Chaga is a nutrient-dense medicinal mushroom which grows wild on birch trees, partially in parts of China, Korea, Siberia, and Eastern Europe. It’s an unusual polypore in the way that grows symbiotically with the tree and absorbs some of its nutrients. Chaga’s health-enhancing compounds are able to provide immune support, reduce inflammation, and even slow down the aging process.
Nicknamed the mushroom of immortality, and used as a medicinal supplement for thousands of years, chaga has certainly earned superfood status.
Chaga’s Key Nutritional Compounds
When you ingest chaga mushroom, your body will receive a powerful dose of over 215 vitamins, minerals, and other bioactive compounds.
Beta-Glucans: Support the production of T-cells and macrophages to increase immune defense
Polysaccharides: Help to better store the energy that we get from food
Triterpenes: Nourish the nervous system and aid digestion
Superoxide Dismutase: Fight free radical damage and slow down the aging process
Betulinic Acid: Strengthens and supports the immune system
As well as these compounds, chaga also contains vitamins B2, D, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, rubidium, cesium, silicon, manganese, selenium, zinc, antimony, barium, bismuth, boron, chromium, and copper.
Chaga for Immune Support and Stress Reduction
Chaga is one of only 16 herbs and mushrooms that are classified as adaptogens. An adaptogen is a term given to describe ‘wise’ substances which are able to work with the body in order to balance its current state of health. Master herbalist, Donald Yance, says that “as far as something with concrete evidence of promoting health across the board, there is nothing even in the same ballpark as adaptogens.”
Starting in the 1950s, The Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) conducted thousands of scientific experiments to better understand the effect of adaptogenic substances on the body. They found that chaga was the most powerful out of all of the substances, so much so that they recommended that athletes and astronauts take chaga supplements to better respond to natural and physical stress factors.
On top of this, chaga is also rich in beta-glucans which have been proven to act as natural biological response balancers for additional immune system support.
Chaga’s Role in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Chaga makes an appearance in one of the oldest and most treasured handbooks of all time, The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, where it is described as a superior class herb. Its many uses have made it a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and chaga tea has been enjoyed as a longevity tonic for thousands of years in parts of China and Siberia. From a TCM perspective, chaga has a very ‘cooling’ effect on the body, and helps to cleanse the blood and clear toxins. It is believed that this quality is linked to chaga’s ability to withstand extremely harsh and cold weather conditions. Chaga is also one of the rare substances that is believed to strengthen and nourish all of the three treasures: qi, shen, and jing.
Chaga for Beauty
Aside from its immune-enhancing, stress-reducing, and neuroregenerative qualities, chaga is also hailed as a beauty food. Chaga has extremely high levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), in fact, it can contain up to ten times the levels present in over the counter SOD pills. SOD is a naturally occurring enzyme that provides powerful free-radical protection, prevents tissue damage, and ultimately help to slow down the aging process.
Surprisingly, chaga also contains even more antioxidants than in a range of superstar superfoods including blueberries, noni fruit, raw cacao powder, and the much-loved goji berry. Antioxidants have been proven to help prevent premature skin aging, reverse sun damage, and strengthen hair and nails.
Ten Health Benefits of Chaga Mushroom
Immune-Strengthening: Rejuvenates and supports the immune system
Antibacterial: Combats a range of bacterial infections
Anti-Inflammatory: Reduces inflammation in the body and soothes muscles aches
Anti-Ageing: Fights free radical damage and improves the condition of the skin
Neuroregenerative: Enhances cognitive development
Adaptogenic: Works with the body to help it to better deal with stress
Allergy Alleviator: May limit the release of histamine
Liver Support: Helps the liver to function optimally
Fights Fatigue: Provides a boost of energy
Lower Blood Pressure:Triterpenes can lower high blood pressure
How to Choose the Best Chaga
Chaga’s nutritional potency will vary depending on where and how it was grown, the age of the mushroom, as well as the way that it is prepared and packaged. If you want to buy high-quality chaga powder, then you should only purchase it from a reputable company who specialize in sourcing and selling mushrooms or other tonic herbs. You may also want to check that it has been ethically sourced, wild-crafted and prepared without the use of high temperatures or chemicals.
You should also check that the chaga mushroom powder has no additional preservatives in it. Chaga powder will have a shelf life of between 1 and 2 years providing that it is packaged carefully and stored in a cool and dry place. Chaga that is sold by a reputable company will always have a best before date listed on the packaging.
