All About Chaga
- What is chaga
- What chaga can do
- How to use chaga
WHAT IS CHAGA?
Inonotus Obliquus chaga mushroom) is a sclerotium 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 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 of the living 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 in usually in the ground. Chaga is the mycelium, so it is opposite compared to a “normal mushroom”.
In Wisconsin it’s pretty hard to find a Chaga mushroom in the southern half of the state. I have found a few growing in the Mead Wildlife Area in marathon county but rarely south of that. From Minocqua to Superior they become more prevalent, then north to Canada it grows abundantly. Old growth forests grow the biggest specimens, although it can be difficult to find many of these types of forests anymore. But there certainly is a great supply of chaga in our forests and most are within arm’s reach. If you can find it, all you need is a hatchet to take a portion off. One of the largest birch trees in the state of Wisconsin is about 20 minutes out of Minocqua. I discovered that giant yellow birch a few years ago in 2015. It was about the size of a small car at its base, with a chaga mushroom 30 feet up the size of a beach ball. For some reason they left this tree standing throughout the logging days. There is no doubt that the chaga way up there had been there for a very long time. Out of respect for nature, I decided to leave it be.
It is considered by the FDA as a food, although you can’t really cook and eat it like a normal food because it’s too tough to eat. Chaga starts its journey as a spore that finds its way into a cut or wound on a birch tree. The wound is usually caused by logging equipment damaging the trees they do not harvest. The sclerotium grows off the side of the tree and generally does not harm the tree, they kind of live with each other.
In the past years studying herbs, I 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... chaga then fruits and releases its spores. A lot of mushrooms use their gills to release spores into the air. Chaga is different when it comes to releasing spores, it uses a different method. It inoculates its host tree from the chaga specimen down to the roots via the cambium layer (where the sap flows up and down). When the tree is compromised by things like forest succession, disease or timber harvest the chaga 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, any hobbyist to 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 will likely never be sizable enough to harvest again. But the specimen will be able to fruit like usual someday when it's time. 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 never have to worry about over harvesting.
Because of chaga’s direct relationship with the tree, as long as there are birch trees... There will be chaga. Now 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 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 people looking for this herb trying to make tea. And with that we are seeing less by the roads and waterways. Some people use tree climbing gear with spikes to get what's out of reach. These spike holes are obviously not good for the living tree, mainly because the open wound leaves the living tree vulnerable to infection. If you see these climbing holes from the road, you will likely see a large empty hole where chaga used to be. This is not only bad for the tree and the chaga, it is also illegal and gives a negative view to the public eye. It is imperative that everyone harvest herbs sustainably and only/or purchases sustainably harvested products, whether it is chaga or any other herb. There really isn’t any laws when it comes to harvesting chaga and other herbs in our forests, only a set of standards and good practices I hope I covered and that we all follow.
If you decide to look for chaga, here is a guideline for respecting the land
- Harvest only a portion of the conk
- 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 CAN CHAGA DO FOR US?
Over the years of studying herbs and our natural resources I’ve found chaga to be very beneficial. As a skeptic by nature I find a lot of information about the medicinal properties of herbs mostly airy assumptions. In spite of that, chaga does indeed have some interesting qualities that we as humans can benefit from.
These are recognized by the National Cancer Institute. Although they will not say chaga can cure diseases like cancer... The compounds that make up chaga individually are proven to cure cancer and other ailments. And it is that alone that has made chaga very well known.
- Adaptogen Adaptogens are compounds that refer to the concept of stabilization of the physiological processes of homeostasis. A human's’ internal body temperature is a great example of homeostasis. When an individual is healthy, his or her body temperature retains a temperature 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The body can control temperature by making or releasing heat. In this situation though, chaga’s adaptogenic quality’s impact immune and stress regulation not body heat.
- Minerals contains high concentrations of flavonoids, vitamin B, phenols, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron.
- Melanin... An antioxidant. The black outer appearance of the chaga mushroom is where most of the melanin is. Melanin can stay in our bodys for a long time and destroys the unstable free radicals that cause cancer. Melanin is and antioxidant. Chaga has many anti-oxidants but this is one of the main antioxidants chaga has 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 we know that repeated damage to cells ultimately causes 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 has become popular in the states.
- Betulin and Betulinic acid Betulin is the white material in birch bark. Betulin is a natural antimicrobial. This is the reason in case anyone reading ever wondered why the birch tree rots but the bark stays white and intact long after the wood itself is gone… Chaga is long lived and soaks up a lot of this betulin from the tree bark. It is an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and well known for its anticancer properties. From the National Cancer Institute this is 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 longer piece just on Beta-glucans than the entire known information about reishi. There are several different kinds and studies, so we will keep this in a nut shell...Beta glucan is a soluble fiber (a polysaccharide). It’s found in the cell walls of certain substances, especially mushrooms. Beta glucan is also found in many types of seaweed, algae, some cereals (grains) and yeast. Only beta glucan from certain mushrooms has immune-modulating and anti-tumor properties. Some mushrooms contain more beta-glucans than others. The top mushrooms with the most concentration include reishi, birch polypore and most of all turkey tail mushroom.
