As one of the most potent polypores in nature, chaga is a woody-textured medicinal mushroom which contains numerous forest-source vitamins, minerals and other health-enhancing compounds. It commonly grows wild on birch trees, and it typically thrives in colder climates in the Northern hemisphere. Chaga is a powerful medicinal mushroom because it grows symbiotically with trees, and it can withstand extremely harsh weather conditions. Research shows that chaga has the ability to heal its host by supporting it with sterols, phenols, enzymes and phytochemicals.
Nicknamed the mushroom of immortality, chaga’s multiple medicinal qualities have been harnessed for thousands of years in the East, and they are now making it a must-have superfood supplement in the West.
Chaga Nutritional Breakdown
With over 215 nutritional compounds, chaga is hailed as one of the most nutritionally dense species out of all the medicinal mushrooms. It contains triterpenes, beta-glucans, phytochemicals, polysaccharides, as well as many minerals including manganese, zinc, iron, potassium, copper and calcium.
It’s also one of the most antioxidant-rich substances to be known to man: based on the ORAC scale, which is the official scale which is used to measure the presence of antioxidants, chaga is listed as the highest source of antioxidants in nature. It actually contains more antioxidants than many superfood favourites including blueberries, raw cacao powder, goji berries and noni fruit.
Chaga for Immune Health
Scientific studies reveal that the beta-glucans present in the chaga mushroom help to strengthen the immune system by acting as a natural biological response balancer. This means that it provides additional support, and it can also slow down and calm immune system when it is running on overdrive.
Chaga is classed as an adaptogen, which is a substance that works with the body’s current state of health in order to help to rejuvenate it. The Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), conducted well over 3,000 experiments with thousands of scientists in order to better study the effects of adaptogens on the human body. After the findings, the government recommended that athletes and astronauts should take natural adaptogenic substances in order to strengthen their immune system, and improve physical strength and longevity. Out of all the adaptogenic substances that were studied, chaga was listed as the most potent and powerful substance of the all.
Chaga in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Chaga’s benefits are plentiful, and from a Western medical standpoint, it contains many nutritional anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and anti-aging compounds. Yet from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, Chaga’s benefits go way beyond the biologically active compounds that it contains. It’s particularly interesting because of its ‘energetically’ cooling effects on the body, which alternative medicine specialists believe is partly due to chaga’s ability to withstand cold temperatures in the wild. It’s also said to nourish, strengthen and replenish the body’s flow of life-force energy known as qi. One of the first recorded mentions of Chaga is detailed in Shen Nong’s text on herbalism, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing. In this lengthy handbook, chaga is hailed as a superior class herb.
Chaga: A Natural Anti-Ageing Supplement
Other benefits of chaga include its anti-ageing abilities. Chaga contains a rare compound called superoxide dismutase, or SOD. SOD’s are classified as enzymes which limit oxidization, a process which can speed up the ageing process. Depending on its growing conditions, chaga can contain between 10,00 and 20,000 SOD units per gram, which is one of the highest amounts in nature, and even higher than many manufactured SOD pills and capsules. The enzymes in SOD pills can be difficult to absorb by the body, however, the type found in chaga can be readily absorbed and utilized.
Chaga Health Benefits at a Glance
Immune-Strengthening: Helps to regulate and support the functioning of the immune system
Antibacterial: Fights bacterial infections
Antiviral: Helps to protect against viruses
Anti-Inflammatory: Can relieve muscle aches and reduce the symptoms of arthritis
Anti-Ageing: Contains antioxidants and SODs which help to fight free radical damage
Neuroregenerative: Helps to enhance cognitive development and memory
Adaptogenic: Enables the body to better cope with a range of stress factors
Allergy Alleviator: Ganoderic acids can limit the release of histamine
Liver Support: Detoxifies, supports and strengthens the liver
Fights Fatigue: Helps to provide a caffeine-free energy boost
Meditation Aid: Can help to produce feelings of calm
Lower Blood Pressure:Triterpenes present in chaga may naturally lower high blood pressure
Safe to Use: The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia states there are no severe reported side effects
How to Choose the Best Chaga
Chaga comes in a range of formats and strengths, so it’s important to choose wisely if you really want to get the highest quality product. It is most commonly available in a powder format, but it is also available as a tincture, or prepared in tablets and capsules.
