Updated December 11, 2021.
Read Time: 9 minutes
Wild Chaga Mushroom
Wild chaga mushroom is one cool character. Chaga, also called Inonotus obliquus, thrives in the taiga snow forests ringing the arctic circle. Chaga is resilient, stable, and patient.
Chaga mushroom is, technically, a parasite, living and growing with its host tree for up to twenty years. Chaga prefers to pair with birch trees, where its mycelium spreads, fluffy and white, along the heartwood, until it is ready to grow a conk. Chaga is sun-sensitive, so the sturdy black conk emerges from the tree’s trunk covered in rich melanin. It is easily mistaken for charcoal.
Chaga has to be resilient, both to survive and to keep its host tree alive as long as possible.
Together, the chaga and the tree will be targeted by burrowing insects happy to plunder the delicious conk. But the rough, tough growth is packed with protective mechanisms.
Chaga survives because its conk is made of hard polysaccharides called chitins, the same compounds in a lobster’s shell (1).
Chaga Mushroom’s Superfood Secret
Chaga mushroom’s conk is a nutritionally-dense superfood. This is a product of decades of hard work.
You see, Chaga lives with the host tree for many years. Over that time, chaga harvests nutrition from the tree.
Chaga needs somewhere safe to store all that nutrition, which it will eventually use to reproduce.
So the chaga creates a sort of storage cache on the tree’s trunk, called a conk or canker.
Golden orange at the core, the conk is shielded by its melanin-rich outer layer. Its burnt-looking appearance gives chaga the other names cinder conk, black mass, and birch canker.
Eventually, the tree host will die, but chaga mushroom has perfect timing. Sensing the tree is nearly depleted, chaga initiates its reproductive cycle by growing a fruiting body.
Chaga's fruiting body feeds on the conk, using up its nutritious cache. Medicinal chaga must be harvested while the tree is alive, and before the fruiting body depletes the conk.
Mycophile Tip: Chaga’s conk is not, technically, chaga’s mushroom. In scientific terms, only the reproductive bodies of fungus are their mushrooms. Since chaga’s conk is sterile, it is not a mushroom, per say. However, since the conk is the food aspect of chaga, it is commonly referred to as chaga mushroom.
Chaga Health Benefits
You may be wondering, is chaga really good for you?
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Liver problems
- Poor stamina
- Ulcers, gastritis, and IBD
- Wounds and pain
Laboratory studies have analyzed chaga’s biochemical makeup and examined its bioactivity in lab cultures and mice. To the best of our knowledge, human trials have not yet been conducted. Thus, the benefits reported by practitioners of traditional medicines and their patients are considered anecdotal.
Chaga’s known bio-active compounds:
Here are five ways chaga may support health:
- Chaga Supports Immune Response
- Chaga has Anti-Diabetic Properties
- Chaga Fights Oxidative Stress
- Chaga May Reduce Inflammation
- Chaga has Anti-Microbial Properties
Read on to learn more about how the bioactive nutrients in wild chaga support health in these five incredible ways!
1. Chaga Supports Healthy Immune Response
The biochemical basis for chaga’s resilience lies in its cell walls.
Chaga, like other fungi, contains polysaccharides, special long-chain carbohydrates that give plants and crustacean shells structure and strength (1, 4).
A special group of these polysaccharides, called glucans, are immune system modulators. This means that they help the immune system regulate, either stimulating or suppressing immune response (5, 6).
Since ancient times, chaga extracts, tinctures, and teas were used to activate the immune system and support healthy responses to infections, cancers, and toxins.
Now, research scientists are exploring chaga’s potential as a therapeutic treatment for patients who are recovering from chemotherapy and have compromised immune systems. One study showed that Chaga promoted recovery of bone marrow, a vital player in the immune system (2).
2. Chaga has Anti-Diabetic Properties
In the wild, chaga is steady. It lives with the host tree for many years, patiently gathering nutrients in rhythm with the tree’s cycles. Chaga’s steadying influence may support healthy blood sugar.
Laboratory studies have shown that chaga influences two enzymes that cause blood sugar to rise after meals.
Polysaccharides in chaga inhibit the activity of the enzymes α-glucosidase and α-amylase. Present in the small intestine, α-glucosidase converts dietary carbs into blood sugar. Produced in saliva and the pancreas, α-amylase breaks carbs down into simpler sugars.
By inhibiting these two digestive enzymes, chaga shows two mechanisms for inhibiting a rise in blood sugar after meals (7, 8).
The rise in blood sugar that follows meals is a contributing factor in type 2 diabetes (9). Because chaga’s polysaccharides slow the absorption of dietary carbohydrates, further research might lead to therapeutic use of chaga to prevent diabetes.
3. Chaga Fights Oxidative Stress
As we’ve seen, chaga is one cool character. Hanging out in snow forests with its own built-in armor, not much phases chaga. In fact, chaga mushroom thrives in its harsh habitat, accumulating enough protective compounds to rank as one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants.
Studies have shown that chaga extract’s bioactive polysaccharides scavenge for free radicals that damage DNA and cause oxidative stress (10).
In fact, chaga is fifteen times more anti-oxidant than blueberries. With one of the world’s highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) ratings, superfood chaga is stronger than even acai, cacao, and turmeric (11).
Studies have also shown that chaga is genoprotective, protecting DNA from damage (12).
