Ah, mushrooms. You either love them or hate them. You view them as a delicious addition to your meal, or a terribly gross fungus. Which isn’t so wrong… they are indeed a fungus. Either way, we’ve long known the humble mushroom is very good for human health. Mushrooms are high in antioxidants, iron, vitamin D, fiber, and a whole lot of other nutrients.1 But then there’s the super-daddy of mushrooms, the King of fungi, the emperor of toadstools… the one they call “The Wild Chaga Mushroom”. He may be the most unattractive mushroom you’ll ever come across, but he’s also the most beneficial.
So, What Is The Wild Chaga Mushroom?
Well, the inonotus obliquus – or Chaga mushroom – is formed from a non-toxic parasitic fungus that grows on Birch trees in the Northern Hemisphere. They tend to prefer harsh, cold climates like that of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia.2 But, the Chaga is unique. It doesn’t take on the cute toadstool shape of a button mushroom, nor the bean sprout appearance of an enoki. Nope. Instead, it looks like a big, black tree scab. It’s hard, cracked outer shell gives it an appearance similar to burnt charcoal, though its golden interior lends a touch more pizzazz.
But What Makes Chaga So Special?
Turns out, the Chaga mushroom has long been used in folk medicine – particularly in Siberia – as a treatment for stomach issues, skin conditions, and stress. This tradition has continued into modern times with the Russians, Poles, and many Baltic nations using Chaga to help fight against abnormal tissue growth and chronic blood sugar conditions.3 In fact, the famed Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put Chaga on the world stage in his Nobel-winning novel “The Cancer Ward” (1968), where a doctor discovers Russian peasants using Chaga to treat their illnesses.4 Ironically, this medicinal mushroom will ultimately kill the tree on which it lives, yet its most researched angle in modern medicine is its potential to fight against abnormal tissue growth in humans.
Now, Let’s Explore Some Of Chaga’s Most Exciting Qualities:
1. They May Aid Your Digestive System
As with all mushrooms, Chaga mushrooms are full of dietary fiber. But compared to the average white mushroom, Chaga has almost 100 times the fiber!56 Now, fiber is essential for your digestive system. Instead of being used as energy, it goes right through you, so it can aid your digestive processes. This happens in two ways –
- Soluble fiber forms a gel that slows down digestion, helping more nutrients to be absorbed
- And insoluble fiber creates a heavier, softer waste product that easily moves through the digestive tract, preventing constipation
High-fiber foods also tend to have a lower glycemic index value, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer and keeps your blood sugars balanced.
2. They May Protect You From Cellular Damage
Chaga extract has proven itself to be a rather trusty antioxidant. The National Institute of Health (NIH) developed a unit for measuring antioxidants called ORAC or Oxygen Radical Absorbance. The pretty famous acai berry, a very potent antioxidant, is rated 102,700 on the ORAC scale while Chaga is rated around 146,700!78 Antioxidants are important in everyday life to fight off cellular damage caused by free radicals in the environment. This damage can not only accelerate aging but it can also trigger diseases due to the cell damage they cause.9 In one study using Chaga extract, researchers found the mushroom created a 40% reduction in free radical stress, concluding the Chaga mushroom may offer good cellular protection against DNA damage.10
3. They May Be An Effective Antiviral
Another wonderful aspect of the Chaga mushroom for human health is its ability to help the immune system against viral attack. A Russian study found that the Chaga fungus might be successfully used in the future of antiviral medications, especially for hindering immunodeficiency viruses.11 For those who seem to battle the dreaded flu each and every winter, there’s also hope for you. Another clinical study found Chaga extract had a 100% success rate for blocking human influenza viruses A and B.
So, How Do I Eat This Interesting Delicacy?
Thankfully, you’ll no longer need to hightail it to Siberia and take an ax to a birch tree to find the best medicinal mushrooms. You can easily buy dried Chaga, both online or from good health food stores. The best way to consume Chaga is by making a mushroom tea (or as the Finnish call it – a Chaga coffee). Chaga is indigestible unless prepared in a certain way, and only by digesting it can you get access to those “magical” nutrients. The easiest way to do this is by boiling it. Chaga needs to be dried before you can use it. And it needs to be cleaned of all the birch bark, but if you’re buying online this will most likely be done for you. The following recipe takes some time, but if you’ve got an hour to spare, it’s definitely worth it.
Making Chaga Tea
- Add chunks of Chaga* to a pot of water and then bring to a boil. Keep the lid on to ensure none of the nutrients escape as steam.
- Simmer the Chaga for at least one hour. The water will take on a nice red-brown hue.
- Strain the tea into your cup.
- Feel free to add a little raw honey to taste.
*Roughly 10 grams of mushroom chunks per serving. The best part? You can reuse these Chaga chunks a few times before they run out of their “magical juju”. Just store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator, with no lid.
A Final Thought …
It’s important to note that most clinical testing so far has been done on human cells, in a lab, not on live test subjects. More research is certainly needed, though the prospects are very exciting. Most definitely speak to your doctor if you’re unsure about drinking Chaga tea with any of your current medications.
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies and the Urban Monk, keep reading here: