Consuming superfoods has become a buzzword in households across the western world, but in reality using produce as medicine has been documented for thousands of years. Although all mushrooms have a function, there are some mushrooms that are specifically considered functional mushrooms due to their extensive health benefits beyond just pure nutritional purposes.
Cue chaga. These interesting fungi have been some of the most popular functional mushrooms for years due to their dense nutritional content, as well as their wide range of health benefits. They have been linked to fighting against free radicals and oxidative stress, but more on that later!
The chaga mushroom grows almost exclusively on the bark of birch trees in colder climates, in places such as Siberia, Russia, Korea, Northern Europe, Northern Canada, and Alaska.
Chaga mushrooms don’t have too many look alikes, so it’s pretty easy to differentiate them from others. The look-alikes that chaga do have in North America are not poisonous, so harvesting those instead of chaga won’t hurt you.
When looking to spot these fungi, make sure to look for a yellowish- gold, squishy core. From the outside, they look similar to coal, a growth or a blister along a birch tree’s bark and can grow to be about 10-15 inches in diameter. Don’t look past this mushroom just because of its unsightly appearance - this mushroom packs a punch.
Called the “King of Herbs” and the “Gift from God”, the Chaga mushroom, or Inonotus obliquus, first pops up in history being used by indigenous people near the Ural Mountains in Russia, and in a few other Northern European countries, for its immune boosting qualies and overall health benefits.
The name Chaga comes from the Russian word for mushroom, which is tschaga, which was borrowed from a northeastern dialect called Komi. Long ago, chaga was consumed in tea daily as well as used topically on the skin. Over the years, chaga’s popularity eventually spread west of the Ural Mountains and to the Baltic regions of Eastern Europe. They were loved throughout history in Russia, China, and other Northern, boreal cultures.
In modern day, chaga is cultivated and consumed by people all over the world for its medicinal and nutritional benefits.
What Do They Taste Like?
Chaga mushrooms aren’t very edible on their own, but are better used if made into teas or tinctures due to their intense earthy flavor. For this reason, combining them with other pungent earthy flavors, such as turmeric and ginger, really compliments chaga’s notes.
Amazingly, chaga have naturally occurring vanillin, which is also found in the vanilla bean, however the more prominent flavor that comes through is a slight bitterness.Many people describe the chaga mushroom as tasting like trees, but in a good way!
These fungi are definitely not your average mushroom found in the grocery aisle of your store. They are more commonly purchased online from naturopath shops.
As mentioned, one of the most common ways to ingest chaga mushrooms is through an herbal tea because of its dense antioxidant and nutritional value. Drinking chaga in moderation is always suggested, although the ideal dose for every consumer will vary depending on their desired benefits.
If you want to avoid the bitter taste of the chaga mushroom, you can buy capsules filled with dried mushrooms that can be taken daily or add a dried mushroom powder to your coffee, tea or smoothie.
Like most mushroom studies, the research on chaga is ongoing and not completely conclusive. However, there are lots of studies to suggest that chaga has some pretty incredible health benefits.
Chaga is linked to boosting immune systems and fighting inflammation. Some studies have shown that chaga is effective at promoting beneficial cytokines, or small proteins that are vital in the growth of other immune and blood supporting cells, which ultimately help fight off viruses or bad bacteria.
In more than one test-tube and animal study, chaga has been linked to preventing cancer and slowing down the growth of cancer cells. These studies have been linked to slowing or preventing the growth of cancer cells in the liver, lungs, prostate, colon and breasts. It is thought that the anticancer effects of chaga are linked to it’s high levels of antioxidants, which are effective at protecting human cells from free radicals.
Chaga may also be effective at lowering cholesterol and ultimately reducing the risk of heart disease in some patients. A study done in 2017 showed that the use of chaga mushrooms in diabetic patients overtime may have helped decrease bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol.
Where Can I Try Chaga?
Chaga can be found in health stores all over the world. Combining chaga with other mushrooms and vitamins in daily capsules can be an awesome way to boost your immune system. At Alchemi Mushrooms, we cultivate premium functional organic mushrooms and create products that you can easily enter into your daily ritual.
Our mushroom powders and capsules are our way of connecting people to nature’s true medicine. If you’re interested in using chaga daily, try our Immune Shield supplement, which also includes reshi, turkey tail and vitamin D to keep you protected and rejuvenated.