In the world of mushrooms, there are approximately 3,000 species of edible mushrooms spread out across the world. Each one is unique in its look and nutritional properties, but its true value comes in understanding the healthiest mushroom and how to use it.
In this article, we will discuss the famous Chaga mushroom. An ugly duckling in the mushroom family, however, is a species that has incredible benefits for the human body. So, what exactly is the Chaga mushroom and how do you use it?
Chaga Mushroom: Origins and Species
The Chaga mushroom is also known as the Inonotus obliquus, although you won’t often find it by this name when you search for it in health food stores or as a supplement. It is a fungus that belongs to the Hymenochaetaceae family.
Visually, it is a very ugly-looking mushroom, mostly because it is known as a parasite. It is found on birches and other types of trees, where it sticks to the outside trunk of the tree.
It looks like a large chunk of burnt charcoal and it is easy to miss it if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This type of mushroom is found in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in the Circumboreal Region.
The Chaga mushroom finds its way to a host birch or tree through a white heart rot. It searches for wounds or poorly healed parts of trees where it immediately spreads its pores. The white rot will spread through the host very quickly and eventually develop its signature charcoal look on the outside because of an excess of melatonin.
Unfortunately for the tree, the Chaga mushroom will begin to cause its decay, which can last from 10 to 80 years. When the tree finally dies, the fungus will continue to find a new host and repeat the process again.
History of the Chaga Mushroom
After many years of the Chaga mushroom being used as medicine in the Northern Hemisphere, it is finally finding its way to the tables of countries all over the world and is appreciated for its many health benefits.
What started out as Chaga tea has now spread to Chaga coffee, supplements, and even recipes that include this mushroom in various ways. However, with so many different superfoods now available, what is it that makes the Chaga mushroom so different?
As part of traditional herbalism and folk medicine, Chaga mushrooms have been used for hundreds of years in places like Russia and Northern European countries. “Chaga” is actually an archaic Russian word for “mushroom”, which shows you how long it has been part of the food culture in this region.
Health Benefits of the Chaga Mushroom
The core health benefit of the Chaga mushroom comes from its own way of life. This is a very adaptive fungus that grows in cold climates. Because of this, the mushroom is loaded with biological chemicals that help the human immune system become stronger and able to defend itself against viruses and parasites.
Some of the most commonly found health-supporting qualities of the Chaga mushroom include:
The following are some of the best health benefits of the Chaga mushroom.
1. Supports the Immune System
Our immune system is a crucial element of our entire body as it protects us from illnesses, and helps us be strong, focused, happy, and generally ready to take on life. When our immune system is compromised, our bodies can quickly become difficult to live in.
The Chaga mushroom includes compounds that are called polysaccharides, which have the specific benefit of making the immune system stronger. Polysaccharides are long chains of carbohydrate molecules that improve the body’s conversion of food into energy, with the additional benefit of a great caffeine-free energy boost.
2. Supports an Anti-Inflammatory Response
Inflammation can be caused by many things, and when our bodies react to them, we feel in pain, tiredness, and uncomfortable in our own skin. The Chaga mushroom has the ability to strengthen the anti-inflammatory system and keep the body functioning in optimal condition.
One of the earliest uses of the Chaga mushroom was specifically for this purpose, during times when people did not have the benefits of modern medicine to deal with inflammation.
3. Supports A Healthy Heart
Inflammation is often linked to poor heart health, which is where the Chaga mushroom comes in to improve the health of blood cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Keeping the heart happy is crucial precisely because it is such a vital organ.
A daily dose of Chaga tea can really make a difference when it comes to the health of your heart and overall cardiovascular system.
4. Maintains Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
Often, blood sugar levels can skyrocket when we eat food that is high in processed sugar and carbohydrates. On the other hand, some people suffer from Type 1 Diabetes and need medications to help them get through the day.
The Chaga mushroom is of great importance here because it has the ability to control our blood sugar levels. In this case, the Chaga mushroom is used as a supplement, which you can find in most health food stores.
5. Promotes A Healthy Stress Response
Interestingly, Chaga mushrooms are also known as being part of a category of plants that are known as adaptogens. These plants have unique properties that work to support the body’s ability to cope with both physical and emotional stress.
However, in order to experience the full potential of Chaga mushrooms as stress relievers, they need to be consumed for a longer period of time. Sometimes, it may take weeks or even months to experience the full effects of this adaptogen. Eventually, the Chaga mushroom will help to promote feelings of calm and balance.
6. High in Antioxidants
The Chaga mushroom has one of the highest ORAC (oxygen radical absorbent capacity) scores of any food available worldwide. In fact, they have 31 times more antioxidants than the famous blueberries.
The higher the ORAC score, the healthier the food is for your body and there are few foods that are able to provide this level of antioxidants as effectively as the humble Chaga mushroom.
How to Use Chaga Mushrooms
Now that we’ve gone over the history and health benefits of the Chaga mushroom, we must now move on to discussing how to use this incredible fungus properly. There are various ways that it can be incorporated into your diet, but not every way is equally as effective.
The easiest way to consume the Chaga mushroom is in the form of tea or coffee. Many brands offer varieties in this area and you can choose from several different flavours such as matcha, cappuccino, latte, etc.
If you’re not into tea and coffee, or if you cannot get used to the distinct Chaga taste, you can also consume this mushroom in the form of a supplement. This is a great way to add Chaga into your daily diet without focusing too much on the taste.
Most health food stores offer these supplements and usually, one tablespoon is enough per meal. You can opt for a smoothie recipe, or you can add the supplement as a final flavour to a soup or stew. Always look for supplements that are organic and have 100% or almost 100% Chaga content.
How to Make Chaga Tea
Here is a quick and easy way to make a delicious tea from the Chaga mushroom. There are two ways that you can get started.
If you have purchased an already powdered form of the Chaga mushroom, then you can skip this step. However, if you have a dry Chaga mushroom, then use a grinder to break it down into a fine powder. Alternatively, you can also use a knife and cut larger chunks, but you may have to strain them later.
Next, put one tablespoon of Chaga for every 200ml of water. Make sure that the water is cold. You need to first leave the Chaga to seep into the water for a whole hour.
Once the hour is up, slowly bring the mixture to a boil for about one hour. Make sure that the temperature is not too high, just enough to simmer.
Once everything has cooled down you will be able to enjoy a delicious cup of Chaga mushroom tea.