You May Never Look at Birch Trees the Same Way Again – Ingredient Spotlight: Chaga, the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms”

Have you heard of Chaga? If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and grew up around birch trees, it is very likely that you’ve walked right by it and never even knew because it looks a lot like tree bark. Growing up on Long Island, New York I had several birch trees close to my apartment. Birch trees were my favorite and I was always intrigued by the large, black mass protruding from the trees — it turns out, that’s Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus). Chaga is made up of several parts. It has a firm, cracked exterior that looks like burnt charcoal, which is called the sclerotium, while the interior is a yellowish brown color. The sclerotium is made up of mycelium, or the part of a mushroom that consists of fine white filaments that absorb nutrients from the host. Chaga can be found on birch trees in Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, northern areas of the United States, in the North Carolina mountains, and Canada.

Though it may be new to the Western world, Chaga has been used medicinally for hundred of years in Russian and Eastern folk medicine, earning it the title of  “King of Medicinal MushroomsSeveral studies have shown that daily consumption of Chaga tea may have numerous health benefits.

birch-tree

The Benefits of Using Chaga

Chaga has long been used as a medicinal mushroom in both Russian and Eastern folk medicine, where it is brewed as a tea. Traditionally, it has been used to support gastrointestinal health in Eastern medicine. According to Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center, some studies have suggested that Chaga may have cancer-fighting properties. Additionally, other studies assert Chaga has the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score of any superfood, meaning that it is very high in antioxidant, which are thought to boost the immune system and fight free radicals. It may also potentially soothe inflammation.

Please be aware that Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center recommends that you do not take Chaga if you are on blood thinners or diabetic medication. If you are considering supplementing your diet with Chaga, contact your physician first.

How to Prepare Chaga

tea

The bio-active components of Chaga are not digestible by humans, so in order to benefit from everything this mushroom has to offer, we must extract it. The easiest way to do that is by brewing a tea. Chaga tea has a sweet, earthy flavor and has been described as tasting a little like tree bark, similar to twig tea. It is traditionally made in a Samovar, but you can easily make it at home without any special equipment.

To make a big batch of Chaga tea, bring 1 liter of water as close to boiling as possible. If your Chaga chunks are large, break them into 1-inch pieces. Add a small handful and bring to a boil, then let simmer for at least an hour. The tea should be a reddish-brown color. Strain the tea, then sweeten it to take with sugar, maple syrup, or your favorite sweetener. If you want to try adding flavors, try this recipe for Chaga Mushroom Tea, which teaches you how to make Chaga chai and Chaga vanilla tea. You can even try steaming some non-dairy milk to make a Chaga latte — experiment with different flavors to find your favorite method.

Where to Buy

chaga

You can most likely find Chaga at your local specialty grocery store or you can buy it online, like these Maine Chaga Premium Tea Chunks . It costs $19.50 for four ounces, which can be used to make 35-50 servings of tea. You can also buy your Chaga ground up. This Sayan Siberian Wild Harvested Raw Chaga Powder is $19.99 for a 4-ounce bag and this Four Sigmatic Chaga Mushroom Elixir Mix is $31.36 for 20 one-time use pouches of ground Chaga. Or, you can buy it in tea bags. This box of Buddha Teas Chaga Tea is $9.87 for 18 bleach-free tea bags.

Not a tea drinker? Try this Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee with Cordyceps and Chaga, which claims to provide you with “more natural energy, no shakes or jitters, no stomach burns, and enhanced adrenal support.” It’s $13.46 for a box of 10 pouches.

If you are interested in just the potential benefits that Chaga has to offer, try this Host Defense Chaga Capsules, which is $23.96 for 60 capsules. According to the company, because it contains the full spectrum of “it is bio-digestible and bio-available; made from activated mycelium, not from indigestible fruitbodies and spores” and it “provides maximum antioxidant support against daily free radical damage.” If you prefer something you can add to water, try this Planetary Herbals Chaga Full Spectrum Liquid. Which, according to the company, is an “immune system activator and antioxidant that is rich in immunomodulating polysaccharides and betulinic acid.” It’s $6.14 for a 1-ounce bottle.

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