What You Should Know
Inonotus obliquus, also known as Chaga, is a parasitic fungus growing on birches and used in traditional medicine to treat various health problems. Resembling charred wood or a canker-like growth, the outer surface of the sterile conk is dark brown to black, hard, and deeply fissured. Internally, the tissue is corky and yellow to yellow-brown.
The conks, although containing living hyphae, have no known function. They are not fruitbodies. They contain no reproductive tissues or structures. They may be present on a tree for many decades without killing the tree. If removed carefully, conks may regrow. In addition to the sterile conk, the species forms an effused, poroid fruiting body beneath the bark on snags or fallen trunks. This sexual stage typically appears only after the tree dies.
Used to make a tea-like beverage. Caution should be exercised due to the high levels of oxalates that may be present in such teas.
Other names: Chaga, Clinker Polypore, Birch Conk, Birch, Canker Polypore.
Inonotus obliquus Fruiting Body
Fruiting Body (Sclerotium is up to 30 cm across and 30 cm high; irregular in outline; erupting through the bark and creating a mass that protrudes 2–5 cm at first but becomes concave over time; surface black, hard, and broken into charcoal-like cubes; dry; exposed flesh orange-brown.
Inonotus obliquus Cultivation
Year 0: Inoculation
Year 1-2: First signs
You see the first signs of a successful inoculation. Around the holes where you inoculated the dowels, the color is darker and the bark can start to crack up a bit.
Year 3-5: Growth begins
The first chaga lumps are starting to surface out of the trees. Don’t always have to be right where the dowels were inserted. But usually nearby.
Years 5-8: First harvest
It’s time to take reap the first harvest.
Years 13-15: Second harvest
Now it’s time to reap the second harvest. This time it’s a little easier since you’ve done it once before.
Years 20-23: Third harvest
By now, the third and final harvest from the tree is ready. After you take reap the third harvest, you can cut down the tree and make firewood out of it.
Inonotus obliquus Health Benefits
Chaga is believed to fight inflammation, lower blood sugar, reduce blood pressure, alleviate arthritis, and even prevent or slow the progression of cancer.
Chaga is rich in fiber and essential nutrients, including vitamin D, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Chaga's high melanin content has led some to believe that it can bolster the melanin naturally found in the skin, thereby protecting it from sun damage, skin cancer, wrinkles, or aging.
Melanin is also a potent antioxidant and has one of the highest oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) scores of any food. (ORAC is a method developed by scientists at the National Institutes of Health to measures the antioxidant capacity of different foods.)
Despite these properties, there is little evidence that Chaga can treat any medical condition. With that said, several preliminary studies have hinted at possible benefits.
Chaga may help prevent or slow the progression of certain liver problems, suggests a 2015 study in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. The Korean research team reported that a water-based extract of Chaga was able to protect biopsied liver tissue from the oxidative effects of a chemical (tertbutyl hydroperoxide) known to cause liver damage.
The study was meant to replicate what occurs in people with drug-induced liver toxicity or alcoholic liver disease. It might also help alleviate the inflammation and oxidative stress that fuels chronic liver diseases, such as viral hepatitis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Whether the oral administration of Chaga will have the same effect in humans has yet to be established.
Chaga may help control or prevent diabetes, according to a 2014 study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The hypothesis is based on the beneficial effects that plant-based polysaccharides have on blood sugar. Those found in certain mushrooms, such as Chaga, are believed to be especially potent.
According to the research, rats with chemically-induced diabetes achieved near-normal blood sugar levels after being fed an oral solution of Chaga-derived polysaccharides for six weeks. The investigators believe that the solution reduced inflammation of damaged pancreas cells, allowing the insulin-producing organ to function more normally.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests that Chaga may offer anti-cancer effects. In a series of test-tube studies involving lung cancer cells, an alcohol extract of Chaga was reported to have triggered apoptosis (programmed cell death) in all cell lines.
The results were supported by an earlier study from Japan in which mice with lung cancer were given a continuous intravenous (IV) infusion of a Chaga over three weeks. According to the investigators, the mice achieved a 25% reduction in tumor size compared to the untreated mice. Those with metastatic disease had a 60% reduction in tumor size.
Despite the positive results, at levels this high, Chaga may cause more harm than good.
Inonotus obliquus Tea Recipe (Cup Method)
Take a teacup with an infuser or filter.
Put one spoon (or two, if you like the stronger taste) of ground Chaga powder. If you haven’t prepared the Chaga, you can just grind it.
Boil the water and pour it onto the Chaga.
Put something over the cup to keep the tea warm and let it steep for 5-10 minutes.
Add honey or maple syrup, sugar, milk, or any natural ingredient that you like can be added.
Enjoy! Experiment with different combinations, flavors, and ratios.
Inonotus obliquus Tea Recipe (Pot Method)
Take a pot with the wide bottom
Place the Chaga chunks (not bigger than 1″ in size) or powder at the bottom of the pot. Measure 1-2 spoons of powder (or 1-2 chunks) for each person.
Add the water and heat it up with the cover off. When your Chaga tea starts to boil, turn the heat to low.
After 30 minutes of simmering, turn off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes. The water should be brown already.
Add honey, maple syrup (or sugar). Enjoy!
Photo 1 - Author: Christine Young (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International)
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