The Chaga Way
Photo by Andrea Runkel www.chagagrove.com
What is Chaga?
Chaga, Latin name Inonotus Obliquus, or my favorite common name of Clinker Polypore, is a rare medicinal mushroom that grows in the northern hemisphere almost entirely on birch trees. It is estimated that Chaga grows on 1 in every 5,000 birch trees. It is a staple in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is said to increase Jing energy. It has been incorporated into folk medicine for centuries and highly revered for its healing properties in Russia. It is so popular in Russia that there it can be found as a syrup, a tablet, an aerosol, and even as a suppository.
Modern scientists have discovered that Chaga is rich in anti-oxidants, botulin, superoxide dismutase (SOD), minerals, melanin and polysaccharides including the highly touted Beta Glucans. It has an ORAC Score of 52,000!
Beta glucans are used for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Beta glucans are also used to boost the immune system in people whose body defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or physical and emotional stress; or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. Beta glucans are also used for colds (common cold), flu (influenza), H1N1 (swine) flu, allergies, hepatitis, Lyme disease, asthma, ear infections, aging, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Where do I procure this amazing herb?
Chaga can be purchased online in the form of chunks or powder. It is usually consumed as tea and costs about $20-$30 per 8-10 ounces. You can also purchase tinctures and capsules of Chaga from various companies for a more convenient way to consume. You can take it a step further and take a Beta Glucan Extract for a higher dosage particularly when treating acute maladies.
I prefer the whole food/herb form in most instances for general health and Chaga is no exception.
Chaga can be harvested in the wild. This summer my family and I were blessed to spend a week camping in a gorgeous birch forest on the Minnesota/Canada border. During our hikes we found multiple trees with Chaga growing on them.
The view from our campsite.
How do I identify and harvest Chaga?
Chaga grows inside the tree before it bursts out of the bark in a bulbous black growth like protuberance. The outside of the Chaga looks blackened and charred. The inside is a rust
color and has a cork like consistency. We used a hand wood saw to detach the chunk from the tree while being careful not to damage the tree. We were also careful to leave some of the growth intact so that it can grow back and hopefully be harvested again in 5-10 years. Some people use a hatchet to chop out the Chaga that is growing inside the tree which could damage the tree and is not recommended.
After harvesting the Chaga I said a prayer of gratitude over the tree, made an offering and sent Reiki healing energy to the remaining Chaga in hopes of encouraging regrowth. After the Chaga is harvested it needs to be dried or it will mold.
My Chaga harvest this year.
How do I process my wild harvested Chaga?
After it is dried it can be left in small chunk form or powdered in a food processor or spice grinder to be made into tea, tinctures or used in recipes. There are many fun recipes for using Chaga in David Wolfe’s book Chaga King of the Medicinal Mushrooms.
Most of the medicinal constituents are water soluble but a small number of them are alcohol soluble. I like to cut my Chaga into small chunks and steep them in hot water for 15 minutes or so. It makes a mild tea which I enjoy hot but can be put in the fridge for an iced tea like drink. You can also put them in a crock pot on low and just keep adding water as you drink the tea for about a week.
After reusing my Chaga chunks for 5-7 days I then dry them out again. Grind them and then steep them in a strong alcohol like vodka or Everclear for 2 weeks to extract the alcohol soluble medicines. After 2 weeks I strain and dilute the tincture with water by about 1:2 ratio alcohol to water. I then pour into dropper bottles for later use.
How much Chaga tea should I consume?
There are no known toxicities in Chaga so, barring an allergic reaction, you don’t have to worry about overdosing on it. That being said, you don’t want it to take over your diet either. I recommend 3 cups of Chaga tea a day for health maintenance and 8 cups a day when you are battling an illness. Add one dropper of tincture to a cup of hot tea and most of the alcohol will evaporate and you will be left with the beneficial Chaga extracts. Follow the company’s instructions, or your doctors, on commercially prepared tinctures and capsules.
Chaga is a wonderfully useful tool for a healthy lifestyle. I feel that we, as a society, are often blind to the amazing medicines growing right out our back door. By informing ourselves, we can take back our health back and live the joyous lives we were meant to.