- Promoting white blood cells
- Increasing antibody production
- Increasing immunity against various cancers
- Inhibiting tumor development
Beta glucans ultimately help regulate the immune system by acting as a modulator and stimulate white blood cells. Beta glucans are used for lowering blood pressure, allergies, Lyme disease, ear infections, Crohn’s disease and asthma. This polysaccharide is the reason people say it is great for their skin. I found there are many studies being done in the cosmetology field focusing on beta glucans. Beta glucans are often studied by scientists because of their connection with positive immune response and the ability to help cancer patients. Basically it is said Beta glucans stimulate natural immune cells in our body and those immune cells attack mutated cells. Beta glucans basically activate white blood cells, antibodies and natural killer cells creating. That information is scientifically proven.
HOW DO WE USE CHAGA?
Chaga has a mild taste with hints of vanilla because it contains vanillin, the 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 before use for storage reasons. It can be stored for a very long time in a sealed bag or preferably a jar and lid.
There are several different forms you can use chaga in; powder, tea bag form, chunks and tinctures.
There are two common methods to extract the elements from chaga. Hot water extraction and an alcohol extraction. Fundamentally, the ultimate goal is to break down and or dissolve the mushroom to a point where one’s body can utilize it.
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. Some other herbs that we make tea from that is true about temp. 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. That being said, I 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 cool.
For tea bags…
Pour boiling water over the bag and steep until drinkable. Some people reuse the tea bag for a second extraction. In the tea bags that we sell is fine ground chaga. Through tests we have done, about 80-90% of the grounds are extracted in the first steep.
Powder is essentially the same as the grounds in the tea bags we sell. Although it may not be as finely ground and there is no extract added. It is only pure ground and dried chaga. People often buy this to make their own tea.
The chunked chaga we sell is generally one or two inch pieces dried and sealed in food grade bags for storage. The main use for chunked chaga is one can steep and simmer these in hot water on the stove for an hour or two and get a much larger volume of extracted tea. Because they are in a larger form many extractions can be made from one batch. One handful in a pot of half gallon water may yield up to 4 - 7 extractions.
A tincture is an alcohol extracted method to break down herbs like chaga. There are some things that water cannot extract well where alcohol can. A lot of the cancer fighting compounds like triterpenes and betulin can’t be broken down well in hot water. With high proof alcohol we are able to break down those elements. The herb is placed in a jar or vat and soaked in 90% alcohol for a long period of time, usually 2 or 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% alcohol content. What makes these tinctures so great is how concentrated they are. With a couple caps or droppers full, you’re getting one or two cups of tea and the extraction of betulin in there too. Tinctures are used for many other herbs and mushrooms as well.
There are many things that set us apart from others that sell chaga 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 in Wausau Wi.
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 may even be harvested some other day. No chaga we sell is taken by roads or polluted rivers or near towns. Chaga takes many years to grow and can soak up and store pollutants, therefore it is critical we only harvest the most wild specimens in a responsible manner.
Frequently asked questions
Why should people buy from you vs somewhere else?
Northwoods Tea is came this far because of its customers. Those customers will tell you there is a difference in taste. And for several reasons. If you look at another chaga tea product, check the ingredients. Frequently you will find it isn't just chaga in a competitors recipe... Also, notice how much chaga is actually in the competitor product. We take extra precautions besides sustainable harvesting. One example is every piece of chaga that comes through our hands is inspected for mold and heavy metal tested. you would be surprised to see how many lead bullets are imbedded in chaga from people using them as target practice over the years. It doesn't matter where its harvested, people are always shooting at things in the woods. Chaga tea is great but not when it's full of lead. We make sure it doesn't have that in your tea. Northwoods tea is fully insured and professional with the right amount of experience. That's why people buy from us.
How much to drink per day?
It is said that the best way to see a true benefit from drinking chaga is to drink one or two cups a day for at least 30 days.
Instead of making the chaga as tea can it be added to coffee when making a pot?
Yes. Use our Chaga Coffee instead of tea in your coffee pot. It is great for those that want the medicinal quality's of chaga but do not care for tea.
Is there a discount on the tea or tinctures you sell if I return the empty container?
Yes. If you have an empty tea container or bottle from us we will give you 2.00 off per container.
Do you have a store in eagle river?
No. We are based out of Eagle river, but our facility is located in Wausau. This is where we process and ship our products. You can find our items in many health food stores, co-ops and food markets across the state. Purchases are also frequently made through our online store on this website.
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
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