Chaga — Diamond of the Forest
INTRODUCTION TO CHAGA
What is chaga
How to harvest chaga sustainably
What can chaga do for our body
How to use chaga
WHAT IS CHAGA?
Inonotus Obliquus, AKA Chaga mushroom is a sclerotium (a persistent, vegetative, resting spore of certain fungi) that grows on birch trees in northern climates. There are no known side effects or any recorded cases of any one getting sick from the use of chaga mushroom. It has been used as a tincture and tea remedy for thousands of years in Canada, Russia and China. The Chaga sclerotium develops over the years as it feeds off the living birch tree. Chaga looks different than other mushrooms because it is not the fruiting part of the fungi. An easy way to explain this is when we see a mushroom we are looking at the fruit, not the roots (mycelium) which are usually in the ground. Chaga IS the mycelium, so it is different compared to “normal mushroom” that are familiar to most people.
In Wisconsin, chaga is not easily found in the southern half of the state. We have found a few growing in Marathon County, but rarely south of that. From Minocqua to Superior they become more and more prevalent, then they grow abundantly north towards Canada. Old growth forests provide the biggest specimens, although it can be difficult to locate those type of forests anymore. But there certainly is a great supply of chaga in our forests and most are within arms reach. If you can find it, all you need is a hatchet to take a portion off.
Chaga is categorized under "food" by the FDA, even though you can’t really cook and eat it like a normal mushroom as it’s way too tough to be edible. Chaga starts its journey as a spore that finds its way into a cut or wound on a birch tree, which was usually caused by logging equipment damaging the trees they do not harvest. The sclerotium grows off the wound healing the tree, they kind of live with each other.
In the years of studying herbs, we have found that a young chaga starts out strong, then transitions into a linear relationship growing larger as the tree does. If the host tree is suppressed or weak, the chaga specimen will grow very slow. Chaga on healthy fast growing birch will typically grow in the shape of a horn rather quickly. Each specimen may show what kind of condition the tree is in, if you know what to look for.
Chaga can live for many years on its host. When the tree dies, or is damaged then chaga fruits and releases its spores. A lot of mushrooms use their gills to release spores into the air. However, chaga uses a different method when it comes to releasing its spores. It inoculates its host tree from the chaga specimen down to the roots via the cambium and phloem layer (where the sap flows up and down). When the tree is compromised by things like forest succession, disease or timber harvest, the chaga then decides to release its spores. (Similar to ‘’shocking’’ Shitake logs; a process where a mushroom farmer soaks an inoculated log in water for some time then removes the log and drops it on the ground to ‘’shock’’ it. The soaking simulates spring rain and the drop simulates thunder. Somehow the shitake mycelium translates those actions as a signal to fruit because its spring and conditions are right to do so.) Chaga grows as much as it can until it receives the signal that the tree is dying and then fruits. Chaga fruiting happens rather quickly to our eyes. The base of the tree will split open and millions of spores will be taken away with the air.
One would speculate that harvesting chaga would harm its species. In fact, many hobbyist or mycologist will likely tell you that. And the following information has upset more than a few since this was published. With a strong background in forestry and years in the field harvesting and studying, I have a more realistic approach when it comes to harvesting chaga and its sustainability.
The spores use the air to disperse. One fruiting tree can release millions of spores into the atmosphere and travel hundreds of miles. One chaga can infect new trees across an entire state. This has been proven by scientists taking air samples in our atmosphere. So if chaga is not growing on birch in an area, the spores are there but the conditions may not be right in that particular ecosystem.
When we harvest, taking only a portion of the conk is recommended and remnants of what is left will re-establish. It will never be as large as it was… and not likely ever be sizable enough to harvest again. But the specimen will be able to fruit like usual when the time and condition is right. A good practice that we live by when harvesting chaga is only taking what is in arms reach, leaving a great percentage alone. If everyone followed that, we would not have to worry about over harvesting the fungus.
Because of chaga’s direct relationship with the tree, as long as there are birch trees, there will be chaga. With that being said, over harvesting birch trees could potentially harm the population of this fungi. A large portion of land is managed for timber harvest. Timber harvest is good in our modern time for many reasons, some of those reasons are so good, they have unfortunately started cutting down some of our land that hasn’t been cut in 100 years or more... If these birch trees are taken before the fruiting stage, there will be no spores to carry on the cycle. There is nothing wrong with picking this herb or cutting birch down as long as we all have respect for the land. Chaga grows back, trees grow back. But we don’t need to and shouldn’t take every chaga and every tree. There are other people and animals that use the forests for other things than timber and herbs. And remember, just because someone can’t find something doesn’t make it a threatened or endangered species.
