Chaga mushrooms are irregularly shaped mushrooms that can be found growing along trunks of birch trees in Northern Europe. While virtually unheard of in the West, this strange looking mushroom found amongst the bark of Birch trees has long been considered a potent health elixir for the people of Northern Europe, Russia and Siberia. Tea made from the Chaga Mushroom is believed to help strengthen the immune system and recently it has shown potential in the treatment of certain types of cancer.
Unlike your typical cream colored mushroom, the chaga mushroom is black and charcoal like. It has a cork like texture and its insides are the color of rusted iron with cream colored veins. Being a fungus, the chaga mushroom is essentially a parasite in nature, feeding of its host birch tree and eventually contributing to its demise.
Chaga Mushroom Tea was popularized in the modern world thanks in large part to the novel “Cancer Ward” by Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The novel is semi-autobiographical account of the author’s own struggles with cancer and the part chaga mushroom tea played and helping to cure him. The book along with interest in the author, helped awaken the West’s interest in this potentially powerful new way to combat cancer.
Over the years, there have been various studies done looking into the purported cancer fighting abilities of chaga mushroom tea. A 1958 study done by Finnish and Russian researchers found that the mushroom was affective at fighting cancer of the breast, liver, and uterus. Later, in the mid 1990s, Japanese Researchers found that cells exposed to chaga extracts were less likely to grow out of control and a later polish study confirmed that the mushroom does indeed inhibit tumor growth. In 2005, Korean researchers found that chaga mushroom extract infused cells were more resistant to damage caused by oxidizing free radicals.
The reason why Chaga Mushrroms is such a potent anti cancer herb seems to be the presence of a large amount of phytochemical, polysaccharides and antioxidants found within the mushroom. The presence of this compounds is the same reason that other mushrooms such as the cordyceps, reishi, and shiitake are thought to have strong medicinal properties. On top of these powerful anti-cancer substances, the Chaga mushroom is also rich in Betulinic acid, which is a substance it derives from its host birch tree. Betulinic Acid is believed to have powerful anti viral properties and to help fight off tumors.
The traditional way in which to partake of Chaga mushroom in Russia is to have it as a tea. To make the tea, the inner parts of the mushroom are first shredded and then left to soak in cold water for a few hours. The water is then strained and saved and the softened mushroom parts are put into a cup of hot water and stored at room temperature for two days. After that, the remnants of the mushroom are discarded and resulting tea is combined with the saved water from the first soak to make for a powerful tea that will remain potent for up to four days. The tea has a bitter coffee like taste going down but leaves no aftertaste. It is also slightly astringent.
While chaga mushroom tea is now popular as a to strengthen the immune system, promote healthy cells and to fight off tumors, it has also been used as a folk medicine for a host of ailments including aches and pains, stomach problems, hypertension, viral infections and even diabetes. Recently it has also become popular as a potential treatment for HIV. While there are no known side effects, cancer patients should always discuss using chaga mushroom tea with their physician so that it might be used as a complementary method of their existing treatment.