Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) are finally finding their way into the much-deserved spotlight. Whether it’s in your coffee, a tea, or a fancy new supplement you come across — these mushrooms are popping up everywhere.
You may be wondering what all the buzz is about? Can mushrooms really be that impactful on your health? You bet they can.
Loaded with health-promoting compounds, these fungi deserve a place in every medicine cabinet around the world. But before we jump into the health benefits, let’s warm you up a bit with some interesting facts about these medicinal mushrooms.
What Are Chaga Mushrooms?
Where do they come from?
Chaga likes to grow in colder climates like Siberia, Alaska, Russia, Scandinavia, Canada, and some parts of the United States. They grow mainly on birch trees and can stick around for 10 to 20 years until they become a hard mass attached to the tree.
Although these mushrooms may not be the most attractive (think burnt charcoal that’s stuck to a tree trunk), their health benefits more than make up for their lack of points in the beauty contest.
They are a fungus after all.
Interestingly, despite its myriad of health benefits for humans, chaga is considered a parasite to the trees it grows on because it needs its host to survive. Because of this, you should never harvest chaga from a dead tree.
History Of Chaga Mushrooms
Chaga mushrooms have been used for hundreds of years in Russia and Northern European countries as medicinal plants. In fact, the word chaga is an old Russian word for “mushroom”.
It’s even rumored that the use of chaga as a healing mushroom goes all the way back to Roman times, with Romans importing birch from Europe.
People in Russia used chaga in folk medicine to treat both internal and external ailments like skin disease, lung and kidney disease, and joint inflammation.
It was traditionally prepared by grating the mushroom down to a fine powder and then brewing it as an herbal tea.
Healing Properties Of Chaga Mushrooms
You have to respect the chaga mushroom; it doesn’t have an easy life. Can you imagine being stuck to a tree in freezing cold weather for years on end just trying to survive?
Just like you need to protect yourself against harsh environments and potential disease by building up your immune system, plants need to do the same thing to ensure their own survival.
The benefit to you: they become loaded with biologically active chemicals that can enhance not only their lives but yours as well!
Okay, now that you’re a chaga mushroom history expert, let’s get into the impressive health benefits of this odd yet lovable fungus.
6 Health Benefits Of Chaga Mushrooms
1. Boosts Immune Health
A healthy immune system is a cornerstone of a healthy body. When you’re dealing with inflammation and oxidative stress from viruses, bacteria, physical injury, or other illness it can take a toll on your immune health and leave you vulnerable to even more immune assaults.
One of chaga’s most well-known health benefits is its ability to boost immune function. Active compounds called polysaccharides that are found in chaga can stimulate your immune cells and initiate an increase in immune-boosting chemicals that help fight off inflammation and oxidative stress in your body. (1)
In one study, researchers gave chaga extracts to mice to assess the impact on their immune system. The mice given chaga showed increased activity of antibodies, as well as an increased ability to fight off viruses and bacteria. (2)
2. Promotes Anti-Inflammatory Response
Keeping inflammation at bay, therefore, is crucial if you want to keep your body functioning optimally and avoid life-threatening diseases. Medicinal mushrooms like chaga have been used for thousands of years to boost immunity and fight inflammation, and continue to be an area of study for researchers. (11)
To assess the anti-inflammatory effects of the chaga mushroom, researchers gave rats with paw edema an alcohol extract of chaga. The chaga not only reduced paw inflammation but also decreased the pain receptor activity. That’s a pretty good alternative to Advil. (12)
In another study, researchers gave a group of mice with colitis (inflammation of the colon), water extracts of chaga. Within days the mice showed a reduction in inflammation in their colon, along with an improvement in the health of the gut lining. (13)
In a lab study, researchers treated immune cells from people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) with chaga extracts and found that the antioxidant effects of chaga reduced stress on the immune cells. (20)
3. Has Antiviral Properties
In case you haven’t noticed — chaga is an immune enhancing superstar. Not only does this mushroom boost immune response and protect against inflammation, but it also has anti-viral properties.
