What is Chaga? The King of Mushrooms That's Not a Mushroom

What is Chaga? The King of Mushrooms

More than ever people are looking toward the forest instead of the pharmacy when it comes to their personal health and well-being. The Chaga Mushroom is an example of how a relatively unknown mushroom has become so recognized throughout the health and wellness community.   

The medicinal mushroom Inonotus obliquus is an ancient folk remedy that has been valued for its beneficial effects for centuries. Helping to remove free radicals, reduce oxidative stress and destroy tumor cells. Chaga mushrooms are often compared to similar fungi like the Reishi, Shitake, Maitake and Oyster mushrooms.

Chaga is a unique clinker polypore fungi that grows on living trees forming a symbiotic relationship. The mushroom and its host can sustain one another during their entire lifespan of up to 20 years. 

chaga mushrooms on birch tree

The chaga fungus looks like burnt charcoal found on wounded or dying Birch trees in temperate forests throughout the Northern hemisphere. It grows out of wounds sustained after storms and other impacts that break branches, covering the tree's wound protecting it from invading microorganisms. The host tree and mushroom can co-exist in cold climates for many years.

Chaga Fungus | The Amazing Tree Rot Fungi

Polypore fungi like chaga mushroom Inonotus Obliquus are unlike fleshy mushrooms and can be found even during dry weather or in the winter. 

Polypore fungi can be easily distinguished from the other fungi by their hard exterior and "non-mushroom" shape. They typically grow on wood acting as forest decomposers. Helping to recycle nutrients and minerals from dead or dying trees. A process that can often take several hundred years from a single downed tree. 

Wood decaying fungal polypores use two different methods to rot or breakdown their host.  

 white and brown rot fungi

Wood is composed mostly of cellulose (white) and lignin (brown). Cellulose makes up the primary wall of all plant cells. Many plants have a secondary wall of lignin inside the primary one, especially in wood.

Brown rot fungi degrade the white cellulose leaving the brown lignin behind. White rot fungi degrade the lignin and leave the white cellulose behind. Brown rot fungi degrade the primary walls and leaving the secondary lignin behind. Thus brown rotted wood crumbles to dust since there is no primary wall structure left behind.  

White rot fungi leave the cellulose of the primary walls behind. Inonotus Obliquus is a white rot fungi. 

The polypores ability to degrade wood and lignin makes the nutritional value of the host tree digestible to insects, animals and even humans.

The lignin-degrading enzymes of white rot fungi alcan so degrade toxic waste. Including toxins with the same chemical configuration, such as PCB's and PCP's. Chaga is generally known as non-toxic fungi because of this fact. 

 what is chaga, chaga fungus as it grows inside tree

Chaga fungus penetrates the heart of the host tree to access nutrients.

Once the fungus Inonotus Obliquus penetrates the heartwood of the host tree it begins breaking down the tree's naturally occurring cellulose to feed. The digestive process expels massive amounts of nutritional compounds which then slowly accumulate and bulge into the tumor like growth known as Chaga.

The outer fungal cell walls are protected by structural polymers known as 'chitin'. In order to access the nutritional compounds within, the harvested fungus first needs to be prepared for extraction.

Once harvested and air dried over several days the mushroom can be broken down into smaller chunks or ground into a course or fine powder for future use.

What is Chaga Used For?

The dried chaga mushroom can be steeped in hot water to make chaga mushroom Tea or matured into a potent chaga tincture by soaking it in alcohol. Both the hot water soluble and alcohol methods are different ways to extract separate nutritional compounds from the mushroom. 

Chaga can be consumed as a powder and sprinkled into soups, stews, smoothies etc. for added nutritional value. However, to benefit from the high concentrations of mushroom polysaccharides, it is advisable to use some means of extraction instead.

benefits of chaga

Understand and learn about the health benefits, dosage and side effects of chaga mushroom before taking any chaga supplements. Refer to your healthcare professional and seek medical advice before taking medicinal mushrooms.