The Benefits of Chaga PLUS What You Need to Know Before Buying
Chaga has been a celebrated natural substance consumed the world over for hundreds of years. It may seem new to many of us, but it has a long, well-celebrated history.
So, what's the big deal with this humble mushroom? What are the benefits of Chaga and why is it such a celebrated fungi? And, if you're considering adding it to your supplement list, what should you be looking for?
The Benefits of Chaga
Firstly, what is Chaga?
Chaga’s latin name is Inonotus obliquus and is in the family of fungi known as Hymenochaetaceae. It is a native parasitic fungus of the birch tree. Chaga has been used in indigenous cultures since at least the 13th century in Russia, Siberia and North America for the treatment of infections, rheumatism, and immune disorders including diabetes, heart disease and cancer (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)
It’s concentrated nutritive value has put it on the radar as a ‘superfood’ but it’s so much more than that! It can be used to boost some of those nutrients that are difficult to obtain in a western diet and may give our immune system an advantage. Chaga is a significant source of:
- Vitamin B Complex
- Vitamin D
- Essential amino acids
But the benefits of Chaga don't end there.
Chaga, along with many other species of fungi, are rich in mycochemicals (myco means ‘mushroom’!). Over 200 mycochemicals have been identified in Chaga alone. It has been classified as an “adaptogen” which is a natural substance that is able to help normalize and regulate the immune system. Mycochemicals in chaga include beta glucans, polyphenols, plant sterols and terpenes. All of these are recognized as pharmacologically active compounds and are being studied extensively all over the world.
Here are a few of the Chaga benefits that come from these compounds:
- Antineoplastic (anti-cancer)
- Immune Modulative
- Antimicrobial (to pathogenic bacteria)
Wild-grown Chaga vs. Cultured Chaga
It’s important to understand that wild fungi only develop their medicinal properties when they are grown on their native environment. For chaga, it’s the birch tree.
The important bioactive chemicals found in chaga are only present when the fungus can grow in relationship to live birch trees. Scientists have tried to culture it in a laboratory setting with little success in replicating it’s full medicinal power. Wild-grown chaga is significantly higher in many mycochemicals compared to laboratory-cultured chaga. (10) (11)
The Ecological Regenerative Power of Fungi
The benefits of Chaga are not exclusive to humans. There are many ways this mushroom (and fungi in general) also benefit the planet.
Further back than human history can recall, fungi were populating the earth. We're talking around 1 billion years ago. And they have been evolving and diversifying ever since.
Scientists estimate that there are over 3 million species of fungi on Earth today. They are the recyclers of the planet and we are just beginning to scratch the surface on the ecological impacts they have on our world. Fungi have been specializing in symbiotic relationships with all living things since their appearance on planet earth. Mycologists are hard at work discovering the specialities of the fungi families but each one has a unique relationship to the environment it grows in and exists in balance with the microbiome of the earth. There are even species of mushrooms that are being discovered as recyclers of plastic and other environmentally harmful materials like glyphosate. Interestingly, their mycochemicals help us clean up our internal toxicity when we employ them for our own health.
The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: State of the World’s Fungi Report (2018) shows some of the fascinating employments of fungus in their use in the fight against climate change. Some of their uses include:
- alternative biofuels
- plastic and glyphosate environmental reduction
- combatting land desertification due to conventional agricultural farming
Each fungi has a direct impact on its environment and the possibilities for their benefits to us and the planet are endless. And that's a beautiful thing.
What to Look for When Buying Chaga
Before you buy Chaga, ask these questions:
1. Is it harvested in a sustainable way?
Some chaga is harvested in its entirety, which means part of the tree is removed (and sometimes included as part of the finished product). Not only does this reduce the medicinal value of the product but it also can harm or even kill the host tree. In order to keep both the tree alive and the chaga regenerating, it’s important that the majority of the fungi is left intact on the tree and that both tree and chaga can continue to thrive.
2. Is it grown in a way that reaps therapeutic value?
As mentioned before, if it’s not wild-grown chaga, you really won’t be getting all the benefits that this superfood offers. It’s important to ensure that your source is wild-grown on birch.
3. Is it minimally processed to conserve its value?
There are different methods for consuming chaga but the most bioavailable ways are either through steeped tea or via liquid tincture. Freshly dried chaga can be used to make tea. The traditional herbalist method of creating a tincture is through a method called the double extraction process. This means that the chaga is first dried, then steeped and then a second extraction is done with 100% pure alcohol in order to increase the potency and bioavailability.
4. Is it tested for polyphenols and other beneficial nutrients?
If the chaga you are purchasing has a nutrient analysis profile, this can give you a great insight into how the chaga was grown. Wild-grown chaga harvested from live trees will be significantly high in zinc, copper and selenium. To ensure that the tree and the fungi was left largely undisturbed, it is helpful for the company to provide a xylitol test result as well. Xylitol is a phytochemical that makes up the birch tree. Xylitol should be virtually 0 or very low at less than 0.10% of the total product if the birch tree was left intact during harvest. Other indicators of authenticity would be test values for polyphenols or terpenes in the product.