God's mushroom, forest diamond, gift of the gods - there is definitely something compelling about the Chaga mushroom that is worth exploring further.
But what is the Chaga mushroom? Is it tasty? Why do health experts call Chaga a superfood even among medicinal mushrooms?
In this article, we take a close look at Chaga mushroom from all angles, exploring its nutrient balance, healing potential, beneficial properties and some fun facts about where and how Chaga mushrooms grow in the wild and how they are harvested.
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What Is Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga mushroom is a medicinal and nutritional mushroom that typically grows near the roots of birch, maple or ash trees in colder climates throughout the Northern hemisphere.
While the Chaga mushroom has been used for thousands of years in many parts of Asia, Russia and Siberia, it is just now becoming better known in more Westernized parts of the world. The mushroom itself is quite slow-growing and can take up to two decades to reach maturity.
It is thought that Chaga mushrooms grown on birch trees have the most medicinal and nutritional benefits.
Chaga mushrooms may not look like much on the outside, but they are chock-full of beneficial nutrients and properties on the inside.
If you like to hike or visit national forests, you may have even walked past wild Chaga mushrooms on your travels.
They look more like knotty tree branch stumps than the mushrooms you are probably thinking of. When the sun hits them, the Chaga turns black on the outside and you have to slice them open to see the orange on the inside.
Perhaps it is their unattractive exterior that has earned this mushroom unfortunate nicknames like birch canker, conk rot, black mass and clinker.
Chaga mushroom is fully legal to use and is not on any of the anti-doping lists for professional athletes. However, in certain cases, use of Chaga may be contraindicated. We will talk more about that in a later section here.
A 5-Minute Overview of Chaga Benefits
If you need a quick and dirty overview of how Chaga mushroom can help you look and feel better, this is the video you want to watch.
In particularly, you will earn about the nutritional makeup of Chaga. This includes the mushroom's important role as an immune system tonic, rebuilder, strengthen and modulator, and how that benefit impacts all the other systems in your body in beneficial ways.
What Are the Benefits of Chaga?
Chaga mushroom contains a number of important nutrients and compounds that can benefit your body in various ways.
Here is a list of some of the major known nutrients Chaga can provide for you, including some that most adults are deficient in today.
- B vitamins
- Amino acids
- Vitamin D
How Can You Take Chaga Mushroom?
Chaga mushroom can be eaten, brewed in a tea, added to coffee or taken in capsule or powder form.
Chaga contains natural vanillin, which makes it taste sweeter and quite unlike most mushrooms you've probably eaten in the past.
In fact, if you have ever heard of anyone talk about the "coffee mushroom," they were likely referring to the Chaga mushroom, which can taste quite a bit like a bitter dark roast brew when in its pure powdered form.
How Much Can You Take?
According to health expert Dr. Josh Axe, five grams of chaga mushroom contains five calories, five grams of fiber, one gram of protein and no fat, carbohydrate or sugar.
For Chaga tea, Dr. Axe recommends starting with 10 grams (or two chunks) of Chaga in one cup of boiling water steeped for three minutes.
If you prefer to take this mushroom in another way, such as in a capsule or powder, it is always smart to start with the manufacturer's lowest recommended daily dose until you know how your body reacts.
What Does Chaga Do For the Body?
This mushroom has so many health benefits for the body, which we will discuss in more detail now.
1. Boost Immune Response
Whether your primary goal is simply to stave off cold and flu germs or you need a potent immune booster to fight serious disease like HIV, Chaga can be a great friend to your immune system.
Chaga's antiviral, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties go to work against virus germs, bacteria and fungi to support the body's own immune response.
2. Improve Endurance
Chaga mushroom is a great training buddy for athletes. Laboratory mice demonstrated improved swimming endurance after being given Chaga supplements.
It accomplishes this by boosting glycogen in the body as a fuel source and reducing lactic acid output to dampen muscle fatigue.
3. Inflammation Packing
Chaga's known anti-inflammatory properties are not just beneficial for serious disease like cancer. Chaga can be equally beneficial when taken as part of a preventative strategy because it has demonstrated the ability to suppress systemic inflammation.
4. Healthy Weight Management
Several research studies point to Chaga as a reliable method of lowering and stabilizing blood sugar.
This can be helpful not just for managing serious illness such as diabetes, but also to stave off cravings and support healthy weight management.
5. Help Your Body Adapt to Stress
Chaga mushroom is a known adaptogen, which makes it not just a superfood but also a powerful addition to help your body cope with stress.
Common stress-induced health symptoms such as brain fog, memory loss, sleep disruption and mood imbalance can be eased with the addition of a daily Chaga mushroom supplement.
Is Chaga Mushroom Safe to Use?
There is no doubt it is always smart to talk with your healthcare provider before adding anything new to your daily health regimen.
This is the case even if you are perfectly healthy and just want to stay that way, but is especially important if you are working to overcome health challenges.
If any of the following applies to you, be sure to talk with your doctor before trying Chaga mushroom.
You are diabetic or are taking insulin
Chaga has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in various research studies using laboratory animals.
So if you are taking insulin for diabetes or another reason, you may want to ask your doctor if adding Chaga will be a help or a hindrance based on your specific health needs.
You have an autoimmune condition
Chaga is known to boost immune system function, which is optimal when your system is under-functioning.
But when your immune system goes into overdrive at the slightest indication of a threat, Chaga's impact might not be beneficial. So always talk with your doctor if you have any autoimmune concerns.
You are pregnant, trying to conceive or lactating
Because it is not known how Chaga may impact an unborn baby or translate through breast milk, always talk with your ob-gyn before adding Chaga to your health regimen.
You are taking blood thinners or are about to have surgery
Chaga can impede blood clotting and may interfere with blood thinners and other medications for treating blood disorders.
As well, if you are planning to have a procedure soon, it can be wise to delay starting Chaga until after you have had your surgery.
Is Chaga Mushroom Good for Cancer?
The Chaga mushroom is called kreftkjuke, or "cancer fungus," in Norway.
In one exciting 2018 study published by the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, researchers were able to cause cancer cells to die off by infusing test tubes containing the cells with Chaga.
Another promising 2016 study published by Heliyon showcased how a continuous IV infusion of Chaga was able to shrink cancerous tumors in laboratory mice by up to 60 percent.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests the outer black exterior of the mushroom may be the most beneficial for cancer cell death and tumor reduction.
If you are seeking to maintain or improve your overall health and wellness, there is no doubt Chaga mushroom has some potent, empirically-supported benefits to offer.
However, it is important to first talk with your health provider if you are already taking medications to manage any health condition to avoid potential interactions.
Remember, you don't have to try every Chaga remedy in this article all at once to start reaping the benefits. Just scan through the different options and notice which one jumps out at you and start there.
By taking it one step at a time, starting with the lowest manufacturer-recommended dose and adjusting as you see how your body reacts, you can start enjoying the many benefits of Chaga mushroom in your life.
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Shannon is a freelance writer and author of three books. Shannon is passionate about crafting knowledge-based, science-supported articles that provide readers with practical, actionable tools to make healthy life choices.