what is chaga?

What Is Chaga?

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Although it’s not much to look at, Chaga, or the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms” as some like to call it, is a special medicinal mushroom that is gaining popularity in the west for its health benefits and appealing taste in the form of chaga tea.

These benefits have long been known in the East, where Chaga has been used for centuries by people in Siberia, Russia and other parts of Asia.

What Does Chaga Look Like And Where Does It Come From?

What we know as ‘Chaga’ is actually the dense black mass of mycelia (roughly 10″ to 15″ in size) that appears on the outside of birch trees infected with the non-toxic parasitic fungus Inonotus Obliquus.

The hard & cracked black exterior, which looks like burnt charcoal, is called the sclerotium (Fig 1).

The interior is softer and has a rusty yellow-brown color that can be seen when it’s removed from the birch tree and broken into chunks (Fig 2). 

Chaga Mushroom
Fig 1. Chaga Sclerotium sticking out from the main stem of a birch tree
Inside of Chaga
Fig 2. The interior has a rusty yellow-brown color

In general, Chaga Mushrooms are mostly found in very cold habitats and grow predominantly on birches.

More specifically, Chaga grows wild in the birch forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern areas of the United States and in Canada.

What Are The Health Benefits of Chaga?

Although research is ongoing, credible studies have shown that the Chaga Mushroom may provide several health benefits, including:

  • Stimulates and regulates the immune system
  • Nutritional support in the fight against cancer
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Anti-aging & Skincare
  • Ulcers and Gastritis
  • Supports normal cholesterol levels & Blood pressure

Please read our Health Benefits post for more information about its medicinal potential. 

How Do You Consume Chaga?

Chaga Tea and Chunks

Chaga has a naturally occurring vanillin, the same as found in the vanilla bean. Therefore, it takes on a slight hint of vanilla flavor when consumed as a tea and doesn’t taste anything like a regular mushroom.

There are several ways to consume Chaga, but hot water extraction (e.g. Chaga Tea) is the most common and simplest way to enjoy it.

However, a quality dual extract is the only way to extract all of the healthy bioactive ingredients that are locked inside. This method typically combines both hot water and alcohol extraction methods but can vary in sophistication.

For more ideas on how to consume Chaga, check out our Chaga Recipes post or Chaga Buying Guide.

How Do You Harvest And Prepare Chaga?

Chaga Harvesting

Chaga should only be harvested from living trees and great care should be taken not to damage the tree or over-harvest the chaga.

If you’re feeling adventurous and wish to harvest Chaga for yourself, read our guide on How to Harvest Chaga to learn more.

After harvesting, the Chaga is dried and then broken into small chunks or ground into a powder for tea.

When prepared at home, the chunks are typically brewed/steeped in hot water to make a medicinal Chaga Tea, or mixed with alcohol and left to mature into a powerful Tincture.

The raw powder can also be added to smoothies, soups, stews, etc., to add nutritional value to everyday meals.

Please read our guide on How to Prepare Chaga for more info on how you can make your own tea or tincture.

Chaga Life Cycle

Most typically, well-formed sclerotia are found on birch trees older than 40 years, however, the fungus infection starts much earlier.

Once infected, it takes about 3 to 5 years until the Chaga can be harvested. During this time, the mushroom is actively drawing nutrients and vitality from its host and utilizing them for its own development.

Once harvested, Chaga can grow to a harvestable size again in about 3 to 10 years, and this cycle can be repeated until the tree dies.

The time from initial infection to tree death can vary with the number of infections and the tree’s resistance but is typically around 20 years. 

It’s important to remember that removing the Chaga does not stop the infection.

The Future Of Chaga

As more and more respected institutions, such as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, produce credible and detailed studies into the medicinal benefits, the more people will discover this special mushroom.

Furthermore, improvements in the extraction techniques from chaga extract producers such as Sayan will help consumers get the most out of its numerous health benefits.

11 thoughts on “What Is Chaga?”

      1. Beware is right. The condition of the body is not static, but varies over time; day to day. Even hour to hour.
        There may be some truth to certain claims; but the restorative benefits of any food or supplement are limited by the ultimate condition of the body, which is particular mystery, even to the individual and I doubt there is any supplement that can turn 70 year old eyes into those of a 16 year old. Maybe a 55 year old. Who can say.

        1. I don’t think they mean that it can turn 70 year old eyes into 16 yr old eyes. Thats seems exaggerated. Restoring eyesight can also be done w. carrot juice.
          Our bodies have an incredible ability to heal themselves. With foods that do not contain harmful pesticides along with many different kinds of plants on the planet to assist us, the healing can occur and disease can be healed. Dis-ease in the body is inflammation. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer and all other ailments are this. Our body can heal, we just need to pay attention. Im really thrilled about knowing about chaga and its benefits.
          If you have cancer, you can’t really just take chaga and it will solve all of your problems, I agree. It involves a whole change in lifestyle or looking at our bodies in a completely different way. Don’t underestimate the human body’s ability to heal itself, but definitely add plants to your life to assist this process.

          1. I agree. My 70/16 example was an abstract observation. I have grown back supporting tissue around my teeth, improved skin and muscle tone and much more, with a liquid vegetable juice diet. I believe the vegan way is probably the best.

      2. Patricia Horvers

        I have to disagree with you 100%. I have been drinking Chaga for about 5 yrs. I have not even had a sniffle. I am around children 24/7. They bring everything for sickness in my home and I have caught nothing! My husband has finally brought his cholesterol down after fighting it most of his adult life. It’s all proven facts and we are living proof. Haven’t read anything about it helping anyone’s eyes but that would not surprise me. I am 66 yrs old, I am a diabetic and recently been through 3 major surgeries and I believe it helped me with my recovery. Your the one losing out. I am going to choose to stay healthy!

    1. I been told that too by a store owner who makes this as a cold brew in toronto he also sells it in packages to make at home and it says that on the package

    1. Healthcare Czar

      Think of it as a daily food, there is no upper limit. A four ounce drink twice a day is good for starters. It will be many weeks of detoxing if your loaded with toxins. It will vary depending how much toxins you have.

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