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Chaga! Chaga!

January 31, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Chaga! Chaga!

I’ve always enjoyed mushrooms. My mother taught me how to pick them in the Upper Michigan backwoods when I was young. Scavenging for food might seem a bit too primitive to some people, but the longer I live the more I appreciate the world of our forefathers with less processed and more intensely nutritious foods. 

The European Food Information Council, among many other dozens of sources, speak of the reduction of nutritional benefit and the increased health concerns with the increased consumption of processed foods. Not in the least of these concerns is obesity. Globally, nearly 40% of all people are overweight or obese, which leads to a host of serious long-term health issues. 

I hear all this talk about the cost of health care. From my perspective, if we are truly serious about addressing the cost of health care, it seems we should first consider reducing the need for health care services – become healthier. How about instead of prescribing a complete government takeover of our healthcare system, that we just make better individual health choices. I know, it’s not that simple. But, what sane person could argue against the idea that eating more natural and healthier foods would reduce our net output costs for health care? 

In recent years I began reading about the medicinal and general health values of fungi. It’s quite interesting to read about the chemical and organic complexities in such an available and taken-for-granted source. The science world is only just beginning to explain what generations of people before us had already discovered. Mushrooms are good for us.

Specifically, my most recent readings have been on chaga mushrooms, inonotus obliquus. Chaga is found on white or yellow birch trees in northern regions of North America, Siberia, and Northern Europe.  Although less common, chaga can also be found on beech and hornbeam trees.  It has irregular forms, is quite dense, and looks like burnt charcoal. It’s not exactly what would initially appear to be something edible. However, with centuries of usage data to consider, information about the benefits of chaga has gained attention in the medical research community. 

With what might seem discouraging, Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center reports that there have been no clinical trials to assess chaga's safety and efficacy for disease prevention or for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.  Yet other reports such as found in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology and Life Sciences are more optimistic in suggesting that chaga has possible future potential in cancer therapy, as an antioxidant, in immunotherapy, and as an anti-inflammatory. The bottom line is that there is still much research remaining before any scientifically definitive statement can be rendered about the benefits of chaga.  Though I would also propose that we cannot ignore the testimony of generations. 

As an herbal folk remedy going back as far as the end of the stone age, chaga was used in Chinese and Siberian cultures as a general health-enhancing herb credited with increasing longevity, boosting the immune system, improving digestion, detoxification, and balancing the body’s life energy (whatever that is).  It has been used in teas, in powder form, inhaled from smoke, and applied to the skin. Many historical references, near and far past, have credited chaga as medically significant.  

Don't get too excited.  If you are thinking about downing a chaga milkshake right now, hold on.  A word of caution: Potential side effects of chaga exist in our mixed world of the natural and modern chemical treatments. For instance, chaga has been known to interact negatively with intravenous applications of penicillin and glucose.  Chaga can also magnify the effects of anticoagulant medications (asprin, warfarin), increasing the risk of bleeding or bruising.  Chaga also interacts with diabetes medicines such as insulin, increasing risk for hypoglycemia (blood sugars falling too low). That’s right, chaga is powerful and potentially disruptive. Make sure you include chaga when talking to your doctor about taking other medications. 

Because I am a believer in natural goodness and I have no immediate concerns about conflicts with medications, I recently made my own homemade batch of chaga tincture - see photo. There are several different ways to prepare chaga. I used a combination of an alcohol and a hot water extraction to create a tincture.  The details about how I did this can be found on a couple websites:  https://emergenthealth.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/chaga-mushroom-preparations/ and http://www.chagahq.com/prepare-chaga/.

A quick summary of my tincture making process:

• Naturally dry the chaga for a couple weeks after harvesting
• Make a powder from the dried chaga
• Soak the chaga powder in vodka for 2 months
• Filter out the chaga mash; set aside the alcohol extraction
• Use the chaga mash from the alcohol extraction to do a triple hot water extraction
• Combine the alcohol extraction with the hot water extraction

Serve a teaspoon of the chaga tincture with 8oz of (hot [not boiling] or cold) water. If a sweet drink is preferred, add a teaspoon of local honey.

If you enjoy mushrooms like I do, or if you are trying to find ways of increasing your intake of more natural foods I think you will find chaga to be an interesting and tasty addition to a healthier and happier you. 

Please pardon my lack of disciplined citing on this article, but there are a few references below for those who might need to dig a little further into the scientific research - or do some web searches for peer reviewed papers on chaga. 

1. "Chaga Mushroom". Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center. 18 July 2011. Retrieved August 2013.

2. Rzymowska, J (1998). "The effect of aqueous extracts from Inonotus obliquus on the mitotic index and enzyme activities". Bollettino chimico farmaceutico 137 (1): 13–5. PMID 9595828.

3. Mizuno, Takashi; Zhuang, Cun; Abe, Kuniaki; Okamoto, Hidehumi; Kiho, Tadashi; Ukai, Shigeo; Leclerc, Sophie; Meijer, Laurent (1999). "Antitumor and Hypoglycemic Activities of Polysaccharides from the Sclerotia and Mycelia of Inonotus obliquus (Pers.: Fr.) Pil. (Aphyllophoromycetideae)".International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms 1 (4): 301–316. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushr.v1.i4.20.

4. Cui, Y; Kim, DS; Park, KC (2005). "Antioxidant effect of Inonotus obliquus". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 96 (1–2): 79–85. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.08.037. PMID 15588653.

5. Kim, Yong Ook; Han, Sang Bae; Lee, Hong Woen; Ahn, Hyo Jung; Yoon, Yeo Dae; Jung, Joon Ki; Kim, Hwan Mook; Shin, Chul Soo (2005). "Immuno-stimulating effect of the endo-polysaccharide produced by submerged culture of Inonotus obliquus". Life Sciences 77 (19): 2438–56.doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2005.02.023. PMID 15970296.

6. Kim, Yong Ook; Park, Hae Woong; Kim, Jong Hoon; Lee, Jae Young; Moon, Seong Hoon; Shin, Chul Soo (2006). "Anti-cancer effect and structural characterization of endo-polysaccharide from cultivated mycelia of Inonotus obliquus". Life Sciences 79 (1): 72–80. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2005.12.047.PMID 16458328.

7. Park, Young-Mi; Won, Jong-Heon; Kim, Yang-Hee; Choi, Jong-Won; Park, Hee-Juhn; Lee, Kyung-Tae (2005). "In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 101 (1–3): 120–8.doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.04.003. PMID 15905055.

8. Mishra, Siddhartha Kumar; Kang, Ju-Hee; Kim, Dong-Kyu; Oh, Seung Hyun; Kim, Mi Kyung (2012). "Orally administered aqueous extract of Inonotus obliquus ameliorates acute inflammation in dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis in mice". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 143 (2): 524–32.doi:10.1016/j.jep.2012.07.008. PMID 22819687.


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