Chaga Mushroom-Nature’s First Nutraceutical

Tao Newsletter

Mushrooms are one of nature’s oldest food and traditional medicine sources. They can be considered some of the first nutraceuticals - food concentrated into medicinal form.

Chaga mushroom is a rich source of B-glucans, especially 1-3-B-glucans. It also contains polysaccharides which are health-promoting complex carbohydrates. This article presents information regarding the chaga mushroom only.

Scientific Name: Inonotus obliquus

Common Name: Tinder conk, birch conk, clinker polypore

The last decade has witnessed the overwhelming interest of western research in the pharmaceutical potential of mushrooms. Most of the previous studies have been done in Russia, Japan, China and Eastern European universities. Western researchers in the U.S. and U.K. are only beginning to conduct clinical trials, however, initial results are comparable to reputable published reports.

Clinical trials dating back to the 1950’s confirm the health promoting functions of chaga mushroom, including antibacterial, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor as well as antioxidant activities. Chaga mushroom contains a multitude of active constituents and cofactors, many of which are currently being investigated for their potential health benefits.

Chaga mushroom(Inonotus obliquus), found on birch trees in cold climates is one of the most widely known medicinal mushrooms, has been used to treat various cancers in Russia and most of Baltic countries since the 16th century. Chaga is predominantly found in Poland, Western Siberia, and throughout North America.  It has been sold in Russia since the 1960's as Befunigin, and is commonly found in many Russian households.

Chaga mushroom was documented by Chinese herbalist Shen Nong in his herbal texts as early as the first century B.C.E., a book devoted to Chinese Medical Practice which is the bible for all herbal medicine, records the plant’s first use. Of the many plants and fungi that form the ancient Chinese herbal tradition, mushrooms are some of the most safe and effective.

Chaga Mushroom FAQ

Q: What is so special about chaga mushroom?

A: It is a dense powerhouse of 215 potent and unique phytonutrients. Some of these nutrients, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), polysaccharides, betulin and betulinic acid only come from a limited number of sources. Chaga is nature’s richest source of these unique compounds, and it delivers these nutrients in a whole-food, bio-available form. Chaga, and it’s other constituents, including triterpenes Inotodiol, Lanosterol, Ergosterol, Betulinic acid are the subject of extensive research.

Chaga’s strength comes from the vital nutrients drawn from the birch tree. Because of their special, biologically potent substances, some trees live as long as 10,000 years or more - they are the most powerful living beings in the world. Chaga absorbs and concentrates the immune compounds the birch tree sends to fight its infection.

Chaga is extremely rich in antioxidants. Concentrating this power, Chaga contains numerous B vitamins, flavonoids, phenols, minerals, and enzymes. It is also one of the world’s densest sources of pantothenic acid, and this vitamin is needed by the adrenal glands as well as digestive organs.

Q: Where does Chaga come from and why are birch trees important?

A: Wild birch trees grow in northern climates where they have to endure challenging weather conditions. From the hot summers to the extreme cold winters, wild birch trees need the most powerful of nutrients to withstand the tolling environment.

While chaga grows on several other genus of trees, only true chaga grows on white birch. Chaga draws nutrients from the tree on which it grows and extracts are typically derived from the inner layers of the bark.

Chaga is a mushroom, a parasitic carpophore that looks like the charred remains of burned wood on the side of a birch tree. The parasite enters the tree through a 'wound' in the bark of a mature tree. It then grows under the bark until it erupts in a deeply cracked, black charcoal-like extension.

The Chaga conk grows with the birch tree for 20 years or longer during which time it absorbs nutrients and phytochemicals from the wood.  After harvesting, Chaga can regrow to harvestable size again in 3 to 10 years, and can be repeatedly harvested until the tree dies. It usually takes another 5-7 years for it to fully mature, at which point it falls to the forest floor, most times killing the host tree in the process.

Q:What are the properties of Chaga mushroom extract?

The active constituents of chaga are a combination of triterpenes, such as sterols, polysaccharides and betulinic acid. Chaga harvested in the wild on birch is believed to be the most potent because of its high concentration of betulinic acid which is toxic to cancer cells. Chaga has demonstrated anti-cancer, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, immune stimulating properties in vitro, and hypoglycemic effects in mice.

Chaga extract has inhibitory against colon cancer and hepatoma cells. It also reduced toxicity associated with radiation and inhibited tumor cell growth in animal models . In some studies, Chaga demonstrates selective apoptosis (cell death) in tumor cells with no effects on healthy cells.

Q: What is superoxide dismutase in Chaga mushroom?

