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    Chaga: what is it, what does it do and what are its benefits?

    Chaga: what is it, what does it do and what are its benefits?

    Chaga mushrooms are a unique type of mushrooms that grow on birch branches. They are often used in traditional medicine because of their high amount of antioxidants and immune system boosting properties. In this article, read more about the health benefits and how to use Chaga.

    What is Chaga?

    Chaga, known as the black hump on the birch tree: unhealthy for the tree, but healthy for humans. From afar, it may look like a bun, created after breaking off a big branch, but up close it turns out to be a completely different creature. In this case, we are dealing with an overgrown fungus, which has so much healing power that many give it the title King of Medicinal Mushrooms. 

    Since ancient times, Chaga has been written about with high esteem: it helps against bacteria, viruses and inflammation, against stomach ulcers and other digestive disorders, against tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue, against heart and liver diseases ... It sometimes seems like a miracle cure. But Chaga is by no means a sop: while it may not be a band-aid for every wound, it can offer many health benefits. So what is Chaga and does it deserve that royal title? 

    In the botanical garden: how does Chaga grow?

    Chaga is a fungus, a fungus, a mushroom, known to biologists as Inonotus obliquus. To live, this fungus binds to a host (host), another organism that usually derives little or no benefit from their union. Indeed, in the long run, Chaga lives at the expense of the host, and this ultimately costs the host its life. Therefore, this fungus is considered a parasite. 

    In this case, the host is a host tree: ideally, Chaga dwells on the nutritious bark of birch, but also on that of other trees. Chaga is often found on old, diseased and dying trees. However, this fungus grows very slowly and needs quite some time to mature properly: about twenty years on average. Therefore, Chaga does prefer young, healthy specimens.

    chaga op berkenboom

    De chaga mushroom has a dark colour and has a hard woody structure 

    In nature, it is the rule rather than the exception that plants and fungi live together. Consequently, both organisms usually enter into a fruitful relationship with each other. In this case, we speak of symbiosis, which literally means "society" in ancient Greek. 

    The relationship between Chaga and a tree is called symbiosis in English literature; in Dutch, Chaga is seen as a parasitic tree disease. The relationship between this fungus and a tree can last for many decades, sometimes well past eighty years! But whether it benefits the tree, we don't really know. Ironically, humans can actually reap the benefits of this relationship: what makes one person sick can keep another healthy. 

    In the wild: where does Chaga grow? What does Chaga look like?

    Chaga is well adapted to temperate, colder climates: the fungus lives widely in northern Europe, Asia and North America, and is particularly harvested in Alaska, Canada, China, Japan, Korea, northern Europe and Russia. 

    Throughout the year, Chaga can usually be easily recognised. It grows as a dark clump that externally resembles burnt charcoal: on birch, it grows outside on the bark; on other trees, it buries itself in the trunk. Inside is the thick, orange-brown root-like network of fungal threads. 

    By the way, most Chaga sold in the Netherlands comes mainly from northern Europe and Russia. But it also grows fine on Dutch soil. Take a good look around you, especially in birch forests. Do you want to harvest Chaga yourself? Then always do it together with an expert. There is quite a bit involved, and given the long ripening time, Chaga certainly cannot be collected just like that either. Also, picking/harvesting it yourself is not allowed everywhere. 

    In the vernacular: what else is Chaga called?

    Chaga's official name is Inonotus obliquus. As a name, Chaga is easier to remember, rolls off the tongue a lot more pleasantly, and is also used worldwide. Possibly the name is derived from the Old Russian word for fungus, but opinions differ on its exact origin. 

    Over the many centuries, Chaga has been given all sorts of colourful nicknames. Less reverent ones sound, for example, "sterile stem rot of the birch" or "clinker polypore". In English, the latter name arose because of the stony shape of the distinctive conk - English for a gamble, or big nose. 

    Pet names and titles like "Gift of the Gods", "Diamond of the Forest" and "Mushroom of Immortality" may sound a bit exaggerated, but clearly show more respect for this fungus. We stick to Chaga here, and gratefully partake of the harvest of the many cultures, which came before us. 

    Where and how was and is Chaga traditionally used?

    How our ancestors discovered Chaga, we cannot say for sure. However, it could well be that its first use dates back to the Copper Age. In 1991, an ice mummy was discovered in the Ötztal Alps, christened Ötzi. He lived about 5300 years ago and carried a pouch containing various mushrooms, including the birch mushroom. So we can only assume that his contemporaries also used Chaga, but to know for sure, we need more evidence. 