For the most potent dose, choose to buy a concentrated mushroom extract powder. These powders take the raw mushroom and concentrate the goodness, so you can receive more of the mushroom’s nutritional benefits in each serving. A few other markers to consider when buying high-quality chaga mushrooms include:
Ethically Sourced: Cultivated in a sustainable way
Wildcrafted: Naturally grown and harvested in an area which avoids using harsh pesticides
Pure: 100% natural with zero added fillers or preservatives
Carefully Prepared: Prepared without the use of harsh chemical or excess heat
Reputable: Purchase from a brand who specialize in selling medicinal mushrooms and tonic herbs
Packaging: Should be sealed in an airtight pouch or jar
Concentrated Extract: For a more potent dose of chaga
Storing the mushrooms is also important in order to help preserve the bio-active ingredients and extend its shelf life. You should always ensure the chaga is properly sealed and stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight. When it is stored correctly it should last between one and two years, but check the best before date on the product packaging.
How to Prepare and Use Chaga
If you have a raw chaga mushroom then it will require a fair amount of preparation in order to transform it into a palatable tea. You can boil a handful of raw chaga mushroom chunks in a large pan that contains 1 litre of water. Bring the water to a boil, allow it to simmer for a minimum of an hour (the water should turn a reddish brown), then strain into a mug for a delicious tea.
Luckily, there are easier ways to get the goodness of chaga mushroom without having to prepare it yourself. Chaga is available in a finely milled powder which can be instantly dissolved into all manner of beverages including herbal teas, coffee, smoothies, juices and shakes, plus it can be sprinkled over foods or mixed in with a range of sweet and savoury recipes. If you’re a wizard in the kitchen, then try adding in other tonic herbs, spices, nut milk, medicinal mushroom powders or natural sweeteners to create delicious and interesting elixirs to nourish your body.
You’re probably wondering, what does chaga taste like? It has a very pleasant, gentle and earthy taste which can be used to enhance the flavour of a range of drinks and dishes. Many people say that the taste is similar to a cross between coffee and tea, which also helps to make it a nutritious replacement for a morning brew. Compared to other mushrooms, it’s very mild in flavour, which makes it a great choice if it’s your first time trying medicinal mushrooms. If you’re interested in trying out several different medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, tremella and turkey tail then you may want to consider buying a mushroom complex blend. These powerful blends feature a mix of some of the most-loved medicinal mushrooms, so you can experience the benefits of a range of superstar fungi in each and every spoonful.
Chaga Dosage and Side Effects
Chaga is considered to be non-toxic and safe to use by all ages, and it has zero reported side effects. Typically, you can take one teaspoon of the powder between one to three times a day. If it’s your first time trying the chaga and you are sensitive to new foods or supplements, then you may want to try half a teaspoon, and then listen to your body and see how you feel before gently increasing the dosage. Remember to contact your doctor before taking chaga if you are pregnant or are about to undertake surgery.
Creamy Vegan Chaga Chai
For a winter warmer with an Indian twist, this creamy chai latte will satisfy your taste buds. For a quick chai fix, simply use a chai latte tea bag, and add in your milk, sweeteners and powder chaga. For the real deal, add a 2-inch piece of ginger, 2 cinnamon sticks, 10 whole cloves, 6 cardamom pods, and 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns, and 6 black tea bags into 6 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil then gently simmer for 10 minutes. Add in your choice of almond milk, coconut milk, or rice milk and sweetener along with 5 teaspoons of chaga powder before you strain and serve the mixture.
Iced Coconut Chaga Tea
From steaming hot to icy cold, an iced coconut latte will go down a treat in the warmer summer months. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of chaga into a tall cup that is filled with halfway up with warm (not boiling) water. Now is the time to add your choice of sweetener if you desire - you can try coconut sugar to keep in with the coconut theme. Stir and dissolve, then fill the cup up with ice, mix in the coconut milk and a generous dash of coconut cream.
Chocolate Chaga Smoothie
If you’re a chocolate fiend, then this chaga smoothie will give you a chocolatey kick with an extra dose of nutritional and medicinal goodness. You’ll need a blender for this recipe: a Nutribullet, Ninja or Vitamix will work well. Add around a cup of nut milk to the blender then throw in a banana, a handful of spinach, some mixed seeds (pumpkin, flax and sunflower), a teaspoon of chaga, a teaspoon of coconut oil for creaminess and three teaspoons of raw cacao powder then blend until smooth. Add water to make it your desired consistency, then enjoy.
Scientific Name: Inonotus Obliquus
Common Names:Birch Conk, Clinker Polypore, Tinder Fungus, Mushroom of Immortality
Chaga References and Sources
 Lee SH, Hwang HS, Yun JW. Antitumor activity of water extract of a mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, against HT-29 human colon cancer cells. Phytother Res. Apr 15 2009.
If you want to learn more about chaga and other medicinal mushrooms then we can highly recommend these books:
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