April 29, 2013

Chaga: Why This Fungus is So Good For Us & 3 Delicious Ways to Reap Its Benefits. ~ Catie Joyce

Tea is one of my favorite small pleasures in life.

So, I was pretty psyched when I stumbled upon this mushroom tea when a friend gave me some she had harvested. When I saw the chunk of fungus, black exterior and rich rusty yellow inside–naturally, I was quite curious.

So I did a little research, and here’s what I found, along with three recipes I created.

What is chaga?

Chaga, or Inonotus obliquus, is a fungus, that grows on birch trees. It is found in northern regions, including Canada, the Northern U.S., Russia and part of Northern China. It has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, and mostly within Russian and Eastern folklore medicine. Some of its healthful properties come from the birch tree itself.

Why consume it?

Chaga has been found to have many health benefits, including anti-inflamatory, antiviral and antiseptic properties. It’s loaded with antioxidants, which help to strengthen the immune system. Some research suggests it may actually have anti-cancer properties. It has been used to treat skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis, alleviate stomach ailments and reduce blood pressure. It may also help with seasonal allergies, as it works to normalize our autoimmune system. In summary: it’s great for skin, digestion, circulation and the immune system.

What does it taste like?

It tastes and smells a little like tree bark–but, in a good way. It has an earthy sweetness to it–very pleasant and mild. If you’ve ever had kukicha, or twig tea, it kind of reminds me of that.

Here are three recipes to try (Note: If you want to make all three, simply make up a larger batch of the chaga tea in the first recipe and use it for the other two):

Plain and Simple Chaga Tea:

Chaga is often ground into a powder and then made into tea, but this is not necessary. Simply place the mushroom in a pan of water. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until the water turns a rich reddish brown color, or at least an hour to extract all its health benefits. (The time is a lot less if using a powdered version.)

Strain tea. Add honey or maple syrup, or even a slice of fresh ginger, and enjoy!

You can reuse the chaga mushroom several times. Simply put it in a glass jar without a lid, and store in the refrigerator.

Store leftover chaga tea in the refrigerator, as well.

Chaga Chai Latte:

Bring to a boil 1 cup of chaga tea with the following spices: 1 cinnamon stick, a few cloves, a few black peppercorns, a few green cardamom pods, 1 slice of ginger (or any spiced tea mix of your preference). Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add ½ cup of milk (any kind) and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat and add maple syrup or honey to taste. Strain into a mug.
You can sprinkle some cinnamon and cardamom powder on top.

Sip slowly and joyfully.

Chocolate Chaga Smoothie:

Here’s a smoothie that’s packed full of antioxidants!

Combine in blender: 1/2 sliced frozen banana, 1 cup frozen berries, 1 cup cold chaga tea and 1 tablespoon cocoa powder. You can add a pinch of cinnamon and allspice if desired.

Blend until smooth. Add more chaga tea if consistency is too thick.

Other cool chaga facts:

“Chaga,” isn’t that a fun word to say? Its name comes from the Khanty language. The Khanty are an indigenous people inhabiting Russia.

Other uses include: as a disinfectant soap, when mixed with water, and a fire starter.

Wild chaga is typically found on trees that are at least 40 years old.

It takes between 3-5 years for the fungus to reach maturity before harvesting.

Once harvested, it grows back, and can be reharvested again in another 3-10 years. (See some cool photos of the development of chaga within the birch tree here.)

The antioxidant power is found mainly in the outer black part.

The chaga mushroom itself is indigestible for humans, so to get any of its health benefits, it needs to be extracted, either through hot water or ethanol extraction.

Like all healthy food fads, it is important not to get carried away with all the marketing hype. Most of the information in this article was found here, which, in the end, is also trying to sell its supplements, but had cited sources to back up its research claims, and debunked some unfounded claims found online.

Note: In some individuals, chaga has been known to cause hypoglycemia and an increased bleeding risk. As such, all individuals should consult with their physician to discuss potential impacts.

Bonus Video: Benefits of Chaga

Catie Joyce practices and teaches Kundalini Yoga near the mountains of Western Maine. She is committed to sharing this practice in order to help others live a life of intension and discover their own unique dharma through following their passions. Find her blogging about yoga, life and healthy eating (as well as connect with her) through her website or on Facebook.


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Ed. T. Lemieux/Kate Bartolotta

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