    The use of Chaga - then and now 

    Almost five thousand years ago, Chaga was first described as one of the traditional workhorses of Chinese medicine. The mushroom's healing powers were so lauded that it was called "King of Herbs" even then. 

    In Chinese Siberia, Chaga was drunk as tea, applied as an ointment and burned as incense. The latter is still done by the Western Siberian Chanten. They have been using Chaga since the 12th century, and to make it burn better, they mixed the fungus with other ingredients. 

    About five centuries ago, the use of Chaga reached Europe from the East. Among the Balts and in Scandinavia, the fungus was received with great enthusiasm and is still widely consumed. In the West and South, it took much longer for this fungus to become popular. 

    Indeed, much of the Western population has long been hampered by mycophobia - fear of mushrooms. But now, more than ever, it appears that a real turnaround has taken place in recent decades. Today, therefore, Chaga, like other medicinal mushrooms such as Lion's Mane and Cordyceps, is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative medicine. It is used to contribute to overall well-being, support resistance and balance the functioning of the immune system. In addition, it is used to be able to do daily work with more strength and energy. In this, Chaga does not resemble coffee, but rather a spicy, uplifting herbal tea. 

    chaga thee

    Astronomical evidence - Chaga and Western science

    There is also significantly more scientific research nowadays into the versatile healing powers of these mushrooms, the amazing fungi. Specific fungi are being investigated whether but more importantly how they can help with certain therapies. And despite thousands of years of experience, the same applies to Chaga. Anyway, about the benefits of Chaga for our health, then, a lot of extraordinary claims are made. In this regard, the renowned astronomer Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

    In a nutshell, Chaga is claimed to provide support for asthma, bronchitis, chronic fatigue, diabetes, eczema, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, liver problems, cancer, stomach ailments, psoriasis, rheumatism, tuberculosis, bacterial and viral infections, among others - a very wide field of applications. In this case, it remains to wait until all the claims are investigated, and extraordinary evidence is provided for the real effectiveness of this mushroom. 

    So until then, we cannot write with certainty to what extent Chaga lives up to these claims. But who knows, maybe this mushroom has more surprises in store for us. Judging from our current knowledge, the wait will be worth our patience. And with this current knowledge, we can already draw a good number of conclusions ourselves. 

    The effects of Chaga and its benefits for our well-being

    Before we dive in, let's be clear: Chaga is a medicinal mushroom and does not produce psychoactive substances. Whether raw powder or extract, capsules or tea, Chaga is consumed by many people because of the beneficial effects and versatile nutritional benefits this fungus offers us. 

    Chaga - a true healing powerhouse?

    Analyses of Chaga show the following, among other things: 

    Chaga is low in calories and rich in fibre, essential amino acids, minerals and trace elements (such as calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, iron and zinc): this makes Chaga both multifaceted nutritious and beneficial for digestion. 

    Chaga has a high content of beta-glucans: these so-called multiple sugars help lower blood pressure and reduce risks of cardiovascular disease by lowering the concentration of LDL cholesterol in the blood. 

    Like other mushrooms, Chaga produces vitamin D, and also makes several B vitamins: both essential for numerous bodily functions, and B vitamins are important for red blood cell formation. 

    Like birch and alder, Chaga also produces a lot of betulin and betulinic acid: these substances promote resistance in general and balanced cell division in particular. Several studies seem to indicate that this can slow down (and even stop) tumour growth, so Chaga may indeed provide valuable support in cancer treatment. These substances also help stabilise blood sugar levels, so Chaga may help prevent diabetes.

    Chaga is drill-deep in antioxidants: these neutralise "free radicals", substances that can cause damage almost anywhere in the body, causing various health problems. Cell membranes and DNA are especially considered favourite targets: there, on the one hand, they accelerate ageing processes and, on the other, cause mutations. Chaga has a particularly high ORAC value (three times higher than Açai) indicating the effectiveness of antioxidants. From the height of this value, it can be inferred that Chaga can help protect DNA.

    A workhorse among medicinal fungi

    So, regardless of all the research still to come, we have more than enough reason for optimism: the combination of all these active ingredients gives Chaga the renowned power to nourish the human body and assist it to heal itself.

