Chaga is a mushroom of unlikely and curious beauty with bountiful effects on immunity and health. This cold-loving fungus, AKA mushroom, grows on white birch trees and has been eaten as food for as long as recorded history. This is not a mushroom you will find on the ground so look up in the trees!
Chaga benefits have been realized through ancient history; now science is discovering new ways of using chaga tea today. Bonus: Chaga tea tastes quite pleasant, earthy, and mild. The study of mushrooms is called mycology.
If you aren’t a mycologist yet, you may want to become one after understanding how fungi are changing the way we relate to our planet, our biodiversity, and human health.
Birch tree Chaga has many names. It can be called the clinker, cinder conk, black gold, black mass, conk trunk rot, and birch canker polypore.
In France, it is called carie blanche spongieuse de bouleau, in Germany Schiefer Schillerporling, in Dutch, berkenweerschijnzwam, also birch glow mushroom. In Norway, Chaga is kreftkjuke, which literally means cancer fungus.
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For many centuries, Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) have been used as a folk medicine in Russia and western Siberia by the Khanty people. The prince of Russia, the Kiev Prince Vladimir Monomakh, attributed his cure for lip cancer to the Chaga treatment he received. The Soviet government also noticed that people receiving Chaga tea infusions had less risk of cancer overall.
A book called Cancer Ward was written by the Nobel prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn which describes Chaga’s health powers. While most common in the Taiga forests of Russia, Chaga also grows on birch trees in northern latitudes across the globe.
In the United States and Canada, the traditional use of Chaga was widespread for treating infections and use as sweet incense. The Cree, Ojibway, and Denesuliné peoples of Northern Saskatchewan and Gitksan of British Columbia use it for many health benefits, including rheumatic pain and joint pain. During World War II, the Chaga mushroom was also used by the Finnish as a coffee replacement because of its energy-enhancing benefits and enjoyable taste.
Today, countries including China, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the Baltics use Chaga for its ability to reduce cholesterol, improve heart health, and for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-tumor effects. Chaga mushroom is also referred to as black gold because of its many health uses.
Many health enthusiasts today are also adding it to coffee to mellow out the stomach acidity effects of coffee. Chaga, like most mushrooms, is considered an adaptogen in traditional medicine. Adaptogens help bring balance back to organ systems and emotional states in the body.
Related post: 10 Fascinating Tremella Mushroom Benefits
It starts to get really intriguing when the traditional use of chaga benefits begins to be proven in research. While this science is still early, we are learning a lot about Chaga. Research suggests that Chaga’s health benefits may include:
- Anti-cancer effects
- Calming the nervous system
- Stimulating the immune system
- Improving endurance
- Reducing oxidative stress
- Protecting gut health
- Reducing heart disease risk
- Reducing inflammation
- Promoting energy
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving memory
- Fighting free radicals
- Reducing blood pressure
- Reducing blood sugar levels
- Liver protection
Chaga is Nutritious
Chaga benefits the body because, like most edible mushrooms, it is a nutritious food.
Chaga mushrooms are rich in:
- B-vitamins, including:
- vitamin D2 or ergosterol
Rich in Antioxidants
Recently, many healthy compounds and antioxidants have been discovered in Chaga that may help our health, including:
- Ergosterol peroxides
- Superoxide dismutase
It is clear that Chaga mushrooms are nutritious foods with lots of antioxidants. The health claims about Chaga’s benefits are vast. Are these claims true? I sought to find out what evidence we have to support these health claims.
Why do mushrooms have so many immune benefits? Mushrooms defend themselves from invaders like bacteria, so by eating certain kinds of mushrooms, they can then pass on these benefits to us.
Chaga may help our immune response in MANY ways. Why would a mushroom be so generous? Or maybe they aren’t generous exactly but are more similar to us than many people are comfortable with.
Our immune systems influence every aspect of health. You can see parallels between our immune system and the mushroom’s system of connectivity.
Our immune systems are connected to the rest of the body like the mycelium of a mushroom is inter-connected with the whole ecosystem.
Chaga benefits our immune system because it seems to get to the root of some immune issues and inflammatory issues. The effect of Chaga on immunity may include:
- Reduced inflammation
- Reduces histamine release
- Improves both innate and adaptive immune functions
For more information on plants that reduce histamine response, read here.
Chaga may reduce inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and more. These are well-established inflammatory diseases. Chaga benefits include a reduction in inflammation and resulted in a positive overall immune response in animals.
These inflammatory compounds include:
May reduce autoimmune issues
Autoimmune diseases, including allergies, are the result of a loss of immune tolerance. The body is unable to self-regulate.
Chaga may help by regulating immune responses and in animal models can regulate:
- the ratio of Th1/Th2
- IgE response
Chaga may reduce the risk of serious allergic reactions too as shown in early research studies.
Antiviral and Antibacterial
Mushrooms have the ability to fight infections. Remember penicillin? Thanks to this mushroom compound, we now have antibiotics.
