Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is a fungus parasitic found on birches and other trees. Chaga has the distinctive appearance of burnt charcoal and it can be found in birch forests of Russia, Korea, Northern and Eastern Europe, Northern parts of the United States, mountains of North Carolina and in Canada. Chaga is considered a medicinal mushroom and adaptogen and it has been used in Russian and Eastern European folk medicine since the 16th century as a remedy for cancer, gastritis, ulcers and tuberculosis. Chaga has also been used in treatment of hypertension, viral infections, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Lately it has attracted attention as a potential therapy for HIV.
Studies have confirmed that Chaga has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunostimulating, pain-relieving and antiulcer properties. Chaga has also shown higher antioxidant activity (ORAC level) than any other tested medicinal mushroom. The antioxidant level of Chaga is six times higher than levels found in Acai berry, and remarkably higher than levels found in blueberries or in any other common sources of antioxidants.
Chaga’s antiviral activities and its ability to improve human immunity make it an interesting common cold remedy. Chaga is natural, non-toxic and found to be safe even in long term daily use. Traditional way to use Chaga is to grate it in to a fine powder and brew a beverage resembling coffee. This kind of hot water extraction process ensures that the major active ingredients, the polysaccharides, are in the extract. Several extraction rounds can be applied for very high levels of polysaccharides. Typically however one extraction round is sufficient when preparing a beverage to be used daily for immune boosting and as a cold remedy. In order to extract also the non-water soluble components like betulinic acid, betulin and phyto-sterols, alcohol extraction method is needed. By combining drops of alcohol extract and hot water brew you will get a beverage with high therapeutic value. This beverage can be used for example when trying to get rid of a cold.
Chaga is nowadays readily available in the form of tea bags, chunks, powder, pills, extracts and tinctures. Commercially sold Chaga products can be expensive and the quality can vary. Thus it is recommendable to purchase Chaga in form of chunks and manufacture the extracts by yourself. If you live in an area where Chaga can be found, it is advisable to search and collect Chaga by yourself from the woods. Here are some tips for searching, collecting and preparing Chaga:
- Chaga is usually found in older birch forests
- Chaga found on a dead tree should not be used
- When you find and identify a Chaga, remove it by using e.g. a large knife, chisel or axe
- If you are not searching for anticancer properties, remove the outer black part of the Chaga with knife or chisel
- Chop Chaga into small cubes
- Dry the Chaga cubes in dehydrator or in an oven at about 105°F/50°C
- When cubes are completely dry put them in air-tight container where they can be stored for years, or grate cubes in to a powder by using a powerful blender
- There are many ways to prepare hot water extract from Chaga. Easiest way is to bring couple of liters (couple of quarts) water into a boil and add two to three tablespoons of Chaga powder. (If you use Chaga cubes, add two to three cubes. Please note that same cubes can be used for at least three times.) Boil slowly for ½-2 hours (or even longer). Enjoy at least couple glasses per day.
- Ready Chaga tea can be stored in a refrigerator for 3-4 days.
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Photo credit:Charl de Mille-Isles