Common Name: Chaga Mushroom
Scientific Name: Inonotus obliquus
Habitats: Chaga mushroom grows commonly on birch trees. Chaga is found throughout birch forests mostly in the northern part of the northern hemisphere.
Edibility: Chaga is usually grated into a fine powder and used to brew a beverage resembling coffee. It has a slightly bitter taste. Chaga mushroom has a long history of traditional use as a folk medicine in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Medicinal: Since the 16th century, there are records of chaga mushroom being used in folk medicine and the botanical medicine of the Eastern European countries as a remedy for cancer, gastritis, ulcers, and tuberculosis of the bones.
Chemical investigations show that I. obliquus produces a diverse range of secondary metabolites including phenolic compounds, melanins, and lanostane-type triterpenoids. Among these are the active components for antioxidant, antitumoral, and antiviral activities and for improving human immunity against infection of pathogenic microbes.
While the betulin found in birch bark is indigestible by humans, the chaga mushroom converts it into a form that can be digested orally. In an animal study, researchers found betulin from birch bark lowered cholesterol, obesity and improved insulin resistance.
The mycelial endo-polysaccharide of I. obliquus was identified as an immune response modifier and it was found that the anti-cancer effect of endo-polysaccharide is not directly tumorcidal but rather is immuno-stimulating. Due to the hypoglycemic activity of polysaccharides caution may be taken by those with hypoglycemia.
Care: Chaga can be harvested by breaking off a piece of the conk, (the dark and brittle mass of mycelium,) from its host tree. An extraction process is needed to release the major active ingredients, the polysaccharides—which are found in the mostly indigestible chitin cellwalls of the chaga. The hot water extraction method will extract all water soluble components including polysaccharides, but an alcohol/ethanol extraction process is necessary to isolate the non-water soluble components like betulinic acid, betulin, and phyto-sterols. Using both methods will result in the most valuable components being present.
Symbiosis: Chaga mushroom is parasitic on birch trees. Humans have been using it medicinally for hundreds of years at least.
- Wikipedia article on chaga
- Key Herbs article on the birch fungus chaga
- Chaga Mushroom Guide Website
- Permaflow video: Stalking the Wild Chaga Mushroom with Daniel Vitalis