Many herbal infusions have healing properties. However, it’s worth using products based only on natural ingredients. One of them is Chaga mushroom tea, the composition of which is primarily an outgrowth from black birch, found in Asia and North America. The drink is completely safe for health, and its consumption has some incredible health benefits. In this article, you’ll learn everything about this powerful yet little-known drink and the mushroom it’s made of – so let’s dive right in!
What is Chaga Mushroom?
Inonotus obliquus (Chaga mushroom) is a species of large-fruited mushrooms from the Hymenochaetaceae family. This fungus comes in two forms, the more common being the characteristic growth on the tree trunk. The tree grows more strongly in its vicinity, as a result of which the branch is wider in this place. The outgrowth itself, on the other hand, is made of strongly intertwined fungal hyphae in the shape of an irregular lump, the diameter of which can be up to an incredible 50 centimeters (19 inches).
The top layer of the fungus is black (it resembles coal), deeply cracked in different directions, very hard, and brittle. The growths of this fungus are places where numerous four-celled chlamydospores (thick-walled spores) are formed.
Chinese medicine has been using Chaga for a long time. Due to its impressive health benefits, the mushroom was given the nickname “mushroom of immortality” or even “God’s gift”. Indeed, the International Society for Mushroom Science (ISMS) has confirmed that Chaga is a valuable dietary supplement.
Chaga is a fungus that grows on birch trees in cold regions. We can find it in Serbia, Canada, and the northern part of the USA. Interestingly, this fungus lives in symbiosis with trees. In exchange for nutrients, it protects their bark from various dangers. Native Americans considered the mushroom a sacred plant because of its healing properties. The Japanese, in turn, referred to them as “diamonds of the forest“.
Folk medicine has been using it to treat tumors since at least the 16th century. Initially, Khanates living in Western Siberia used it for medical purposes. They believed that taking Chaga improves general well-being, leads to internal cleansing and detoxifies the body.
Composition of Chaga mushroom
Understanding the chemical composition of the Chaga mushroom was a popular topic of research by Russian scientists (Yakimov, Shivrina, and others) in the 19th and 20th centuries. They found that it’s a natural source of vitamins, mainly from the B group, as well as minerals such as copper, potassium, zinc, iron, and calcium.
Chaga mushroom contains:
Polysaccharides: whose main task is to improve intercellular communication. These mainly include β-glucans;
Phytosterols: 45% lanosterols, 25% inotodiol, and 30% ergosterol, fecosterol, and others. Their main task is to stimulate apoptosis – programmed cell death;
Polyphenols: compounds of phenolic origin that act as an antioxidant. Their antioxidant effect is much stronger than that of vitamins C or E. This group includes flavonoids, phenolic acid, and tannins (tannins and lignans). All these compounds have a ring structure. Eliminate free radicals, thus slowing down the aging process of the body;
Triterpenes, which are a subgroup of terpenes or isoprene hexamers. These include primarily betulin and betulinic acid;
Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), an enzyme that catalyzes the dismutation of the superoxide radical anion
Amino acids: tryptophan, glycine, and cysteine. They show a synergistic antithrombotic effect
Melanin: the most important pigment responsible for the pigmentation of organisms.
Health properties of Chaga mushroom tea
Chaga mushroom tea is great at promoting general health and is very much worth adding to your daily life. Keep in mind, however, that we still need proper, good-quality human studies to confirm some of these properties. We know the most about Chaga mushroom benefits from folk medicine and laboratory tests. Having said that, here are some of the main health benefits of Chaga mushroom and its tea:
1. Immunity, free radicals, and inflammation
Chaga mushroom is a rich source of beta-glucan, which is a compound belonging to the group of polysaccharides. It works by stimulating the production of leukocytes, i.e. white blood cells specialized in the attack and inactivation of bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. That’s why you might often hear that drinking Chaga mushroom tea can improve the general health and immunity of the body. Chaga, in this case, is called an immune response modulator.
It acts on the immune system in two different ways: first, it strengthens the immune system in the event of low immunity; secondly, when the immune response is too high, e.g. during autoimmune diseases, the fungus suppresses the immune system. As with other medicinal mushrooms, the polysaccharides, which are abundant in fruiting bodies, play the main role in immunology. If you decide to try a Chaga extract, it is worth choosing one with at least 30% polysaccharides.
The substances contained in Chaga modulate the immune system by stimulating cytokines in the Th1 arm and inhibiting Th2. This could potentially be helpful in autoimmune and allergic diseases, where studies show a dominance of Th2 cytokines.
2. Anti-cancer effect
Its use in cancer treatment is already known from Chinese and Russian folk medicine, but nowadays the “birch tumor” is often used as an alternative therapy. It can help in the treatment, without bringing any toxicity to healthy cells. Several reports in the literature indicate a potentially beneficial effect of Chaga in cancer, e.g. a study in a mouse model of lung cancer, where the extract inhibited disease progression. However, keep in mind that under no circumstances should you independently switch from conventional therapy to Chaga mushroom therapy or any other alternative therapy. The doctor must consent to the addition of mushroom supplementation to the treatment.
