It’s not much to look at, truly, but Chaga, otherwise known as the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms,” is gaining popularity in the west for its impressive health benefits and appealing taste in the form of tea. The tea is the most effective way to absorb all its beneficial nutrients.
I first heard about Chaga Tea a few years ago, and have been drinking it ever since. In my coaching practice, I encounter many people who struggle to give up sodas (lots of unhealthy sugar) and/or coffee (lots of caffeine). Chaga Tea is a good thing to replace either of those drinks. And while you may have been seeing more and more about medicinal mushrooms in the news recently, let me introduce you the not-too-well-known Chaga.
What Is Chaga?
It is a fungus (mushroom) that is dense and black. It appears on the outside of mostly birch trees which, after an injury, have been infected with a non-toxic parasitic fungus. It has a hard and cracked black exterior, which looks like burnt charcoal. The interior is softer and has a rusty yellow-brown color, and it reveals itself when the mushroom is removed from the birch tree and broken into chunks.
This is a type of fungus that grows on hardwood trees in cold, northern forests and is densely packed with chemicals, which have now been shown in scientific reports to boost immune system cells, act as an anti-oxidant, and possibly assist with certain cancers. These health benefits are nothing new, though, to indigenous Siberians who have been using Chaga for thousands of years.
Chaga, in fact, gets its name from an old Russian word for mushroom, coming from a specific group of people living near the Ural mountains centuries ago. In the 12th century, a Tsar known as the Grand Prince of Kievan Rus, was a widely known Chaga enthusiast. Later, in the 16-17th century, as it became more well known for its healing properties, Chaga appeared in traditional folk medicine books of Russia and northern Europe. It was credited with treating cancer, gastritis, ulcers, and tuberculosis.
More recently, in the 1950s, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, famous author and nobel laureate, became fascinated with Chaga’s benefits while doing research for his book Cancer Ward. It is mentioned in the book as a healing substance. It now grows wild in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern Northern Europe, and closer to home in Northern United States and in Canada.
So now the secret is out. Chaga is no longer a folk medicine in one corner of the world. After Cancer Ward, there have been more than 16,000 scientific research papers investigating its health benefits.
What began as a biological oddity in the cold northern forests is now a widely respected super-food for health-conscious people all around the world.
The good news is that Chaga tastes much better than it looks. When it is broken up and mixed as a tea, the mushroom has a pleasant, rather earthy taste. Some say it is reminiscent of vanilla., no doubt due to the fact that it contains naturally occurring vanillin, the same as found in the vanilla bean. Others, trying it for the first time, find it too earthy, so add some honey.
How do Chaga Mushrooms Grow to be so Full of Nutrients?
Part of the answer to this question lies in the fact that they do not have an easy life. Their struggle for survival is very intense. They grow in very cold forests where they are exposed to snow, ice, and ferocious winds. Their summers are very hot, so they receive lot of UV radiation, and they are in constant competition with lots of tiny and dangerous creatures such as bacteria, worms, and fungus, to name a few.
The mushrooms defend themselves against these threats by packing themselves with biologically active chemicals which allow the Chaga to compete with other microbrial creatures and survive. Many of these chemicals are also biologically active in humans, who, like the mushrooms, have to fend off many microbes to survive and thrive.
To date, multiple laboratory and animal studies have demonstrated the these biologically active chemicals to have a positive effect on animal physiology. They have been shown to
kill cancer cells
reduce damaging inflammation
boost the immune system
increase stamina and reduce fatigue
act as an antioxidant
support normal cholesterol levels an blood pressure
relieve and/or prevent ulcers and gastritis.
Stand by for similar reports derived from studies humans.
One important paper revealed the ability of Chaga mushrooms to defend against infectious bacteria. The bacteria grows and becomes toxic inside a human body by effectively communicating with other like cells. Chaga mushrooms can disrupt this communication, and thus help us defend against bacterial infections.
Multiple reports demonstrate that treatment with Chaga mushrooms delivers antioxidant activity, which can reduce or preen oxidative stress, one of the most likely causes of the effects of aging.
Have some Chaga Tea!
This is the most fun and most effective method to ingest the mushroom. Click here for the recipe. No sugar, no caffeine – only good immune support and many other nutrients. To view or order some Chaga Mushroom Chunks, click here.
For a failure-proof process of making some Chaga Tea, click here.
My preference is to use the chunks, because they are less processed and so retain more ingredients. However, Chaga is also available in tea bag form and in powdered form. As always, I encourage you to shop for organic brands, no matter what your choice.
A caveat. If you use blood thinning medications, be careful with Chaga, as it can inhibit platelet formation. And while Chaga may lower blood sugar levels, normally a good thing, it could have a compounding effect with diabetes medication. Otherwise, there are no known health issues connected with Chaga, as there are with both sugar and caffeine.