on paper and yellow birch trees. Paper birch is a common forest tree with a white bark that exfoliates in broad, curling sheets. It’s found at low and high elevations in the northeast of North America. Yellow birch is another common forest tree and usually has a yellow bark that exfoliates as small, curling shreds.

Most typically, well developed chaga is found on birch trees older than 40 years and grows in all shapes and sizes on the outside of the birch trees it infects. You’ll typically see it in the form of a dome, cone, and horn with crusty ridges.

To learn more about harvesting chaga, check out www.chagahq.com/harvest-chaga/.

How to Make Chaga Tea

The most popular way to consume chaga is by drinking a delicious cup of chaga tea. Below is my favorite simple chaga tea recipe for you to try at home.

Break the whole chaga into roughly 10g chunks.
Grind one chunk into powder using a blender or coffee grinder.
Place one teaspoon (two if you like a stronger tea) into a tea infuser.
Place the tea infuser into your favorite large mug and pour in about 400 ml of hot water.
Leave the chaga and hot water steeping for at least 5 minutes, but the longer the better to extract more of the bioactive ingredients.
Remove the infuser from the mug and add maple syrup or honey to taste.