Chaga: what is it and is it BS?
Chaga is one of the oldest continuously used medicinal mushrooms in existence. It can be traced far back to cultures in the Northern hemisphere on all corners of the globe. In fact, rumor has it the Otzi the glacier mummy was found with some on him when he was unearthed in the 90's, he's said to have been in the ice some 5,000 years. Now whether this statement is true or not I can't tell you, and that's the way it is for most of the lore about Chaga (Especially "facts" coming from the internet).
Chaga has been claimed to cure anything from cancer to COVID-19, and everything in between. Now before I go any further, I do want to say I do believe that Chaga has MANY medicinal properties and is an unbelievably valuable natural medicinal resource. There is too much evidence to deny that it doesn't have natural healing properties. BUT is Chaga a cure all for everything? Probably not, but honestly, we don't have enough information to back up all the claims that have been made about Chaga...literally for centuries. "How can that be?!" you say, "you promote it so much on your site!". Well, the truth is several, like thousands, of in vitro (means "in glass" in Latin. I had to look it up the first time too) and animal tests have been done, and there were even some human trials done in Poland and Russia in the mid 1900's. All these tests showed very promising results such as the ability to fight cancers, blood thinning properties, helps control diabetes, and even help protect you from the sun. So, if we know all these facts and good things about Chaga how come there isn't human clinical trials being done to prove all the benefits? The answer is simple, Chaga in its raw pure form can't be patented. That means pharmaceutical companies cannot make any money off it and they're the ones that usually fund the research for human trials. Don't worry I'm not going to launch into an anti-pharmaceutical campaign, I'm simply stating the obvious.
Now what does this all mean for Chaga as a medicine and remedy? Well, let me tell you about it! Like I first mentioned Chaga has been used by cultures, mostly in the Northern hemisphere, as folk medicine for centuries. This is because Chaga primarily grows on Birch trees, and can you guess where Birch trees primarily grow? Northern hemisphere you say?....Nailed it! Chaga has a few other common names; clinker polypore, cinder conk, black mass, birch canker polypore to name a few. Chaga's name is of Russian origin and it describes the mushrooms coal like appearance. True to its name Chaga looks like a chunk of coal growing of the side of Birch trees from either where a branch fell off or it was wounded in another way. This mushroom is extremely hard and extremely hardy.
It's one of the only mushrooms I forage for in -30 degree weather and know I'll still find. The mushroom produces high amounts of melanin and antioxidants to protect itself from the sun and other environmental elements giving its coal like appearance. Unlike other mushrooms that need to be dried or frozen for long term storage, Chaga is so hard and dense that it can be put in a box and left there till you're ready to use. Chaga can be ground up and drunk just like coffee or tea. I've even had sodas that had Chaga in it.
So, to sum it up Chaga, in my opinion based on all the research I've done is a very, very good thing. When taken orally in a tea or decoction research suggests it is a strong cancer preventer, it can help lower and maintain blood sugar, it has anti-inflammatory properties and is extremely high in antioxidants. When used topically there is strong evidence that the high amounts of melanin can help combat the sun’s harmful rays, that the high levels of antioxidants help destroy free radicals and can alleviate eczema symptoms. With that being said, there are a couple of health risks you should be aware of. Chaga can act as a blood thinner so if you're taking blood thinning medication it's best to consult your doctor before taking Chaga internally. You're also going to want to consult your doctor if you're diabetic since Chaga has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. Lastly Chaga has high amounts of oxalate (which contributes to its bitter/acidic taste) which can cause kidney stones when taken orally in large quantities and generally if you have any kidney disorders you should consult your doctor first.
The last fact I will leave you with is this; Chaga was and in some cases still is, used as a cleansing soap in some Russian cultures. The mushroom was burned and added to lard and water and used in cleansing ceremonies, such as the birth of a newborn. Soap was discovered by the mixing of fat and ash (Shout out to Tyler Durden!) so there must have been some practicality behind these ceremonies. As much as I'd like to take credit for Chaga soap, it looks like someone beat me to it by a few hundred years.