By regulating the immune response, Chaga may be useful for allergy issues, infections, and other conditions like autoimmune disease.
For example, Chaga mushrooms may help fight viral infections. Early research work suggests that Chaga may even reduce the viral load of HIV infection and hepatitis C.
A Chaga extract was able to destroy the herpes simplex virus in culture while remaining safe for healthy cells.
Chaga for Cancer Risk Reduction
At least 200 species of mushrooms have been found to markedly reduce the growth of different kinds of tumors. Chaga is no exception to this.
For example, the Chaga mushroom has potent anti-tumor activities. It has been used to help treat cancer in several countries. Chaga reduced metastatic cancer in animal studies as follows:
- 60% tumor size reduction and 25% reduction of tumor nodules were observed in mice.
- Reduced tumor blood supply and assemblage of tumors.
- Chaga contains 14 known types of these helpful triterpenes, which seem to be useful against basal cell, colorectal, and cervical cancer cells.
Other cell studies have found that Chaga helps fight:
- Breast cancer cells: Triterpenes in Chaga have anti-cancer activity by causing breast tumor cell toxicity.
- Lung cancer cells: Chaga caused cell toxicity to lung cancer cells in culture as well.
- Melanoma cancer cells: Reduced growth and spread, caused cancer cell death, of melanoma cancer cells.
- Liver cancer cells: Stop cell growth of liver cancer cells.
Chaga Anti-cancer Effects Through Hormonal Regulation
Chaga has a substance in it called ergosterol peroxide which is a hormone precursor. This hormone is called calcitriol or activated vitamin D. Ergosterol peroxide had anticancer activity against colon cancer in this cell study.
Vitamin D2 from Chaga may help with cancer prevention. By reducing inflammation and tumor promotion in mice for the following types of cancer cells, ergosterol reduced the growth of:
Chaga did all of this without damaging healthy cells.
While all of this cancer research so far is definitely considered work preliminary, Chaga’s intriguing use in animal and folk medicine for cancer treatment shows a lot of promise in this area.
Chaga Benefits for Brain Health
Some edible mushrooms may enhance brain function and researchers are currently looking at the effects of various kinds of mushrooms on diseases like Alzheimer’s dementia.
Chaga mushrooms are possibly brain-friendly too. By improving antioxidant status, Chaga helped improve memory in mice.
Also, Chaga may help improve the brain’s response to stressors (oxidation) and also improve memory, as was shown in an animal model of chemically-induced brain dysfunction.
Chaga May Reduce Metabolic Syndrome
Diabetes rates continue to grow, yet many tools in nature hold a lot of promise for management and prevention.
Chaga and other mushrooms may be very helpful in reducing diabetes complications for all of the many reasons above, such as their high antioxidant content, immune-enhancing functions, and energy production.
The pancreas helps control blood glucose levels by secreting insulin in response to the need to manage glucose. In an animal model of diabetes, Chaga mushroom was able to restore the damage to pancreatic tissues in mice. Chaga also helps:
- Reduce glucose blood levels
- Protect from toxins
- Reduces lipid peroxidation
- Has antioxidant effects
- Improved cholesterol
- Reduces triglycerides
Can Chaga Tea Improve Energy Levels?
Research is early and promising related to improved energy and Chaga intake. Here is what we have regarding Chaga and energy so far:
- Chaga tea improves exercise endurance in animals by increasing compounds involved in metabolism called PPARγ and GLUT4.
- Chaga also reduced fatigue in animals undergoing a swimming test.
- Chaga also improved an energy compound called glycogen in the liver and muscle and decreased energy-zapping substances called blood lactic acid and serum urea nitrogen levels in these animals.
Chaga May Help the Skin
Chaga’s health benefits may extend to skin health.
These helpful mushrooms may reduce allergic reactions on the skin. Additionally, Chaga contains melanin, which may help protect the skin from sun damage.
Chaga May Help Digestion
Mushrooms are revered for their immune benefits. Experts now estimate that 80% of the immune function begins in the digestive tract, so it makes sense to consider edible mushrooms as an important digestive aid. Mushrooms can help positively influence just about every aspect of immunity, including the aspects that begin in the digestive tract.
Chaga fungus helps reduce DNA damage and protect immune cells from damage (oxidative stress) in cells from patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Chaga reduced inflammation and resulted in a positive immune response in an animal model of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
Mushrooms contain prebiotics: prebiotics support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Mushrooms contain the following prebiotics:
- α- and β-glucans
Chaga May Help Reduce Weight
Chaga also decreased body weight by increasing body temperature in response to light-dark switching in mature adult mice.
Fermented Chaga extract reduced weight and reduced body fat in another study of obese mice.
It is too early to say whether Chaga will help with weight loss in humans.
Chaga May Help The Liver
A fermented Chaga extract also reduced liver inflammation due to a high-fat diet in obese mice.
Chaga and Mood-Enhancement
What I hoped to find, but didn’t find, was any direct evidence that Chaga improves mood. But take the following into consideration:
We know that improving gut function by enhancing immunity absolutely plays a positive role in the brain. It’s one of the hottest topics in research right now.
