Chaga is a type of fungus that grows on birch trees in cold regions. In Russia, chaga is a popular superfood, but it can also be found in northern Canada, Alaska, and other northern parts of the continental United States. In the past several years, chaga’s benefits have been backed up by medical studies. That has allowed the mushroom to rise in the ranks of alternative medicine usage and popularity.
Although the fungi is referred to as a chaga mushroom, botanists can’t say with certainty that chaga is a true mushroom. The difference is culinary mushrooms are composed of soft plant fiber and have an umbrella shape. Chaga, on the other hand, is closely related to wood bracket fungi. Be that as it may, chaga is still a beneficial food you can consume. On average, they grow up to 12 inches in diameter, with a rough, bark-like surface.
Chaga has symbolic relationship with the birches on which it grows—it can heal the trees it grows on. Even more, attach chaga to a dying tree, and the birch will recover. Some of the chaga benefits include boosting the immune system, protecting cells from free radicals, fighting inflammation, and much more.
Chaga contains 6 different ingredients that all come with their own set of health benefits.
For starters, chaga contains polysaccharides that provide energy, support your cardiovascular health, and promote healthy blood sugar levels. Polysaccharides also improve intestinal and liver health. Simply put, they are mood boosters.
Next item on the menu is beta-D-glucans, known for their ability to modulate the immune system. They can help with normalizing cholesterol levels.
Phytosterols have positive effects on viral compounds, and some of them found in chaga can affect cancer cells.
Betulin and betulinic acid are powerful therapeutic agents. More research is needed, but some studies have shown their positive effect on healthy cholesterol levels as well cancer and viruses.
Chaga contains massive amounts of natural, black pigment melanin. This pigment has high antioxidant levels. Compared with other superfoods, chaga has the highest ORAC score, which is the measure of an antioxidant’s potency.
Another important part of chaga’s benefits is the amount of SODs it contains. A group of enzymes, SODs play an important role in protecting our body from free radicals.
As mentioned, medicine has been able to back up chaga’s benefits in the past few years with scientific research. It is worth noting, however, that most of the medical research has been done in Russia. After all, chaga grows in abundance in Russia and its cold forests.
The scientific explanation is that chaga is an adaptogen, and adaptogenic plants help to bring the body back into balance. They improve the nervous system, the immune system, the cardiovascular system, the endocrine system, and the GI tract.
Some studies on the chaga fungi benefits can be found at:
- Antioxidant Small Phenolic Ingredients in Inonotus obliquus (persoon) Pilat (Chaga)
- 316 Research Papers
- Annanda Chaga Mineral Analysis
- Betulinic Acid for Cancer Treatment
- Birch Bark Research and Development
That being said, let’s take a look at the benefits of chaga.
1. Boost immune system
As mentioned previously, chaga can improve your immune system. And it all comes down to the amount of beta-D-glucans the fungi contains. These balance the response of your body’s immune system. In other words, chaga helps your immune system when necessary, and then slows it down when it is overactive. In scientific terms, chaga is a natural biological response modifier, BRM.
Some studies have shown that chaga can activate immune cells responsible for combating the initiation of cancer, although more studies are needed on the subject.
2. Soothing properties
Chaga can soothe an irritated body. No matter if the irritation is in your gut or anywhere else, chaga has soothing properties. Chaga supports the integrity of blood vessels, which in turn provides soothing properties. When you suffer from diabetes, neuropathy, or simple pain, chaga will soothe the irritation.
3. Ulcers and gastritis
As mentioned previously, chaga has immune-boosting properties. Because of that, chaga can support gastrointestinal health, and the fungi have been used for years for this purpose in Eastern culture folk medicine. A well-oiled and functioning immune system can fight off pathogens like H. pylori and similar bacteria.
4. Reduce oxidative stress
Compared to other superfoods that can fight off oxidative stress, chaga has the strongest antioxidant activity. Some studies have shown that chaga can reduce more than 40% of the DNA damage hydrogen peroxide causes. In human cell studies, results showed that chaga can protect your nerves from oxidative stress like Parkinson’s disease.
5. Regulate blood pressure and cholesterol
We mentioned previously that chaga contains betulin and betulinic acid. These two break down LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream (the bad cholesterol that you definitely want to get rid of).
6. Antiviral and antimicrobial properties
Chaga has antiviral properties that allow the fungi to fight harsh skin blemishes. In addition, chaga also has antimicrobial properties.
How to consume chaga
In order to answer how to consume chaga, we first must answer where you can find it. It’s not easy to find chaga. People often mistake chaga for the knots in trees or burnt patches. As mentioned, chaga grows on birch trees in cold areas throughout the Northern hemisphere.
Most common places to find chaga are paper and yellow birch trees. The former is a common forest tree with a white bark that can exfoliate in broad, curling sheets.
But if you can’t find raw chaga in the forest, you can always buy chaga in health food stores. To make chaga tea:
- Break the chaga into several chunks. Use a coffee grinder or blender to grind one chunk into powder.
- Add one teaspoon of chaga powder into a tea infuser. Place the infuser into your favorite mug and add 13.5 ounces of hot water
- Let the chaga soak in the water for five minutes. Remove the infuser and drink. You can add honey as sweetener.