3. Antioxidant effect
Chaga fungi contain the enzyme Superoxide Dismutase (SOD). It’s a compound with very strong antioxidant properties. It works by neutralizing the harmful effects of superoxides, as well as intermediates from oxygen metabolic transformations and free radicals. This is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system and for reducing the signs of aging in the body. In addition, neutralizing reactive oxygen species improves the functioning of internal organs.
4. Chaga mushroom and your skin
When it comes to skin health, the Chaga mushroom is very abundant in melanin. It’s a phenolic pigment that determines the characteristic dark color of the mushroom. Moreover, Chaga is the richest natural source of this dye, and melanin isolated from Chaga’s “flesh” has a strong genoprotective effect.
Melanin is a pigment that’s common in the human body – in the skin and hair, where it is primarily responsible for their color. It also appears in the choroid, causing light rays to enter the eye only through the pupil. According to David Wolfe (a promoter of healthy eating and alternative medicine), supplementation with this mushroom can improve the appearance, beautify and protect the skin from sun damage.
In addition, supplementation with Chaga, and thus melanin, may be helpful for people who develop white spots on the skin with age. These changes are associated with uneven pigment distribution and most often arise under the influence of stress or nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes they are the result of genetic diseases as well.
Chaga mushroom tea
Infusions of this mushroom, also known as Chaga tea, are the most traditional way to take advantage of its health benefits. When the mushroom is unground, cut the pieces and place them in a pot of water for at least 15 minutes. The tea is then ready to drink and you can boil the mushrooms many times until the decoction ceases to gain an intense color. However, if you have a ground version, just pour boiling water over the powder and let it stand for 15 minutes to release all the beneficial substances.
The rule here is that the longer the powder infuses, the more the substance will release. You can even leave Chaga in the water for up to 30 minutes or more.
Chaga tea has a relatively delicate flavor, so you don’t have to worry about long brewing. On the contrary, you can easily use its delicacy to prepare a drink with other additives.
Chaga mushroom for coffee
Chaga extracts gained a reputation as a coveted coffee additive a few years ago. They are often combined with other mushrooms for this purpose, especially Lion’s Mane and Cordyceps. Chaga itself does not enhance mental abilities and it does not support the work of the brain temporarily, as we feel in the case of Lion’s mane, but it’s still considered a good supplement due to its general health effects and quite mild taste, which can even soothe more specific aromas of other mushrooms and make the coffee and mushroom drink provide more pleasant taste sensations. On the market, you can also find Chaga mushroom powder without extraction, i.e. simply dried and ground fruiting bodies.
If you look for the contribution of Chaga to the nootropic effect of mushroom coffee, a certain improvement in memory and cognition was noticed after 7 days of supplementation with the extract in a study on mice. In this case, inhibition of acetylcholinesterase was reported, which led to a slight increase in acetylcholine.
A gourmet specialty: Chocolate with Chaga
Chaga chocolate is great for:
- lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke,
- better blood circulation,
- improved mood,
- counteracting type 2 diabetes,
- supporting the immune system.
How to prepare a wonderful, health-promoting Chaga chocolate:
- Pour hot water over Chaga. About half a cup is enough to leave room for the rest of the ingredients.
- Leave Chaga to extract.
- Then heat the milk by adding chocolate or cocoa powder to it.
- Mix everything well and pour it into the Chaga infusion.
- Finally, add caramel or vanilla extract, mix everything and enjoy a perfect drink.
A magical combination of Matcha and Chaga
Another popular variant is the preparation of “Matchaga”, a combination of Matcha green tea with Chaga. Matcha also offers many health-promoting effects. Among others:
- lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels,
- reduces the risk of heart disease,
- accelerates metabolism and calorie burning,
- supports the fight against stress.
Additionally, it contains many antioxidants and helps detoxify the body. And so, Matchaga is a cocktail that helps ease or even prevent many health problems.
Preparation of Matchaga is extremely simple:
- Sift 1 teaspoon of Matcha through a strainer.
- Pour it with water at a temperature of 75 ° C (about 2 minutes after boiling).
- Mix Matcha with water.
- When the foam starts to form and the powder is completely dissolved, add a teaspoon of Chaga. Remember that Chaga is a mushroom and does not dissolve in water. Therefore, you should use a strainer.
- Leave the prepared mixture to extract for half an hour.
And that’s pretty much it. Now all you have to do is remove the Chaga strainer and enjoy your wonderful Matchaga!
Contraindications and side effects
One of the most important advantages of using Chaga mushroom is the lack of side effects. When you take preparations based on this fungus, no chemical disturbances appear in the body, and there are no hormonal imbalances. The fact that supplementation is not accompanied by any undesirable effects makes the Chaga mushroom a perfect supplement pretty much for everyone.
So far, there seems to only be one contraindication to the use of this mushroom – concomitant use of immunological drugs such as cyclosporine. These are immunosuppressive drugs that are given to transplant patients. As a result, Chaga can inhibit their action, leading to rejection of the transplanted organ.
Also, due to the lack of a sufficient number of studies, pregnant and breastfeeding women should try to avoid consuming Chaga mushrooms.
There is no doubt that the Chaga mushroom is beneficial to our health as a “medicine” or as a preventative measure for many diseases. It harmonizes the immune system, protects and regenerates organs, slows down aging … works on the body as an integrated whole, which most chemical drugs cannot. Medicines often only solve one problem, so having such a powerful ally as Chaga mushroom can be life-changing.