What is Chaga?
Chaga or to give it its scientific name, Inonotus obliquus is a type of fungus which grows on the birch trees of Siberia and other cold regions like Alaska and Northern Canada. While it is often referred to as a mushroom, chaga does not resemble any mushroom that we are familiar with and botanists are undecided whether it should be classed as a mushroom at all.
Unlike true mushrooms, chaga has a very hard exterior resembling burnt charcoal with a rust colored interior. They can weigh over 30 pounds and grow in a variety of shapes up to 12 inches in diameter. Chaga’s relationship with the birch tree is symbiotic; they help the tree remain healthy and grow and can even help a sick tree to recover when inserted onto the damaged tree.
Traditional uses of Chaga
The chemicals and processes that help the birch tree are also of great value to human health and chaga has been used for centuries and possibly even thousands of years by various cultures familiar with its benefits. Indigenous Siberians ground it down and added it to their stews and soups in order to boost endurance and stave off degenerative diseases.
It has been noted that Inuit Siberians had significantly greater life spans than Inuit from regions where they did not use chaga and also that cancer was extremely rare in areas of Siberia where chaga was commonly consumed. In Eastern Europe, chaga has traditionally been used as a treatment for skin conditions like eczema and for respiratory disorders like bronchitis. Traditional Chinese and Korean practitioners have also made use of chaga since ancient times and it remains popular in Asian medicine to this day.
Chaga Health Benefits
Chaga contains very significant amounts of powerful antioxidants with far reaching health applications. Other key chemical ingredients include polysaccharides, phytosterols and triterpenes like botulin and betulinic acid which give chaga a diverse range of therapeutic benefits.
Ergosterol peroxide specifically is a medically interesting component of Chaga. Ergosterol peroxide has shown anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and immunosuppressive capabilities in the lab.
Chaga is considered to be an adaptogen; a substance which helps normalize and balance body functions. Research has demonstrated that chaga could both stimulate immune response while simultaneously reducing inflammation unlike most medications which typically have one effect or the other.
1. A Very Powerful Antioxidant
When it comes to potent antioxidant super foods, chaga has few equals. Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is present in chaga in very large quantities. SOD effectively neutralizes the damage done by free radicals, protects against disease and slows down the aging process.
Studies have linked low levels of SOD with declining health and decreased life span. Diet is the best way to increase SOD levels and compared with other foods, chaga is a great source.
In the ORAC scale a scale which was designed to measure the ability of food to deal with oxidative stress and absorb free radical damage, chaga has the highest rating. It has up to 50 times more SOD enzymes than fruit juices, leafy greens, truffles and seaweed. Chaga’s incredible ability to combat oxidative stress makes it a powerful ally in the fight against aging, heart disease and cancer.
2. Immune System Boost
A strong and healthy immune system is essential to good overall health and protection against illness. Chaga is understood to be an adaptogen simultaneously working in two directions to helps boost and modulate the immune system. Many experts consider it to be one of the most potent natural foods for autoimmune diseases.
3. Inflammatory Conditions
A variety of the compounds contained in chaga such as betulinic acid and inotodiol work to reduce dangerous inflammation within the body. Inflammation can be extremely harmful and left unchecked might lead to serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Ulcers and Gastritis
Because of its immune boosting and anti-inflammatory abilities, chaga has traditionally been used to support intestinal health and treat ulcers. According to research, chaga might be a useful alternative treatment for ulcers and inflammatory bowel syndrome. (1)
5. Heart Health
As well as protecting the heart by its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nature, the betulinic acid in chaga is known to help break down the bad LDL cholesterol in the body. Research conducted in Russia way back in the 1950s discovered that chaga had a beneficial effect on high blood pressure but no studies have been conducted since then. Be sure to consult your doctor if you have hypertension and are considering taking chaga supplements.
Chaga extract has been approved as a treatment for various types of cancer in Russia since the 1950s. The betulinic acid found in chaga mushrooms is known to induce apoptosis or cell death and prevent tumors from developing. A number of research articles have confirmed that chaga has exciting anti-tumor potential. (2) (3)
Another study has demonstrated that inotodiol; the triterpenoid compound found in chaga has potential as an anticancer agent. Researchers concluded that these sub fractions isolated when from chaga had the potential to be used in food or by the pharmaceutical industry as an anticancer ingredient. (4)
A 2015 study looked at another compound from Chaga mushroom and its anti-cancer potential. The study tested the anti-cancer activity of Ergosterol peroxide from Chaga mushroom on mice.
Ergosterol peroxide was shown to inhibit colorectal cancer in mice. The extract inhibited cancer cell and tumor growth.