How to Prepare and Use Chaga
Raw, whole chaga mushroom requires a little TLC in order to turn into a palatable supplement. Boiling the raw mushroom helps to remove some of the mycotoxins and make the nutrients more easily digestible. To create a chaga tea, break the raw chaga mushroom into even size chunks and then place them into a large pan filled with 1 liter of water. Bring the water to the boil, and then cover the pan with a lid. After an hour, when the water turns a reddish-brown color, you can strain the chaga tea through a sieve into a mug and enjoy. Care needs to be taken not to overboil the mushroom, as this can cause the beta-glucans to disintegrate. Other methods of preparation include time-consuming fermentation as will as ethanol or methanol extraction methods.
Thankfully, there are a few ways that you can reap chaga’s benefits without having to go through the long process of boiling and straining the raw mushroom. The easiest way is to buy concentrated chaga mushroom powder which has been pre-prepared into a nutritious, finely-milled powder which is ready to be added to drinks, and foods.
You might be thinking, what does chaga taste like? Well, it has a very pleasant earthy taste which can be compared to a cross between coffee and tea. Because of this mild taste, it can really add another level of flavor to smoothies, juices, elixirs, tonics, soups and even sweet treats such as protein balls, energy bars, raw cheesecakes and cheesecakes.
If you can't decide between chaga and cordyceps, then it’s a wise idea to buy a medicinal mushroom complex. Complex powders contain a range of some of the most popular and nutritionally potent polypores, and they provide an economical way to sample a range of medicinal mushrooms.
Chaga Dosage Recommendations and Side Effects
The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia state that chaga is safe to ingest and that it has no reported side effects. However, as with any medicinal mushrooms or tonic herbs, care should be taken if you are trying chaga for the first time. It’s is recommended to start with a chaga dosage of less than a teaspoon, and then slowly increase the amount if required. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners may prescribe higher doses in order to help to treat certain diseases in the body. Always consult your healthcare professional before taking chaga mushroom if you are pregnant or about to undergo major surgery.
Super Simple Chaga Tea
Chaga’s earthy flavor helps to makes a delicious tonic tea. Simply fill your favorite mug with warm (not boiling) water, then add in one to two teaspoons of the chaga mushroom powder. Stir until the powder dissolves, and then enjoy. Depending on your tastes, a dash of agave, coconut sugar, or maple syrup will help to sweeten up the tea. You can use this chaga recipe to create elixirs using other tonic herbs, medicinal mushrooms, spices, and nut milks.
Chia Chaga Smoothie
Chia seeds are ancient grains which are full of protein, fiber, and Omega fatty acids. They help to provide a slow and steady release of energy, which makes this an ideal smoothie to drink before a workout or yoga class. You’ll need a blender to make this; A high-speed blender such as a Vitamix or Nutribullet will help to break down the seeds, although slower blends will work just fine too. Create a base using half a cup of coconut or nut milk (extra points if you make it yourself at home), and then add one ripe banana, a big handful of spinach, as many blueberries as you desire, a teaspoon of chaga and two teaspoons of chia seeds. Blend until smooth and creamy and then enjoy.
Raw Chaga Chocolate Truffles
Chocolate fiends rejoice! This delectable dessert tastes incredibly rich and indulgent, yet the truffles are deceivingly low in fat and nutritious - so much so that you can eat them for breakfast. They are also incredibly easy to make, and only contain three ingredients: soft dates (medjool or deglet noir), raw cacao powder, and chaga mushroom powder.
First, blend two cups of the dates in a high-speed blender until smooth. Roll the blended dates into small round balls, then place the balls onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle a fine layer of the raw cacao powder onto a baking sheet, and then roll each of the balls in the powder so that they are evenly coated. You can add in chili, cinnamon, dates, nuts, berries of coconut flakes to make varied delicious creations. If you want to get fancy, you can dust your chaga protein balls with raw cacao powder, some chopped pistachios, dessicated coconut flakes, or even sesame seeds for an added dose of calcium.
Longevity expert David Wolfe says, “why take medicinal mushroom or herb number one-hundred or thousand when you can have number one?' And that number one is chaga”.
Scientific Name: Inonotus Obliquus
Common Names: Birch Conk, Clinker Polypore, Tinder Fungus, Mushroom of Immortality
Chaga References and Sources
If you want to learn more about chaga and other medicinal mushrooms then we can recommend these books and guides:
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr: The Cancer Ward
Nong, Shen: Shennong Bencao Jing (The Classic of Herbal Medicine)
Wolfe, David: Eating for Beauty
Stamets, Paul: Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World