History of Chaga Traditional Medicine Used by First Nations
What is Chaga?
Chaga Mushroom, Inonotus Obliquus is a living sterile conk that grows on birch and other trees in the temperate forests throughout the Northern hemisphere. It can live up to twenty years on the host tree until the tree eventually topples over and dies.
Once dead the chaga fungus will then have the opportunity to produce fruiting bodies for up to six years. A mysterious reproductive process to say the least. The fruiting body of inonotus Obliquus is considered the holy grail of mycology as it can be even more elusive than the mushroom itself.
Used by many cultures around the world for centuries for prevention and cure for many types of diseases. Traditional use of chaga has been widely used in Russia, Poland and other Baltic countries as folk medicine for gastric problems, cancer, tuberculosis and heart and liver issues.
Chronological History of Chaga Mushroom
66 - 145 Million Years BC
The Birch Tree has been dated in fossil form back to the Cretaceous period. It has not been confirmed yet whether chaga was growing on host birch trees at this period in time.
One can speculate the possibility that during this time the Ancient Wisdom of the Chaga mushroom and the birch tree began.
Otzi the Iceman, the caveman preserved in a sheet of ice was believed to have lived around 3400 BC.
Otzi had chaga in his pouch that was used for fire making. However, Otzi has yet to have been identified as a specific group of indigenous people.
Shen Nung 神農 is venerated as the Father of Chinese medicine. He is believed to have introduced the technique of acupuncture and introduced the concept of agriculture to china.
Said to have tasted hundreds of herbs to test their medicinal value. He is assumed to be the author of Shen-nung pen ts'ao ching (Divine Husbandman's Materia Medica), the earliest documented Chinese pharmacopoeia.
This text includes 365 medicines derived from minerals, plants, and animals. Shen Nung included chaga mushroom and dubbed chaga as the 'King of the Herbs'.
The first historically use of chaga has been reported to be by The Khanty people of Western Siberia around the 12th century. The Khanty put chaga into fire and put the smoldering conk into hot water for use to clean and purify women's genital region after menstruation and birthing.
They used chaga tea to help with digestion, to feel fuller and to detox their bodies as needed. The Kanty people also smoked chaga in an effort to improve their lung health. ( not recommended ) Combined chaga with lard and ash to create a natural, anti-inflammatory soap to soothe skin sores.
First Nations use of Chaga
Also used in Canadian aboriginal culture First Nations people believed in the wisdom of Chaga and the Birch Tree and have been using Chaga for Centuries as well.
Cree healers call chaga Poashkan or Wiskakecakomikih. Wisakecak is a mythological being who threw a scab mistaken for a piece of dried meat against a birch tree and tried to ingest it. Chaga produces a sweet smelling incense and is often used in smoking pipe ceremony. Used by the Cree and other native nations as a form of Moxibustion treatment to stimulate the body’s energy meridians.
Chipewyan and Ojibway Nations name for chaga is Cha’a’ihtthi. They too used chaga simmering it for hours to make tea to treat viral related conditions.
The Denesuliné peoples of Northern Saskatchewan used two long lines of powdered chaga to represent two related events. Once both lines were lit at opposite sides, whichever side completed burning first would signify which event would become true. This form of divination by Dene people was called ETSEN DEK which means “it smells when it’s burning.”
The Gitksan of British Columbia know chaga as DIDIHUXW OR DI DIYHUH.
Chaga is also known by Gitksan elders as MLL’HLW AND TLLUXW. Using chaga’s black coals to relieve rheumatic pain. ‘Take a sliver of the black coal from the crack of the birch tree and burn it for pain in joint.’ The Wet’suwet’en of Northwestern British Columbia uses chaga for similar purposes calling chaga by two different names DIDIC’AH CI’ISTS’O AND TL’EYHTSE.
The Tenaina of South – Central Alaska used chaga to help with toothaches.
Chaga has been used in Russia as far back as the 16th Century for various cancers, especially tumors associated with angiogenesis (buildup of blood vessels that feed cancerous growths).
The Grand Prince of Kievan Rus, Tzar Vladmir Monamakh, used chaga mushrooms to heal his lip tumors.
In Siberia, chaga has been widely known to help treat tuberculosis, liver conditions and stomach problems including gastritis and ulcers.
Fast forward to 1950 and chaga mushrooms were being widely used throughout Asia. In 1950, the first clinical trial was conducted on chaga mushroom, where researchers confirmed chaga to help improve immune function.
In 1955, chaga mushrooms were officially recognized as a medical treatment in Russia.
In 1968, a Russian novelist wrote about the benefits of chaga mushrooms in a novel entitled 'Cancer Ward' which introduced the Western world to chaga mushrooms.
The concept of 'superfoods' and medicinal mushrooms are introduced to North America by food advocates and health personas like David Wolf, Dr. Cass Ingram, Paul Stamets and others.
At the time of this writing google returns 967,000 hits for the search term 'chaga health products'.
Amazon.com now features over 4,000 chaga related products and over 40,000 searches a month for the term 'Chaga'.
Future of Chaga
Unfortunately due to the commercialization of chaga the future does not look bright for the king of mushrooms.
The supply of authentic wild chaga is quickly becoming exhausted.
Many companies have taken proactive measures by growing chaga on cultured medium. Despite the fact that it's impossible to reproduce the medicinal potency of its wild counterpart.
There has been an outpouring of chaga supplements and freeze dried extracted chaga products which can be mass produced to meet consumer demand but at the cost of efficacy.
There is a growing concern about the commercial exploitation and overharvesting of chaga. Many believe that chaga has the potential to transform your life and health. We suggest making chaga tea with chaga mushroom chunks to ensure a pure, contaminate and preservative-free tea.
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