Authors concluded that the Chaga extract has properties to advocate its use as a supplement for preventing colon cancer. (5)
Research suggests that Chaga may contain multiple anti-cancer components: Betulinic acid, Inotodiol and Ergosterol peroxide.
Chaga can be drunk as a healthy tea and is a great way to keep your digestive system in excellent shape. It helps relieve indigestion and other digestive pain while keeping the digestive system working smoothly. Chaga stimulates digestive bile production which helps break down food especially stubborn fats and allows them to be absorbed more easily. Chaga is also a great source of dietary fiber.
8. Skin Health
Chaga gets its distinctive dark color because of its very high melanin content. Melanin is a powerful antioxidant that is known to protect the genes and the DNA. Melanin is also the main pigment present in our skin and experts suggest that chaga’s melanin content can enhance the health of your skin, keeping it beautiful and supple. It can help protect both the skin and hair from sun damage and might even help diminish the size of age spots.
9. Liver detox
Because of its incredible antioxidant activity, chaga tea or supplements are an ideal addition to any detox diet plan. The betulin present in chaga is also known to have a liver detoxifying effect helping you clean out the system and start afresh.
There is some research backing Chaga’s benefits for the liver. A recent study in 2015 tested the liver protective ability of Chaga Mushroom extract.
This study compared chemically induced liver damage on untreated and Chaga pre-treated rats. The study found the Chaga pre-treated rats had significantly less liver damage. The authors concluded that Chaga mushroom extract did show liver protective activity. (6)
10. Manages Feelings of Stress
On top of all the wonderful abilities of chaga tea, it is also considered an adaptogen. Adaptogens help keep your body in balance, by making sure all systems aren’t going into overdrive. By keeping a quiet balance in your body, you are better able to cope with stressful situations.
Typically during stressful situations the body’s first response is to release a wave of stress hormones, which contribute to feelings of fatigue and stress. Stress management is necessary to maintaining your health, so at the end of a bad day, kick back and relax with a soothing cup of Chaga tea.
How to take Chaga
Chaga is not easy to find but can be consumed fresh from the tree Unfortunately it is unlikely that many of the readers live near to a forest full of wild chaga in which case it can be bought in a variety of forms including tinctures, capsules and pure dried pieces.
One of the most popular ways to take chaga is in the form of tea which can be made easily from dried chaga chunks by following a few simple steps.
- Break the chunks into manageable chunks of around 10 grams.
- Grind one of the chunks into a fine powder with a coffee grinder or something similar.
- Put between one and 2 teaspoons of powder into a teapot and add boiling water.
- Let the chaga steep for at least 5 minutes; the longer it steeps the more medicinal ingredients you will be able to extract.
- Add honey to taste.
Currently there is no strict dosage set for chaga, but some experts recommend one teaspoon of powder a day or about one gram. If you’re treating a specific condition, then you may take 2-3 grams a day until your condition clears up. There is currently no information regarding how much is too much, but its best to err on the side of caution and to follow the general rule of too much of anything is not good for you. Stick to one gram for general health maintenance and 2-3 grams for the treatment of an ailment.
When taking a chaga mushroom tincture, drop some of the tincture under the tongue and hold for 60 to 90 seconds and then swallow. Holding the drops under your tongue ensures that the chaga actually filters throughout your body as opposed to be immediately digested.
Holding the drops underneath your tongue also makes the chaga act quickly, producing immediate results. To get the most detoxifying results from a chaga tincture, its recommended to take 1-3 drops once or twice a day.
Its recommended that you follow these steps for 30-90 days to ensure that you are giving the adaptogens enough time to take effect. If you’re taking chaga tincture for stress management, try taking a couple drops before knowingly engaging in a stressful situation. To prevent low blood sugar, take with meals.
Now that you’ve got your hands on some chaga, its important to know how to store it to ensure that it maintains its integrity and healing powers. Chaga is a fungus, so once its been harvested, it must either be refrigerated or dehydrated.
If you fail to properly store your chaga, you may notice a powdery black substance growing on it. It is currently unknown how safe it is to take chaga once this powdery substance has started to grow on your chaga.
Dehydrating your chaga is important because it not only keeps it fresh for consumption, it also helps it break down easier to make into a tea. To dehydrate your chaga, break it down into two inch pieces and place in a dehydrator.
Set your dehydrator for 150 degrees and dehydrate the chaga for 8 hours. You can also spread your chunks of chaga out in an airy place for them to dry. Air circulation is extremely important when dehydrating chaga.
Chaga Side Effects and Considerations
- While chaga has been used for centuries with no reported ill effect, there have been no clinical trials to examine is safety for children or pregnant women.
- If you are concerned about taking chaga, make sure that you consult a doctor first as it might in theory interact with certain medications like anticoagulants and also diabetes medications like insulin.