In recent years, there have been more and more people looking for this fungi and trying to make tea. With the over abundance of the harvesting, we are seeing less and less of this wonderful fungi by the roadsides and waterways. Some people use tree climbing gear with spikes to get chaga that would normally be out of reach. Consequently, the spikes leaves holes and open wounds on the trees that leaves them vulnerable to bugs and infections. If you see these climbing holes from the road, you may possibly see an empty spot where chaga used to be. This is not only bad for the tree and the chaga, it is also illegal and can present negative views in the public eye about wild harvesting. It is imperative that we harvest chaga and other herbs for that matter, sustainably and only/or purchases sustainably harvested products. There really isn’t any laws yet when it comes to harvesting in the forests, only a set of standards and good practices that we hope everyone can adhere by.
If you decide to look for chaga, here is a guideline for respecting the land:
- Harvest only a portion of the conk/fungi
- Try not to damage the tree
- Do not harvest from a dead tree
- Do not use pruning seal on trees
- Common sense and respect what nature provides us
- And most of all, consider the ecosystem on a micro level, what else (non-human) is using what you're about to harvest...
WHAT CAN CHAGA DO FOR US?
Over the years of studying herbs and our natural resources, we’ve found chaga to be very beneficial for the human body. Most of the information in the western world on the medicinal properties of chaga are still regarded as theoretical with on-going research. While in countries like Russia and China, chaga has a long standing history of usage and documented benefits, which showcases some interesting qualities that we as humans can and have benefit from.
The health benefits of Chaga have been recognized by the National Cancer Institute. Although they will not say chaga, as a whole, can cure diseases like cancer, but the individual compounds that make up chaga has been proven to cure cancer and other ailments.
- Adaptogens are compounds that refer to the concept of stabilization of the physiological processes of homeostasis. The internal body temperature of a human is a great example of homeostasis. When an individual is healthy, his or her body temperature holds at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The body can control temperature by creating or releasing heat. In this situation though, chaga’s adaptogenic qualities impact immune and stress regulation instead of body heat.
- Minerals, contains high concentrations of flavonoids, vitamin B, phenols, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron.
- Melanin is an antioxidant. The black outer appearance of the chaga mushroom is where most of the melanin is. Melanin can stay in our bodies for a long time and destroy the unstable free radicals that cause cancer. Chaga has many different anti-oxidants, but this is the main one that helps us fight disease.
- Free Radicals we won’t get into chemical bonding here, but free radicals help the oxidation process, the same process as iron rusting or apples turning brown. Free radicals damage cells, and repeated damage to our cells will ultimately cause disease and cancer. Our bodies are constantly fighting these free radicals by using anti-oxidants.
- Superoxide Dismutase an enzyme that breaks down the superoxide free radicals. Chaga has the highest SOD (superoxide dismutase) levels in the world. This is the reason chaga is crowned as the Diamond of the Forest.
- Betulin & Betulinic acid Betulin is the white substance that makes up the bark of birch tree. Betulin is a natural antimicrobial, which is why the birch tree rots but the bark stays white and intact long after the wood itself is gone. As chaga has a symbiotic relationship with the tree, it soaks up a lot of the betulin from the tree bark while it heals the tree of an open wound. Thus as chaga matures, it will contain antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. This is taken from the National Cancer Institute in regards to betulinic acid, "A pentacyclic lupane-type triterpene derivative of betulin (isolated from the bark of Betula alba, the common white birch) with anti inflammatory, anti-HIV and antineoplastic activities. Betulinic acid induces apoptosis through induction of changes in mitochondrial membrane potential, production of reactive oxygen species, and opening of mitochondrial permeability transition pores, resulting in the release of mitochondrial apogenic factors, activation of caspases, and DNA fragmentation. Although originally thought to exhibit specific cytotoxicity against melanoma cells, this agent has been found to be cytotoxic against non-melanoma tumor cell types including neuroectodermal and brain tumor cells."
- Beta-Glucans One could easily write a blog just on Beta-glucans than the entire known information about reishi. There are different types of Beta-Glucans with many different researches for each type, so we will keep this short to the point. Beta-glucan is a soluble fiber (a polysaccharide) found in the cell walls of organisms such as fungi, seaweed, algae, certain grains, and yeast. But, only beta-glucan from a few particular mushrooms contain immune-modulating and anti-tumor properties. Some mushrooms contain more beta-glucans than others, with reishi, birch polypore and most of all, turkey tail mushroom, which offers the highest concentration. Beta-glucans can...
- Promoting white blood cells
- Increasing antibody production
- Increasing immunity against various cancers
- Inhibiting tumor development
HOW DO WE USE CHAGA?
Chaga has a mild taste with hints of vanilla because it contains vanillin, same as the vanilla bean. There is no mushroom flavor to the teas or tinctures. Many say it tastes like a very mild cup of coffee.
Fresh chaga off the tree contains about 10-25% moisture. It can be used immediately but is generally dried to extend its storage life. Properly dried chaga can be stored for years in a air-tight glass jar or container.