One way that viruses can affect your immune system is by attaching themselves to the outer layer of your healthy cells. Viruses don’t understand personal space very well. In the case of herpes simplex virus, chaga extracts were shown to inhibit this fusion and therefore prevented the virus from becoming active. (14)
Research has also shown that chaga extracts can work to both prevent and treat hepatitis C virus cells in a laboratory setting and may also have an antiviral effect against HIV (human immunodeficiency virus type 1). (15) (16)
4. Supports Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and it’s estimated that in the U.S. 610,000 people die of heart disease every year — that’s one in every four deaths! Along with managing inflammation, keeping this vital organ happy and healthy is key to a long and vibrant life. (17)
High cholesterol is implicated as a strong predictor for heart disease, but it’s actually the oxidation of your LDL cholesterol, not the mere presence of it, that can trigger the formation of plaques in the walls of your blood vessels. (19)
Research done in rats shows that extracts of chaga not only lower total LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, but they can also prevent the oxidation of cholesterol — a key action in the prevention of heart disease. (18)
Inflammation is another strong predictor of heart disease. Chaga contains a number of health-promoting compounds which not only support your immune system but may also increase your body’s defenses against inflammatory diseases like heart disease. (21)
5. Helps Regulate Blood Sugar
Diabetes is a disease that affects the way your body uses glucose from the foods that you eat. The cells of your pancreas normally release the hormone insulin to manage your blood glucose, helping to shuttle glucose into your cells to be used as fuel. (22)
For people with diabetes, the relationship between the pancreas, insulin, and blood glucose is disturbed so that glucose builds up in the blood, leading to a condition called hyperglycemia.
Keeping your blood sugar as stable as possible is essential for diabetes, and is actually a health-promoting practice for anyone — even if you don’t have diabetes.
When researchers gave diabetic mice an extract of chaga mushroom, they found that after just three weeks of supplementation the mice exhibited a 30% reduction in blood sugar. Additionally, when the researchers examined the pancreas of the diabetic mice, they saw that previously damaged cells had been restored to health. (23)
Similar results were seen in another study examining the effect of chaga on another group of diabetic mice. In this study, mice were given polysaccharides from chaga in addition to chromium for four weeks. The results showed that the treatment was able to lower blood glucose, heal damaged pancreatic cells, and reduce body weight. (24)
6. May Help Destroy Cancer Cells
Chaga mushrooms may have an important role to play in the treatment and prevention of certain types of cancer.
Animal studies and in vitro (lab studies) in human cancer cells have found that chaga exhibits anti-tumor activity and may slow the progression of cancer. Research shows that chaga not only inhibits the growth of certain types of cancer, but it can also initiate the destruction of cancer cells. (3)(4)
In one study, researchers gave a group of mice that had been inoculated with cancer cells chaga extracts for 60 days. After the 60 days, 67% of the mice survived with no signs of cancerous tumors — that’s pretty impressive. (5)
What makes chaga especially compelling is that unlike some other anti-cancer agents, it doesn’t seem to have a toxic effect on healthy cells. That means you get to kill off those harmful cancer cells and keep your healthy cells intact and happy! (7)
How To Use Chaga
Now that you’ve learned about all the ways that chaga can benefit your health, you’re probably wondering how to incorporate this fabulous mushroom into your life.
Lucky for you, more and more companies are jumping on the chaga bandwagon and creating teas and supplements that can make it super easy to get chaga into your daily routine.
When choosing a chaga supplement, whether it’s powder or capsule, you want to make sure you’re getting the highest quality.
Chaga mushrooms need a live host in order to grow and maintain their nutrient quality. If chaga is harvested from a dead tree, its nutrients will be depleted. This mushroom can also absorb pollution, so you want to make sure that the chaga you’re buying was wild harvested away from heavily populated areas.
There are a few different ways you can incorporate chaga into your routine.
If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, adding chaga powder can make a great addition to your morning cup. If you’re not into the earthy flavor of chaga no worries — there are plenty of companies making chaga capsules, just grab a cup of water and swallow those bad boys down.
If you’re a real do-it-yourselfer and you want to harvest your own chaga — more power to you!
Here are some tips:
- You’ll want to harvest chaga from a living tree, and then powder it down really well so you can get all the active constituents out of it.
- Steep the powdered chaga in cold water for about an hour, then bring the water to a simmer for about an hour. The slow change in temperature of the water will draw out all the active constituents.
- Strain out the powder or chunks, and enjoy!
But before you go too chaga crazy, there’s no standardized form or dose for chaga yet so make sure you discuss including chaga or any other healing plant with your healthcare provider — especially if you’re currently taking medication.