    Not a real boost, but a keeper

    Apart from its medicinal effects, Chaga is also known for its uplifting effects. Many Chaga recipes exist as an alternative to coffee, for instance in combination with raw cacao, Maca (Lepidium meyenii, also known as Peruvian Ginseng) and Baobab (the Adansonia tree, known for the powerful cocktail of nutrients its fruits contain). Just don't expect a kick like that of coffee or tea. That really belongs to the characteristic effect of caffeine anyway. But instead of coffee or tea, Chaga does provide an extra boost for longer-lasting energy. 

    Chaga together with other mushrooms

    In addition to the above combinations, Chaga can be mixed with other mushrooms, which together enhance each other's effects, so less of each is needed. This is called synergy, a principle most easily summarised as 1 + 1 = 3. Mushrooms like Reishi, Lion's Mane, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, Shiitake and Maitake go especially well with Chaga. 

    Healthy mind, healthy body - Chaga dosage and side effects

    Several grams of raw powder can be consumed daily, depending on the desired effect. With continued regular use, a high initial dose may be enough and then consume smaller amounts.

    When using Chaga extract, the dosage depends on the strength: with a 12:1 ratio, for example, 0.8 grams over two servings per day is more than enough. 

    Also, always consult the packaging or manufacturer for more information on the strength of the Chaga product you have on hand.

    With average use, consuming Chaga usually does not cause any direct side effects. Nevertheless, it never hurts to take some precautions. When using Chaga, pay close attention to the following: 

    • Interaction with medications: if in any doubt, always contact your doctor.
    • In combination with insulin, a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels may occur: obviously a risk for diabetics.
    • Chaga produces oxalate or oxalic acid: this substance binds to calcium, for example, which can cause kidney stones if consumed in excess. Oxalate also reduces the absorption of other substances from our diet.
    • Take no chances: common sense can go a long way, but up-to-date knowledge is vital for a healthy body. Just say know.

    Tastes differ: Chaga tea or prefer capsules?

    For a mushroom, Chaga seems to have a somewhat atypical, woody flavour: a distinctive earthy tone, with a hint of vanilla and a slightly-sweet mineral tinge. Some say it even tastes a bit like coffee, but it doesn't taste really bitter. According to others, it tastes just like liquorice. Yet another thinks the tea is fine, but with a big spoonful of honey. 

    Not everybody's cup of tea

    And as with almost everything: Chaga is not for everyone. Because indeed, tastes differ: one person will like it less, while another cannot get enough. That is why it can't hurt to put it to the test and get a taste for it yourself. 

    No cup? No prob: choose caps

    Chaga is certainly not a mushroom only liked by connoisseurs, like truffles (we are not talking about magic truffles, by the way!). But for those who don't like the tea, Chaga capsules or a liquid Chaga extract always remain the most practical option. 

    A champion among mushrooms?

    The chaga mushroom: it is not a panacea, but it is definitely a mushroom with serious power. But is Chaga rightly crowned as the "King of Medicinal Mushrooms"? Take the test for yourself - with all the above information in your pocket - and let us know! 

    Liquid chaga extract is easy to dose. > order here

    A champion among mushrooms?

    The chaga mushroom: it is not a panacea, but it is definitely a mushroom with serious power. But is Chaga rightly crowned as the "King of Medicinal Mushrooms"? Take the test for yourself - with all the above information in your pocket - and let us know! 


    Ineveld, P. van (2020). Medicinale Paddenstoelen - Een nieuw perspectief op genezing. NL: Samsara Books. 

    Michiels, Th. H. L. (2014). Geneeskrachtige Paddenstoelen - De gezondheidsbevorderende effecten van paddenstoelen. NL: Frontier Publishing. 

    Powell, M. (2014). Medicinal Mushrooms - A Clinical Guide. UK: Mycology Press. 

    Park, Y. & Won, J. et al (2005). In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology - online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15905055/ 

    Cui, Y., Kim, D. & Park K. (2005). Antioxidant effect of Inonotus obliquus. Journal of Ethnopharmacology - online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15588653/

    Any health claims made on the basis of plant-based ingredients are still under consideration by EFSA at the time of writing this blog.

    Under European legislation on health claims, we are not allowed to mention on our website the exact application for which you can use this supplement. Of course, we may provide you with personal advice. Please feel free to contact us for that.

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