Chaga is a wild mushroom that grows on birch trees (family Betulaceae) in extremely cold regions of northern latitudes including Baltic regions, Alaska, Scandinavia, Siberia and northern Canada, where temperatures fall below – 30 F for the 2-3 months per year required to sustain maximum growth and potency.
Its growth is rare, estimated to appear only on one in every 15,000 birch trees. Its name derives from the Komi-Permyak language of Russia’s Kama River Basin, where the fungus has played an important role in traditional medicine for centuries.
Technically, this mushroom is a highly-concentrated black mass of mycelium that protrudes from birch trees infected with the 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.
The mushroom contains – alkalines, polysaccharides, phytonutrients, organic acids and many essential minerals and microelements such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, chromium, and others. Inonotus Obliquus is rich in natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phenols, containing the compounds betulinic and betulin acid, which derive directly from host birch trees.
Health benefits of Chaga mushroom:
For centuries, this mushroom has been used to create an herbal tea that has served as a potent folk medicine, and today’s research has helped to validate many of its early benefits.
Boosts immune system
Inonotus Obliquus has an abundance of Beta-D-Glucans, which help balance the response of the body’s immune system. This means that the mushroom helps boost the immune system when necessary, but slows it down when it’s overactive.
This makes it a natural biological response modifier (BRM). A 2008 study, by the School of Medicine and Pharmaceutics, China, has also shown that Inonotus obliquus possesses significant antilipidperoxidative, antihyperglycemic and antioxidant effects in alloxan-induced diabetic mice.
Alleviates anxiety and stress
As an adaptogen, this plant can help to abate stressful feelings. An adaptogenic substance is one that displays a nonspecific enhancement of the body’s ability to resist a stressor. Also, adaptogens function by balancing the body’s different systems, energizing systems that are fatigued and quieting overactive systems.
This is particularly helpful for stressful situations when the body releases stress hormones that lead to feelings of fatigue and anxiety.
Normalizes bad cholesterol (LDL) levels
There is a protein in mushrooms called chitin that breaks down cholesterol, hence improving heart’s health and cleaning the arteries.
The mushroom is known for its very high content of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an essential enzyme that functions as a powerful antioxidant. SOD performs a vital anti-aging function by neutralizing oxygen free radicals, preventing oxidative damage to tissues and cells.
In studies, low tissue levels of SOD have been linked with both a decline in overall health and a reduction in life span. SOD occurs naturally in many forms in all human tissues, but levels decline with age, especially after age 30.
It contains polysaccharides (a carbohydrate structure which has a long chain of Hydrogen, Carbon, and Oxygen cells) and anti-inflammatory compounds that help lubricate the skin.
Extracts from this remarkable mushroom have been shown to kill human glial, lung, and colon cancer cells, according to recent research, without harming healthy cells.
The mushroom can be prepared in tea form. I recommend using a tea made from ground whole mushroom and birch bark. To gain the greatest health benefit from the tea, heat water in a crock pot to about 150 degrees, add the tea, and let it simmer for 4 or 5 days (it will not spoil).
Another approach is to take a thermos of hot water (not boiling, but heated to about 180 degrees), add the mushroom and steep it for 2 or 3 days. Let the water extract the active ingredients. You can consume the tea as it steeps, adding more hot water as you use the tea.
Side effects of Chaga mushroom:
This mushroom may interact with certain chemical substances, especially pharmaceutical medications. It is acknowledged to interact negatively with intravenous applications of glucose and penicillin.
Another side effect of the mushroom is bleeding, which increases if you take it with warfarin or aspirin. Also, the mushroom interacts with diabetes medicines like insulin, increasing your risk for hypoglycemia or blood sugar levels that fall too low. Symptoms of hypoglycemia may include dizziness, shakiness, hunger, confusion, feeling weak or anxious, and difficulty speaking.
Pregnant mothers and mothers who are breastfeeding, or children, should not use the alcohol extract version of the mushroom Inonotus Obliquus extract, and such individuals should consult a health care specialist before using any kind of extract, as researchers have not been conducted for use by these groups.