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Technically speaking, no. Chaga is a sclerotia, or hardened mass of fungal mycelium. The two are closely related, but calling Chaga a mushroom is kind of like calling all sparkling wine “Champagne”. Close, but not quite the same
Chaga is rich in B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, and several minerals, including potassium, zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Chaga is also a source of a lesser-known compound called beta-glucans, which boast powerful antioxidant properties. In fact, chaga has one of the highest ORAC scores (a measure of antioxidant potency) of any food—three times higher than açai berries! The higher the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score, the better a food’s ability to support the body against the harmful effects of free radicals and oxidative stress.
The benefits of Chaga are many and wide-ranging. Most famously known for its antioxidant and immune-boosting properties, Chaga has also been shown to provide anti-inflammatory benefits, support heart health, promote good digestion, potentially play a role in cancer prevention, act as an antiviral, support a healthy stress response, improve metabolic health, and support skin health.
You know how some teas are pretty mild-tasting and you have to search for the flavor? That’s not the case with Chaga! Chaga has a unique, strong, smooth flavor—not dissimilar to the nutty full-bodied flavor of a medium roast coffee, but earthier. Many people drink Chaga tea straight, but you can also dress it up by adding your milk or sweetener of choice.
With such high levels of antioxidants and nutrients, it’s no wonder that one of Chaga’s most well-known health benefits is its ability to support immune health. This is because Chaga contains beta-glucans (specifically beta-D-glucans)—naturally occurring polysaccharides that have been shown to have strong immune-boosting qualities. Even more impressive is that Chaga has been shown to modulate the immune system, meaning it improves both underperforming and overreacting immune responses in the body.
Consistent, daily consumption of Chaga tea will yield the most noticeable, long-lasting effects.
It’s best to consume 1-2 cups of Chaga tea a day. We don’t recommend exceeding this amount on a daily basis. Speak with your healthcare practitioner about how Chaga may interact with any pre-existing conditions you may have or medications you may be taking.
An adaptogen, Chaga can offer benefits to your wellness and affect throughout the day.
Since Chaga doesn’t have caffeine, you can consume it before bed for a calming nightcap. With its stress-reducing properties, Chaga can help you get a deep, restorative sleep so you’re well-rested for the day ahead.
On the other hand, Chaga makes a great alternative for coffee or black tea for those trying to reduce or eliminate caffeine intake. Chaga won’t give you a sudden energy jolt like caffeine and certainly won’t cause any jitters. Rather, Chaga promotes balanced energy throughout the day rather than jitters and crashes.
Chaga is safe to consume virtually anytime (as always, check in with a health practitioner before adding anything new to your routine). In particular, you may especially notice the benefits when you’re:
- Feeling tired: Chaga can promote balanced energy throughout the day, without crashing or jitters.
- Entering flu season: Chaga supports the immune system to prevent the body succumbing to illness.
- When you’re sick: If you do fall ill, Chaga can help to speed up your recovery time.
- Before bed: Chaga can help us be more adaptable to stress, helping to fall into deep sleep sooner and longer.
As a Chaga mushroom grows, it absorbs a compound called betulin from the birch tree hosting it. Betulin is indigestible when it comes from the birch tree directly, but when it’s absorbed by Chaga, it’s converted into a form the body can break down. Studies in mice have shown that betulin lowers cholesterol, helps prevent obesity, and improves insulin sensitivity. Impressively, researchers have found that betulin was as effective or more effective than cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Chaga must be wild-harvested (picked in the wild and not cultivated) in order to contain all the active compounds chaga is known for. Cultivated chaga, which is grown on rice or oats, is completely void of health-promoting betulinic acid. While growing chaga in this way drastically saves time and reduces production costs, it produces a subpar product that doesn’t come close to the potency and power of wild-harvested chaga.
Chaga doesn’t pop up from the forest floor like most mushrooms. Rather, Chaga appears on the tops of birch trees as a black, charcoal-like mass (called a conk) with a woody, orange interior. Despite its unsightly exterior, the wide-ranging health benefits of Chaga more than make up for its lack of aesthetic beauty. Chaga is packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, making it a functional fungi powerhouse. It’s been shown to support a strong immune system, provide anti-inflammatory benefits, support heart health, promote good digestion, and potentially play a role in cancer prevention, just to name a few. One interesting theory is that Chaga’s many beneficial compounds may be a result of natural adaptations by the fungus to withstand the cold, harsh climate in which it grows.
Short answer: yes. Chaga is gentle on the digestive stomach and can be enjoyed with or without food.
The chemical composition of Chaga does not change with the seasons, so Chaga harvested any time of year can offer equal benefits to your health. When a person harvests Chaga in the winter, the dark, frozen conks can are easier to spot, but harder to remove. In the summer, conks are more difficult to locate in the foliage, but easier to harvest. It truly depends on personal preference!
Forage Chaga is harvested from the Boreal forests of eastern Canada. Generally speaking, it’s important to find Chaga that is away from pollution. Because Chaga can take up to 20 years to reach full maturity, it has years to absorb surrounding pollutants from nearby roads, cities, factories, railroads, or any other area with poor air quality.
Purchasing Chaga mushroom from a trusted supplier is the best way to ensure its effectiveness and safety. Not all Chaga products are created equal so be sure you’re getting yours from a company whose Chaga is organically grown, carefully extracted, and tested for quality and contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, microbial contamination, and gluten. If a Chaga supplement lists any ingredients like “mycelium on grain” or other funky fillers, avoid it. To reap the full potential of this fungal powerhouse, seek a Chaga extract that uses wild-harvested Chaga.