People have been using chaga mushrooms for their antioxidant benefits for thousands of years, and they are still widely used by natural health practitioners.
What is Chaga?
Chaga mushrooms are parasitic fungi that infect and grow on various trees, including birch, but can also be used for their many antioxidants. These mushrooms are scientifically known as Inonotus obliquus, and can often be seen in temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere, including Russia, Europe, and the Americas. At first glance, these mushrooms look like a large, knobby, black piece of charcoal on the side of a tree. This outer growth can be removed and gently processed to produce a powder, which can then be used for various medicinal purposes.
Chaga mushrooms are not actually the fruiting bodies of the fungi, which is the case for most foods in the mushroom category. The fruiting body actually grows within the heartwood of the tree; the part of this fungus that is removed and used is a large mass of mycelium and has its distinctive color due to its high concentration of melanin. Nutritionally speaking, these mushrooms aren’t overly impressive, with small amounts of protein, a moderate amount of fiber, and no fats, carbohydrates or sugars. However, when it comes to antioxidant concentration, this mushroom has one of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbent Capacity) scores of any food.
Chaga Mushroom Benefits
The most impressive benefits of these mushrooms include their ability to prevent cancer, protect the immune system, improving physical endurance, lowering cholesterol, and suppress inflammation, among many others.
The many antioxidants found in these mushrooms, such as triterpenes, polyphenols, beta-glucans, and sterols, can help to reduce oxidative stress and promote apoptosis (automatic cell death) in cancerous growths.
Studies have found that regular use of chaga mushrooms can help boost energy levels and reduce lactic acid levels in the blood, resulting in greater physical endurance.
With antiviral and antimicrobial effects, drinking this tea or using the tincture can give your immune system a major boost, both against common pathogens, as well as the general inflammation that can lead to chronic disease.
Many ulcers actually start to form as the result of an infection, and this fungus is known to boost the immune protection of the gut, helping to mitigate or prevent the symptoms of ulcers.
The relaxant properties of this tea are known to lower blood pressure and prevent excess strain on the cardiovascular system, which can further boost heart health.
How to Use Chaga Mushroom?
If you want to incorporate chaga mushrooms into your daily or weekly diet, the primary form will be as a tea, although some people also make more concentrated and powerful tinctures, using an alcohol extraction method. Using hot water or alcohol will allow the cellular walls to break down and release their wealth of antioxidants.
- Step 1: Crush or grind the dried mushrooms into chunks or a powder.
- Step 2: Bring a pot of water to boil.
- Step 3: Add the mushroom chunks or powder to the water.
- Step 4: Allow them to steep until the water changes to a reddish-brown color.
- Step 5: Strain out the mushroom and serve hot.
To make a more concentrated tincture, you can allow the mushrooms to steep for over an hour, or perform a simple alcohol extraction following the tea-making process. This second step will allow you to access some of the water-insoluble components, such as betulinic acid, a powerful antioxidant.
Chaga Mushroom Side Effects
- Pregnancy: Due to a limited amount of research on the effects of this fungus, pregnant and breastfeeding women are recommended to avoid the teas and tinctures made from these mushrooms.
- Autoimmune Disease: Stimulating the immune system is typically a good thing, but for people with autoimmune diseases, the protective effects of these mushrooms could actually make the condition worse.
- Drug Interactions: If you are taking any medications that thin the blood, it could lead to easier bruising and bleeding, as these mushrooms are known to similarly reduce coagulation in the circulatory system. Similarly, if you have any bleeding disorders, or are planning on undergoing surgery in the near future, avoid using this natural remedy.
- Diabetes: Drinking this tea is known to help regulate blood sugar levels and remedy diabetic symptoms, but when taken in conjunction with insulin or other diabetic medications, it could cause dangerously low blood sugar.