Chaga Tea. Why all the hype?

Chaga Mushroom Pictured in Wikipedia.  "Inonotus obliquus" by Tocekas - Own work.

Chaga Mushroom Pictured in Wikipedia. “Inonotus obliquus” by Tocekas – Own work.

This winter I was introduced to Chaga tea.
I often travel to Maine and Canada in the Fall and Winter to take part in mushing events with my sled dog team. As a holistic nutrition coach I’m always tuned in to healthy foods especially those that are good sources of beneficial properties.

So I was very interested when a couple of my northern mushing friends offered me Chaga tea and mentioned that they’d found Chaga mushrooms growing on trees near their property. That’s how I was introduced to a mushroom that over the centuries has been referred to as: “Mushroom of Immortality” and “Gift from God” by the Siberians; “The Diamond of the Forest” by the Japanese; and “King of Plants” by the Chinese.

Whoa! Those are hefty descriptions and no doubt somewhat exaggerated but nonetheless I was intrigued.

As I sipped tea and got a briefing on Chaga from my mushing friends and the benefits they experienced, I decided this mushroom was well worth researching.

What is Chaga?

Chaga is referred to as a mushroom because it’s a fungus but it is different from what we regard as soft mushrooms. Chaga is hard and might best be described as a tree growth because it grows as a dark mass, growing from within the tree until it pushes forth to the outside where it continues to grow on the bark of birch trees. And this only happens on birch trees that are found in cold northern climates. This last fact is the reason it is so nutrient dense. In order to survive in very harsh climates the birch tree concentrates natural compounds to protect itself. These compounds are called phytochemicals. These occur naturally in plants but they are important to us because they have been shown to affect human health in a positive way. That is why plants are so beneficial to us. They are full of phytonutrients.

But the Chaga mushroom is power-packed! The compounds found in northern birch trees are highly nutrient-dense and they are part of the reason these trees have such a long life span. Think about it–even if you are a fan of plant food and herbs these don’t have the life span that trees do. Trees are amazing, for their strength and their longevity. And the Chaga gives us an opportunity to share in this source of nutrient-dense compounds.

The Benefits Of Chaga

Chaga is a powerful antioxidant which means that as an antioxidant it works at the core of cell structures which means that the positive effects of what Chaga can do for an individual may be limitless. Antioxidants tend to work anywhere in the body where oxidative stress is found. That can happen in any of our cells, from head to toe. So wherever our cells need help or are undergoing oxidative stress, that’s where antioxidants go to help repair and restore. From brain function to immunity to joints, skin, cardiovascular health, organ health, skin health, where there is a need, antioxidants will find their way there.

The list of purported benefits is quite extensive as a Google search will reveal. Chaga has been used for years in folk medicine by Russians and Eastern Europeans and interest in the US started to grow in the 90’s. Here are a few of the benefits and the reason for the interest:

  • Chaga is a source of B vitamins, minerals such as copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron, and the potent antioxidant superoxide dismutase or SOD.
  • Chaga fights tumors and cancer cells and helps decrease the side effects of chemo-theraphy.
  • Chaga helps cells resist DNA damage
  • Chaga has anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties and helps make the immune system stronger.
  • Chaga is beneficial to the cardiovascular system
  • Chaga Side Effects

    While many articles about Chaga claim there are no reported side effects, that may be true for anyone who is not taking any medications. But if you are taking medications, especially blood thinners, it is best to check with your doctor before adding any antioxidants to your regimen. Antioxidants do what a lot of medications do and it is a good idea to check with your doctor to rule out any contra-indications. He or she may adjust your dosage if you add more natural sources of antioxidants to your regimen. This is especially true for anyone on heart, blood pressure or diabetic medicine. Best to get your doctor on board.

    For more detailed information on Chaga, it’s history and the research done on this compound, Wikipedia is a good resource: Inonotus Obliquus And ChagaKnowledge.com has some great information.

    Where To Get Chaga

    Unless you live up north and have access to a birch tree with Chaga growing on it I recommend purchasing your Chaga online. Because I’m from Maine I like the Maine-grown Chaga Tea Chunks available on Amazon. Tea chunks look like they were just cut from the tree. They are wild harvested and not cultivated which is what you want. You can also purchase it already in powder form as tea. If you do that then I would recommend an Organic supplier to make sure it is free from toxins.

    Preparing Chaga Tea

    If you buy Chaga Teabags then preparing Chaga is as simple as seeping a bag in hot water.
    The key for steeping chaga is to not overheat. Recommendations are to grind the chaga nuggets into powder and steep that and Cass Ingram MD in The Healing Powers of Wild Chaga recommends putting it in a crockpot which is a version I like.

    “I recommend
    using a tea made from ground whole chaga
    and birch bark. To gain the greatest benefit from chaga
    tea, heat water in a crock pot to about 150 degrees,
    add the chaga tea, and let it simmer for four or five
    days. (It will not spoil.) Another approach is to take
    a thermos of hot water (heated to about 180 degrees,
    not boiling), add the chaga, and steep it for two or
    three days. Let the water extract the active ingredients.
    You can drink the tea as it steeps, adding more
    hot water as you use the tea.”

    If you’re looking to add natural antioxidants to your day, consider Chaga. It may be a weird looking mushroom but you can decide what your favorite adjective will be when you describe it.

    2 Comments
    1. Great Info Linda. We have been using it all winter and feeling the benefits!!

    2. Got lots on hand so you won`t be without for when you show up. BTW, reminds me to show you the huge chunk that I`ve found still attached to a tree. It`s the size of a beach ball and has probably been growing on that birch for the last 40 t0 50 years… Later… = -)

      Gino

    Leave a Reply

    Healthy Recipes

    Nutrition

    Mushing in Ocean City MD