Chaga, most often referred to as a medicinal mushroom, is actually a sclerotium-a hardened mass of mycelium which draws its nutrients out of living birch or other cold-loving trees. This dark charcoal mass doesn’t look very appetizing but this ugly-looking thing turns out to be actually very good for you!
This bitter, edible conk, whose medicinal components are available through ingestion, has been traditionally used in Russia, Poland and most of the Baltic countries for the treatment of gastro-intestinal cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. (1) Traditionally in Europe and Asia, Chaga was popularly prescribed to facilitate breathing (14)
These mushrooms, hypothesized to exhibit general immune-potentiating, (9) anti-inflammatory, (1) and anti-tumor properties (2) have attracted significant attention from scientists for their potential value in treating malignant tumors, (4) diabetes, cardiovascular disease and AIDS. (3)
Though more human studies are needed, the laboratory and animal studies are really exciting! Research has shown that Chaga stimulates the immune system (9) while other studies suggest it might be a useful supplement to consider for IBS 11). It is thought that the betulinic acid helps to lower LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream (16)
Chaga has been used to treat various diseases such as diabetes, (8) tuberculosis and cancer. (14) A triterpenoid, inotodiol, showed significant anti-tumor effects (6) and is being studied for treatment of human cervical cancer. (23) Another study demonstrated that a Chaga hot water extract inhibited the proliferation of colon cancer cells. (13)
In vitro, Chaga extract reduces oxidative stress (5) and some findings show the critical impact of Chaga on cognitive brain functions like learning and memory (10) as well as the potential to relieve fatigue (12) According to nutrition author David Wolfe, Chaga’s main distinction from other medicinal mushrooms is that it is composed of a dense configuration of anti-oxidant pigments that help reduce the workload of the immune system.
Because natural reserves of this fungus are becoming exhausted, scientists are seeking to develop cultivated substitutes of wild Chaga (15).
Possible Medicinal Benefits of Chaga:
- blood sugar moderator
- immune enhancer
- kidney tonic
This medicinal mushroom is contra-indicated for those taking blood-thinning medications like warfarin or those taking diabetic medications since studies suggest that Chaga may also lower blood sugar*. (*Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website)
Chaga is significant in ethnomycology, forest ecology and increasingly in pharmacognosy. Its long-term human use and cultural eastern European and Russian acceptance should awaken serious researchers to its potential as a reservoir of new medicines and as a powerful preventative ally for protecting DNA. Paul Stamets
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