Chaga: The King of Medicinal Mushrooms
One of the wisest men of all time once said:
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
These words were spoken over 2000 years ago by Aristotle, and our understanding of the properties of natural things we find all around us has only deepened.
When we look to the forest instead of the pharmacy for our health and well-being, some truly miraculous things start to happen.
Chaga is often called the “King of medicinal mushrooms” and is hailed for its anti-inflammatory components, high levels of antioxidants, and immunity-boosting compounds.
People have used medicinal mushrooms for thousands of years, but only recently have we begun to understand how truly powerful they can be. The Chaga fungus, in particular, has inspired a sense of awe in even the deepest skeptics.
What Is The Super Fungi Chaga: Inonotus Obliquus?
Chaga, or Inonotus obliquus, are a unique type of fungi that grow exclusively on birch trees in the northern hemisphere. They are hard and look/feel more like a type of wood than a mushroom. This is partly because chaga, while a super fungi, is technically in the strictest mycological sense not a mushroom, but a hardened fungal mass, called a sclerotium or (plural; sclerotia) that literally transforms the biomass of the birch tree. (Etymology note: the word sclerotium apparently comes from the Greek word skleros which means hard)
The canker-like growth of the Chaga fungus is actually a parasitic fungus, infecting birch trees. While we visually see the dark, hardened scletoria, the rest of the organism, the mycelium, penetrate deep inside the tree, out of sight. When people harvest the Chaga fungus they can cut away a portion of the exposed sclerotia body and leave behind the rest so that it can regrow.
The Chaga fungus will grow on a tree for between 10 and 80 years, eventually killing the tree. They also continue to grow on the tree once it is dead, decomposing the trees and returning important nutrients back to the Earth. However, it is reccomended that chaga be harvested from living trees while they are still alive and sterile.
The chaga fungus generally grows only on birch trees in cold climates in the northern hemisphere including Russia, Siberia, Northern Canada, Alaska, and Northern European countries. Chaga produces a woody growth, or conk, that holds a massive amount of melanin, making them look like burnt charcoal, whilst its core has an orange color.
What most people don’t know is that the birch tree (Betula spp.), Chaga’s selective host, is actually a medicinal plant itself. There is a history of teas and extracts being made utilizing the tree’s bark & twigs for medicine. To our delight, there has been recent confirmation from the scientific community confirming the efficacy of the birch tree addressing cancer & skin ailments. It appears to be attributed to terpenes called betulin & betulinic acid, both of which are also found in chaga in addition to the rest of its beneficial compounds. (15)
Benefits of the Chaga Fungus
Chaga have been used around the world, including in traditional medicine by the indigenous peoples of Siberia, First Nation's People in North America, and by people's of China, Japan, Russia, Finland, & Poland. Chaga was also reportedly used as a coffee substitute during World War I and II but interest in the super fungi for its health benefits from the Western world is attributed to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1967 book Cancer Ward when the author mentioned Chaga's use as a traditional Slavic anti-cancer remedy.
As with all medicinal mushrooms, research is ongoing, and scientists are only just beginning to understand the true potential of Chaga. While there are no clinical trials of chaga, there are many notable in-vitro studies utilizing human cells in-vitro and animals that have found the following.
Chaga: Immunity + Anti-inflammation
Inflammation is a natural immune response that works to protect us against disease. However, chronic inflammation is linked to many conditions such as heart disease, asthma, IBD, endometriosis, and even cancer. Research on chaga has shown how Chaga extract can boost immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and helping to fight harmful viruses and bacteria. There are several ways that Chaga can reduce inflammation. Firstly, they promote the formation of beneficial cytokines — specialized proteins that regulate the immune system. (1)
They can also prevent the production of harmful cytokines, which could otherwise trigger harmful inflammation, and have been linked to several diseases. (2, 3). In one animal study, chaga inhibited mice's inflammatory cytokines, which led to reduced inflammation and gut damage. (4)
Additionally, chaga has been shown to actually stimulate white blood cells, which are essential for fighting off harmful viruses and bacteria. (5)
Although no human studies have been carried out, the initial results are promising. The chaga fungus appears to have massive benefits to the immune system and may help you fight off minor colds, and it may help prevent more severe illnesses and diseases.
Chaga: Cancer Cells
Several animal and test-tube studies have also demonstrated how Chaga could prevent and slow cancer growth. (6).
In a 2016 study performed on mice with cancer, Chaga supplementation reduced tumor size by an average of 60%! (7)
Although human studies are yet to be performed, in a test tube study on human colon cancer cells, Chaga extract prevented cancer growth. Similar results have also been observed with prostate, liver, lung, and breast cancer cells. (8, 9, 10).
Scientists believe that Chaga could help fight cancer because of its high levels of antioxidants. (11)
Antioxidants prevent or slow damage to cells that is caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental stressors.
If the body can't process and remove free radicals, it leads to oxidative stress, harming cells and body function. Oxidative stress has been linked to several conditions, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, stroke, immune deficiency, respiratory diseases, Parkinson's disease, and emphysema.
In particular, Chaga contains the antioxidant triterpene. Test tube studies have shown that concentrated forms of triterpene can help kill cancer cells (11).
Chaga: Blood Sugar Levels
Balanced blood sugar levels are massively beneficial. For people without diabetes, it can prevent weight gain, reduce stress hormones and inflammation, provide more consistent energy and focus, and reduce the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
For people with diabetes, it can reduce the risk of many complications associated with diabetes, such as eye damage, stroke and heart attack, nerve damage and neuropathy, sexual dysfunction, and kidney disease.
Several animal studies have demonstrated that Chaga can lower blood sugar. (12, 13). In one study on diabetic mice, Chaga supplements over three weeks led to a 31% reduction in blood sugar levels. (13)
Chaga's potent antioxidant properties may also benefit cholesterol levels, thus reducing your risk of heart disease.
In an eight-week animal study on rats with high cholesterol, Chaga reduced LDL cholesterol (sometimes referred to as bad cholesterol), total cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing antioxidant levels. (14)
Similar studies led to the same results, while also observing that in addition to reducing bad cholesterol, Chaga also increases HDL cholesterol, which is referred to as good cholesterol. (13, 12). Good cholesterol absorbs bad cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, where it can be flushed from the body, further lowering the risk of heart disease or stroke.
How to Consume Chaga Mushrooms
To get the most benefits from Chaga fungi, it must be treated with hot water or alcohol to break down its rigid cellular walls. Some components are water-soluble and others need alcohol, so you should ensure that you find a quality product that had been extracted in a way that preserves all its goodness.
This is followed by a process called sublimation, which involves drying out the mushroom to preserve the nutrients and then crushing it down into a fine powder. This produces pure Chaga extract powder with no unnecessary preparation or additives.
Chaga mushroom tea has a subtle and earthy flavor that many people enjoy, however, it can be quite bitter so many people opt to mix it with Cacao or a teaspoon of honey.
At Malama Mushrooms, we ensure that all of our products are ethically made from the best ingredients. We feel passionate about mushrooms & fungi alike and we are determined to transform people's lives with the best possible products!
If you can't decide which medicinal mushroom you want to try (and we don't blame you, there are so many incredible shrooms to choose from), why not try our NEW! 8 Mushroom Cacao Mix or 8 Mushroom Superfood Powder Mix.