There are several different ways you can consume chaga, in powder (as tea), grounds (like our Chaga Coffee), chunks and tinctures. There are two common methods to extract the healthy substances from chaga for human consumption. Hot water and alcohol extraction.
Hot water extraction:
Chaga is made up of protein and polysaccharides with fibrils walls. One common misconception about hot water extraction is that the temperature should not be over 150 or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember the goal is to break down the mushroom as it is hard and corky. There are some herbs that this is true regarding temperature. Vitamins like vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat, and we aren’t concerned about vitamin C in chaga. Minerals do not get degraded by heat and antioxidants take a 25% loss after about 3 or 4 hours of high temperature. The enzymes and proteins start breaking down well above 150 degrees along with the polysaccharides. If you pour boiling water over chaga, it will not harm the nutrients, in fact it will be a stronger extraction. That being said, We would say that a rigorous boil may degrade its nutritional value in some way. There is nothing wrong with pouring boiling water over chaga tea and letting it steep for 10-20 minutes.
For tea bags…
Pour boiling water over the bag and steep until desired concentration. Some people reuse the tea bags for a second extraction. In the chaga teas we sell, the chaga is finely grounded, powder like. Through tests we have done, about 70-80% of the nutrients are extracted in the first steep.
We use chaga grounds in the Mushroom coffee we sell. You can use chaga grounds by itself or mixed in with your favorite caffeinated coffee grounds to get your caffeine kick along with all the health benefits of chaga.
A tincture is an alcohol extracted method to break down the tough cell walls of chaga. There are some nutrients/substances that water just cannot extract, but alcohol can. A lot of the cancer fighting compounds like triterpenes and betulin can’t be broken down in hot water. With high proof alcohol, chaga chunks are placed in a jar or vat and soaked in 90% alcohol for an extended period of time, usually up to 2 to 3 months. When you hear the term “dual extraction” it means it is extracted in water and alcohol. Generally, the pure alcohol extraction is cut with a water extraction until it yields about 30-40% alcohol content. What makes these tinctures so great is how concentrated they are. With a couple of dropper full, you’re getting one to two cups of chaga tea and some more. The tinctures usually offers a more complete nutrient profile than water extraction alone. We feature our chaga in several of our tinctures, stand alone Chaga tincture, with Reishi and Turkey Tail in our Triple 3, and in our Ultimate 8 with seven other wild and organic medicinal mushrooms.
There are many things that set us apart from big well known commercial brands that sell chaga and other mushroom products. Many chaga sellers process and store chaga in a garage or house, where there are many variables for contamination. We take pride in maintaining and keeping up with rules and regulations at our commercial kitchen.
We ONLY sell sustainably harvested chaga. This means we only take a portion off the tree and do not harvest every piece we see. This is important as explained above to ensure chaga lives on and able to be harvested for years to come. No chaga we sell is taken by roadsides or by polluted rivers or waterways. Chaga takes years to grow and can soak up and store pollutants just like it soaks up nutrients, therefore it is critical that we only harvest the most wild specimens in a responsible and respectful manner.
Why should people buy from you vs somewhere else?
Northwoods Tea has grown over the years all because of our loyal and return customers. Our customers will tell you there is a difference in taste, and for good reasons. If you look at another chaga tea product, check the ingredients. Frequently you will find it isn't just chaga in a competitors ingredient lists. Also, notice how much chaga is actually in their product. We take extra precautions besides sustainable harvesting, we also inspect our chaga for mold, bug infestation and heavy metal tested. One would be surprised to find how many lead bullets are embedded in chaga, from people using them as target practice for hunting over the years. It doesn't matter where its harvested, people are always shooting at suspicious look things in the woods. Chaga tea is great but not when it's full of lead, and we make sure of it. Northwoods tea is fully insured and professional with the right amount of experience. That's why our customers buy from us, and continues to buy from us year after year.
How much to drink per day?
It is said that the best way to see a true benefit from chaga is to drink one or two cups of tea per day for at least 30-60 days. Individual results may vary.
Instead of making the chaga as tea, can it be added to coffee when making a pot?
Yes. Use chaga grounds instead of tea in your coffee pot. Great for those that want the benefits of chaga but just not a tea drinker.
Where can I purchase your product in person?
We offer our products online on our website, or click here to see if you're close to any of these retail stores that carries our products.
To the best of our knowledge, the information contained herein is accurate and reliable; however, we do not assume any liability whatsoever for the accuracy and completeness of the above information. Northwood’s Tea and Herb makes no claims as to what certain herbs or products will do or not do to any individual. It is the individual or customer’s responsibility to further research the particular purpose of any herb we sell. Our products are in whole or ground form and some may be extracted but not altered
If there are any comments, errors or missing info please take a moment and complete the survey on the bottom of this page. It is anonymous, so questions should be emailed to us.