Over the past few years, public awareness has grown about the potential benefits of chaga. The claims are extraordinary. They range from stress relief to fighting cancer! Chaga even makes a few appearances on goop, Gwenyth Paltrow’s infamous alternative wellness website. I hope all you thoughtful dumplings will appreciate my not jumping up and down with excitement right away. Oh, I’d like to, but I try to view trendy foods with a bit of healthy skepticism. Still, this superfood deserves a closer look. Let’s start with some background information.
Chaga is a fungus that grows on birch and other trees in the Northern Hemisphere. Some say it harms its host tree. Others note that it helps a damaged or sick tree recover.
For hundreds of years, people have used chaga as a medicinal mushroom. Compounds found in it have healing properties. However, we must make those bioavailable to us. You see, we don’t have the enzyme to digest it. We can make its beneficial properties available to us by using hot water (making a tea) or through an alcohol tincture. How much we benefit may depend on the method used.
Here’s what we know about chaga:
- Loads of antioxidants. As you know, antioxidants combat free radicals and prevent cellular damage associated with aging. The amount of antioxidants may vary widely depending on method of extraction. But potentially, we’re talking about some of the highest antioxidant values known.
- Anti-inflammatory properties. This was true in both water and alcohol extractions. Studies suggest chaga could have immune-modulating effects. This would be wonderful news for those of us with autoimmune conditions.
- Betulin does lots of amazing things, like destroy cancer cells. It’s found in the bark and sap of Birch trees, as well as in the chaga that grows on them. Extracts of chaga destroy cancer cells in vitro while leaving healthy cells alone. Betulin can also lower cholesterol and balance sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity. It has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Chaga extracts do, too. Keep in mind that high temperatures can reduce the presence of betulin.
Clinical studies are still needed to support the claims we find on the Internet. But in vitro studies are super promising.
So, you want to give it a try? Having it in tea form is actually quite nice!
First, note that chaga interacts with some drugs. Also, clinical studies are still necessary to rule out dangers for pregnant women. So be sure to consult your doctor before taking.
Next, it’s helpful to do research on individual chaga products. For example, some companies will note the temperature and methods of extraction (dual-extraction methods optimize for both water and alcohol methods). Note you could also obtain raw chaga pieces and prepare them yourself with a little bit of additional research. Take note of a company’s sustainability practices, too. Often a resource that becomes trendy gets over-harvested in a way that damages the delicate balance of an ecosystem.
Below are a couple of products with an easy entry point:
Four Sigmatic is a fun resource for all things medicinal mushroom—plus, they have a good supply of adaptogen products (learn about adaptogens here!).
This chaga tea is flavored with chocolate and mint—making it a perfect seasonal treat. (Who needs Starbucks peppermint mocha anyway?)
Have you tried chaga? Did you notice any benefits? Let us know what you think about this superfood in the comments!
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Photos: Wikipedia, Kaboompics, Four Sigmatic, NordicNordic