According to a series of laboratory tests, chaga water extractions and chaga alcohol extractions each capture different antioxidants (13). Neither extraction alone captures chaga’s full antioxidant range.
Dual extracts in both water and alcohol release a more complete antioxidant profile. Our favorite, of course, is our very own wild chaga dual extraction.
4. Chaga May Reduce Inflammation
Chaga's inherent chill and its intense antioxidant profile may be the basis for its traditional reputation as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Oxidative stress—which antioxidants prevent—is a well-known source of chronic inflammation.
Initially, inflammation is part of the body’s immune response. After detecting tissue damage or foreign bodies, the immune system rushes a flood of healing resources to the site. The rush of resources causes swelling and inflammation that are necessary in the short term (14).
But long term inflammation can disrupt immune function, hormonal balance, and digestion, as well as cause pain and nervous system dysfunction (14).
Laboratory tests have shown chaga extracts inhibiting and reducing inflammation (15, 16).
Chaga extract is especially good for fighting gut inflammation and inflammation caused by autoimmune disorders like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
5. Chaga has Anti-Microbial Properties
In the wild, it takes chaga as much as twenty years to reproduce.
Since it needs to survive so long in harsh conditions, chaga needs to resist invasive bacteria, fungi, and insects, and heal from any attacks. It makes sense that chaga has potent anti-microbial properties.
Laboratory studies have shown chaga to be effective against viruses including HIV, Hepatitis-C, Influenza A & B, Herpes Simplex type 1, and a stomach virus (19, 20, 21).
According to several studies, betulin and betulinic acid are responsible for chaga’s inhibitory effect on influenza, HIV, Herpes Simplex 1, and ECHO 6 virus (21, 23, 24).
Betulin and betulinic acid are triterpenes derived from birch trees (22). Cultivated chaga, usually grown on grains, does not contain these terpenes. Thus, wild foraged chaga has anti-microbial advantages over cultivated chaga.
How to Make Chaga Tea
Humans do not have the enzymes necessary for breaking down chaga’s robust cell structure. Therefore, chaga must be prepared using hot water or alcohol extractions.
Traditional chaga teas and extracts are made from chunks of solid chaga. These chunks are brewed whole, or ground into a powder before brewing.
You can make your own DIY chaga tea on your stovetop.
- Start with raw chaga that’s been cut into one-inch chunks.
- Place four or five chunks into a pot or saucepan with one liter of water.
- Bring the pot to simmer. Do not allow the water to boil.
- After fifteen minutes, you’ll have a deep brown brew.
- Enjoy your chaga tea!
Note: Brewing chaga tea is a water-only extraction. It will not release chaga’s full antioxidant profile (13).
For more antioxidants, opt for a dropperful of our dual-extracted chaga. Add to any tea or coffee for a quick and easy DIY chaga tea.
If you prefer to select a teabag or chaga powder, verify the quality of the product before you purchase.
Products using only the golden center of the chaga will not have robust levels of the antioxidant melanin, which is concentrated in chaga’s dark outer layers (25). Cultivated chaga does not contain the betulin and betulinic acid of wild chaga (22).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is foraging wild chaga sustainable?
Worldwide demand for chaga teas, extracts, and tinctures raises legitimate concerns about over-harvesting.
Chaga cannot reproduce without a conk. If every conk on a tree is removed, then both tree and chaga will die, and no new chaga will grow.
Sustainable harvesting means participating in chaga’s life cycle. It must be allowed to propagate. Never harvest from a tree with only one conk. If there is more than one conk, harvest only the conk larger than a grapefruit. Always leave a conk on the tree.
Sustainable harvesting also means doing no harm to the host tree. Some harvesters, eager to take as much chaga as possible, saw into the tree’s bark or wood to remove every morsel. This leaves the tree vulnerable to insects and other invaders. If the tree dies before the chaga can fruit, no new chaga will grow.
The safest way to harvest chaga is to use only your hands. This ensures the tree will not be damaged. If that is not possible, never place a cutting tool against the tree trunk. Make your cut an inch or two out from the trunk. Do not damage the bark.
What is the best way to take chaga?
Our convenient chaga extract can be taken by placing one dropper-full under the tongue. It can also be added to tea, coffee, or your favorite beverage.
What are the side effects of chaga mushroom?
Despite chaga’s respected use in traditional medicines, human clinical trials have not yet been conducted to determine side effects or ideal dosage. Several chaga studies using animals showed chaga extracts were taken regularly without toxic effects (3).
Because of chaga’s influence on blood sugar, diabetics and anyone taking insulin should consult their doctor before adding chaga to their diet. Chaga might affect blood clotting (26). Taken in high doses over time, chaga may cause kidney issues, as indicated by these studies on individual patients with preexisting conditions: 27, 28.
You should always consult your physician with questions about your individual health, especially if you are taking medication.
Renew Your Spirits and Plant Trees
The stressors of the modern world take a toll on our bodies. If we feel fatigued, unmotivated, or detached, it’s easy to see why we might lose connection with the people and projects that matter to us.
Luckily, our wild bodies know how to get the most out of superfoods like chaga mushroom extract!
Plus, with every purchase of Wild Kingdom extracts, you heal your connection with the earth by helping to reforest our planet. Every sale from our store donates to One Tree Planted, an organization that shares our mission for sustainability by planting trees worldwide.