A:  SOD is an antioxidant enzyme needed the entire body. SOD is the main antioxidant responsible for counteracting superoxide, which is one of the most common and most damaging free-radicals in the human body. Normally, SOD is created by the body, but by ages 25-30 the levels of enzymes needed to create SOD in any significant amount have diminished.  This makes chaga an essential supplement to any diet, especially for those 25 years and older. SOD is a very powerful enzyme that is easily absorbed by the human body and eliminates oxygen free radicals that slows the aging process.

Chaga is particularly high in copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron. Yet, its most potent ingredient is a special substance known as superoxide dismutase (SOD) an enzyme with great potency. Its function is to halt oxidation, especially the toxicity of a free radical known as singlet oxygen.

This is the type of oxygen which is responsible for oxidizing and damaging the tissues, which results in aging. It is the same oxygen which rusts a nail. SOD blocks this damage by quenching the singlet oxygen free radical. The SOD content per gram of chaga is exceedingly high and accounts for many of its historical powers. 

Q: How do we take Chaga as a herbal medicine?

A:  Commonly, it is used as a daily tonic. Although chaga is an edible fungus, it is not commonly ingested due to its bitter nature. Chaga is typically and historically ingested as a tea, but it also has been made into a tincture.  Tea can be made from the whole mushroom grated into a fine powder and used to brew a beverage resembling coffee or tea.

For medicinal use, an extraction process is needed to make at least some of the bio-active components bioavailable. These bio-actives are found in the mostly indigestible chitin cell walls of the chaga.

Humans lack the enzyme chitinase, so cannot fully digest raw mushrooms or their derivatives, and the digestive process works too fast for the stomach acid to take effect. Scientific studies and research are in general also based on highly concentrated extracts, and traditional Russian usage is also based on a form of hot-water extraction (by preparing zavarka).

Q: What are the benefits of supplementing Chaga(tea or extract) into a daily diet?

Chaga is a powerful adaptogenic whole food complex with an amazing nutritional profile that supports the body’s overall health and ability to balance itself. Chaga is an excellent natural source for B-complex, plant sterols, SOD, betulinic acid, and beta glucan.

Chaga’s constituents provide the following proven benefits:

  • Improving vitality and well-being due to the high amount of antioxidants and nutrients.
  • Strengthening of the immune system
  • B-Vitamins, minerals and plant sterols
  • Anti-aging: enhances appearance of hair, skin, and eyes Melanin enhances the health of hair, skin and eyes, and restores a more youthful appearance. It also provides protection against damaging UV rays.
  • Vitamin K is effective in decreasing the appearance of spider veins and broken surface capillaries due to its ability to support arterial health and proper circulation.
  • SOD-enzyme absorbs free radicals before they can damage the body
  • Provides high amounts of betulinic acid that contains the full spectrum of immune-stimulating phyto chemicals. The anti-cancer properties of betulinic acid is being studied as a chemotherapeutic agent.
  • Polysaccharides have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that function with the immune system against illness.

Chaga possesses strong immune-boosting and anti-viral properties; it is thought to be a health and longevity tonic full of phyto-nutrients that slow the aging process. Here are more reasons why chaga should be included in your everyday diet:

  • anti-bacterial - protects against the growth of bacteria
  • anti-fungal - protects agains fungal infections such as athletes foot & systemic conditions
  • anti-microbial - kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms
  • anti-candida - protects against yeast infections
  • an immune system modulator - helps to regulate the immune-system
  • anti-viral - helps to protect against viral infections
  • an adaptagen - adapts to the body and provides it with what it needs
  • has the highest ORAC level of any natural food - contains extremely high levels of antioxidants which help to fight free-radicals which can cause cell damage

Chaga has a high degree of safety, so it is designated as a "superior herb". Like Reishi mushroom, it is categorized as a Qi tonic. Chaga has even been classified as a medicinal mushroom under World Trade Organization (WTO) codes.                

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York notes on their site that previous studies have shown that chaga can inhibit the progression of certain cancers and activate subsets of immune cells in laboratory-based experiments.

Research is underway to determine the anti-cancer and immuno-stimulating effects of chaga mushroom in humans. MSKCC studies show Chaga’s constituents can inhibit the progression of certain cancers and can target and kill cancer cells selectively. Chaga stimulated the activity of certain immune cells in laboratory-based experiments, however, further clinical trials are needed to verify chaga's safety and effectiveness as a cancer treatment in humans.


Herb-Drug Interactions
•Antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs: Chaga extract can inhibit platelet aggregation . It may also have additive anticoagulant effects.
•Hypoglycemic agents: May have additive effect in lowering blood sugar levels.


Consult with a medical professional before use if you are currently taking pharmaceutical drugs or receiving any medical treatments. Caution should be used when pregnant or breast feeding. Do not give to children. Discontinue use if allergic reactions occur.

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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