So, stay tuned: I’m guessing we will see more about Chaga and mood in the near future. Chaga tea’s health benefits on mood could also be part of the ceremony around drinking tea.
Drinking tea and tea ceremonies in general do improve mood.
How To Make Chaga Tea
Making Chaga tea is very easy. You can use:
- Chaga tea bags
- Chaga powder
- Chaga chunks
Chaga powder tea recipe
Here is a basic Chaga tea recipe: simply mix 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp. Chaga mushroom powder into hot water and add honey and additional herbs if you wish. The powder is also versatile because you can mix it into another tea variety, such as Earl Grey or oolong.
Chaga tea bags
If you prefer to use a tea bag, simply steep the tea for a few minutes in water.
For making tea with Chaga chunks, break up the Chaga into small pieces and immerse them in water. Steep for an hour in warm water. You can keep this mixture on low heat or place the mixture in a crock pot. This will result in a darker, stronger chaga than a powder or a tea bag. You can use these chunks twice as they retain healthy compounds.
Save them for later and grind them up or reuse them as powder form.
*Note: don’t boil the water as this can destroy some of the health benefits. Any mushroom connoisseur or lover is going to have this mushroom on their list.
Serving Chaga Tea
You can serve Chaga tea as a warm beverage and mix in flavorings like:
If you have the Chaga powder, you can also mix 1/4 tsp in your morning coffee.
My Chaga Tasting Review
Chaga has some legends about it, among those legends, include, improved natural energy and anticancer benefits. What do I have to lose?
So here I go.
My first ¼ tsp Chaga powder goes into the hot water with my usual tea and I carry on about my business. Chaga powder takes a little bit of extra stirring.
I recommend that you keep stirring it as you sip.
This tea tastes very mellow, earthy, and a bit bland. What do I notice in my body? I feel energized and great fairly instantly. Maybe I’m influenced by suggestion or “placebo.”
Chaga perhaps can, under the ideal circumstances, increase energy. Will it increase energy if you continue to eat fast foods? My educated guess is no. It turns out I’m not the only one who feels positive energy when drinking Chaga tea.
If you read various blogs, many people are saying the same thing about energy as me. I don’t get a jittery feeling, more of a happy, focused type of energy. Maybe that makes sense if you think about how you feel when you are at the height of your day.
That’s how I felt.
Happy. And Focused. Since trying it for the first time, I’ve had it many other times.
It seems like it has the opposite effect if your body truly is tired and needs sleep. In other words, it won’t keep you wired and awake if your body needs rest.
How Does Chaga Taste?
Let’s talk about the taste. It tastes to me, well, mildly of mushroom. But really, the flavor of my other tea predominates the concoction. If you use the Chaga powder, it turns the tea a little murky, but do as I do: put a lid on it and pay no mind.
Yes, I’ll try anything once, and I’m trying it over and over again now because I love it. Let me preface this by telling you that many mushrooms have well-known health benefits, so I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Tip: Can’t stand the taste of any mushroom? Simply stir in the Chaga powder into your recipes and no one will ever know, including you! Try adding a teaspoon to a main dish entree, such as a stir fry or curry.
Uses for Chaga
Chaga is typically:
- Consumed as a tea
- Taken as a tincture
- Supplemented in capsules
- In Russia, it can be found as a syrup, a tablet, an aerosol, and even as a suppository
You can also make Chaga smoothies or make Chaga smoothie bowls by adding 1/4 to 1/2 tsp to your recipe.
I personally haven’t harvested Chaga, but it is important to know how to identify this fungus correctly if you do choose this route. Some mycologists recommend that we don’t harvest Chaga because it isn’t sustainable.
I can’t say it enough: is essential to sustainably harvest Chaga. For more information about this topic, visit ChagaHQ. You can also find Chaga recipes on their site.
If you do go this route, I recommend viewing this video about Three Types of Chaga by ReWild University.
Further mycology education:
I highly suggest viewing the movie called Fantastic Fungi featuring Paul Stamets, a renowned mycologist, for a beautiful overview of the potential for fungi to help with sustainable agriculture and to help with many facets of health. Additionally, learn what Johns Hopkins is researching about mushrooms and health here. Mycelium Running is a book by Paul Stamets that is changing the way we understand our world.
Limitations and Cautions
Chaga tea’s side effects are very minimal to none and most people can enjoy it as they would any type of tea.
An important point to keep in mind: Chaga has been researched in animals and in cell culture, not in humans at this point. That is not to say it isn’t effective, it just needs further confirmation through human trials.
Theoretically, Chaga may reduce blood sugar, and thus, caution should be used if you are using diabetes medications. Caution with blood-thinning medications:
A case report of a woman with liver cancer drinking 4-5 tsp of Chaga a day resulted in kidney damage. Of note, this is much more than a typical serving size of Chaga.
This blog is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Make sure to check with your doctor before making any changes in your healthcare routine.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.