Chaga Mushroom: Benefits, History, Side-Effects, and Testimonials - Birch Boys, Inc.

Chaga Mushroom: Benefits, History, Side-Effects, and Testimonials

Nov 13, 2017Garrett Kopp

Let’s Talk Chaga

For those of you who are new here, allow me to quickly introduce myself. I’m a young entrepreneur and aspiring mycologist. I lease 200,000 acres of private land for exclusive mushroom harvesting rights within the Adirondack Park Preserve of Northern NY. My name is Garrett Kopp, but you can call me the Chaga guy. We’re going to cover a lot of information about Chaga in this blog. Read this blog in full or skip to a specific section by clicking the buttons below.

Chaga in the Natural Environment

Chaga is a fungus belonging to the genus Inonotus. More specifically, Chaga is an aerial sclerotium (not a mushroom). In Latin, Inonotus means “to penetrate,” reflecting Chaga’s reproductive cycle. Chaga’s spores land in a wound or crevice on the host tree and penetrate the heartwood of the host tree. After a few years, the Chaga conk will start to erupt from the trunk of the host tree. Chaga conks are dense masses of hyphae with a rough, deep black exterior. Just underneath the melanized exterior lies a vibrant orange center with a cork-like feel.

geographical distribution of chaga mushroom

Chaga naturally grows in semi-arctic climates with high altitudes -- namely those with plenty of big birch trees. It can be found within the northern parts of the lower 48 US states, Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Asia. Chaga can grow on a number of different host species, including maple trees, poplar trees, cherry trees, as well as the collective variety of birch tree subspecies. Most frequently, you will find Chaga thriving on old growth white and yellow birch trees. Since the birch tree is responsible for providing many of the specific bioactive components that make Chaga sought after, Chaga from other trees is not desirable, nor is it nearly as common to begin with.

The relationship between the Chaga and the birch tree is often misrepresented as symbiotic when in fact, Chaga has a parasitic relationship with the birch tree. Aerial sclerotia decompose wood, and do not have a positive impact on their host tree. Chaga especially so, considering the size and mass of mycelial growth that Chaga produces. Don’t let that get you down, though. Chaga is beneficial for us precisely due to it’s parasitic relationship with the birch tree. During the years that Chaga takes to grow, it absorbs beneficial compounds like betulinic acid, from the birch itself.

Read More: Top 10 Chaga Misconceptions

chaga mushroom growing wild birch tree chaga benefits

Life Cycle of Chaga

There’s still some ambiguity regarding the length of time it takes for Chaga to mature. In hypothesizing, you must be sure to account for the time allowed for the invading spore to colonize within the deeper layers of the host tree. As the Chaga advances, its mycelium bursts out of the tree. Simultaneously, the vertical length of the tree trunk’s heartwood is slowly consumed. This process can take as long as four years before the emerging Chaga conk is detectable on the host tree’s exterior, sometimes earlier for smaller birch trees.

You can use the partially visible rings of bark to estimate the annual growth of a conk of Chaga, but the answer is still not always clear. Each ring of bark represents about a year of growth. From my experience, I’d say the length of time that a chaga conk takes to grow can vary greatly, but an 8-12 year maturation period seems common.

As the Chaga life cycle comes to an end, a section of bark on the trunk will split, and peel away, revealing the Chaga’s spore-containing structure, called a poroid. This is essentially a porous, silver-gray surface that used to be a part of the tree trunk. It secretes a gooey material that contains spores. From here, insects eat the spore-containing substance and, along with the wind and other forest animals, help to spread the spores to other Birch trees.

chaga mushroom spreading spores reproducing

The extent of the disregard for detail and accuracy when it comes to public discourse on Chaga is very clear when we consider the fact that Chaga isn’t a mushroom, even though it is commonly called one. As we mentioned earlier, Chaga is actually an aerial sclerotium. While both mushrooms and sclerotia are fungi, the difference lies in how they reproduce. A mushroom is a fleshy, spore-producing structure, whereas a sclerotium is a sterile, hardened mass of hyphae that has a separate reproductive structure, in Chaga’s case, the poroid.

Read More: Is Wild Chaga Harvesting Sustainable?

Cultural History Of Chaga Mushroom

The first known use of Chaga in a health application was by the The Khanty people of Western Siberia. The Khanty people used Chaga in a variety of ways. They drank it to aid in digestion and feel more full during periods of fasting. They combined Chaga with lard and ash to be used as a skin-soothing, natural soap. They also smoked ground Chaga, believing that it improved lung health, which is not scientifically supported.

chaga mushroom history timeline

Chaga soon spread around what is now Russia, being used by hunters and foragers to increase their capacity to work and promote endurance. In 12th century Russia, Tzar Vladmir Monamakh attributed the disappearance of growths on his lip to a decoction of Chaga mushroom - this was profound in its time.

In the 16th century, Chaga was dubbed the 'King of Herbs' in the Shen Nung Pen Tsao Ching, the earliest Chinese pharmacopeia, which details 365 remedies derived from minerals, plants and animals. Historical figure, Shen Nung, was known to have tasted hundreds of herbs to test their medicinal value and is said to be the author of this text. It is also believed that he introduced the technique of acupuncture. Shen Nung is known as the father of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In the 1950’s the Moscow Medical Institute began conducting clinical trials of Chaga Mushroom. It was soon used in medical clinics all around Russia, and it was agreed upon by researchers that Chaga helped support immune function. By 1955, hundreds of clinical trials were reaching conclusions and Chaga was officially recognized as a natural medicine by the Russian Medical Academy of Science.

In 1968, Russian novelist, A. Solzhenitsyn, published The Cancer Ward - a semi-autobiographical novel about his journey with Cancer. This novel became the first interpretable piece of literature about Chaga’s benefits available to the western world.

Considering that Russia and the United States were in the midst of The Cold War from 1946-1991, scientific communication between the two countries was stifled. Because of this, it isn’t surprising that many of us are still hearing about Chaga for the very first time. After all, “Chaga” is a Russian word with no English translation.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster seems to have been a catalyst for the spread of global awareness of Chaga, as many people affected by radiation used it to support their health. One can assume that this event largely contributed to our present day awareness of Chaga in the western world.

It is often overlooked that Native Americans also used Chaga. There is robust information available online about the Inuit people of Alaska utilizing Chaga, but I highly suspect it was also used by the Algonquins of the Adirondack Mountains. Here’s why, “Adirondack” was an indigenous term meaning “bark-eater.” As the story goes, this was a derogatory term given to Algonquins by the Mohawk, due to a lack of plentiful game. However, many speculate that it was actually a description of how fruitful the Adirondack region was. Historical reports from the time note that beaver, porcupine and white tailed deer (notorious bark-eaters,) were extremely prolific in the area, as well as flocks of birds that blackened the sky and salmon in such large numbers they could “hobble a horse.” It would be silly to assume that native peoples couldn’t find an adequate amount of food during this time. It is more likely that the ‘bark-eater’ description referred to the plentiful nature of the region, and the broad variety of foods within it; bark, game, tubers, fish, berries, maple sap and fungi like Chaga!

Read More: A Short History of Chaga

Health Benefits Of Chaga Mushroom

1. Provides Antioxidant Support

The antioxidant concentration (measured by the Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity, or ORAC, score) of Chaga is statistically unrivaled among naturally occurring foods. It’s 45x higher than acai berries, 80x higher than pomegranates, and almost 1,300x higher than blueberries! Antioxidants are natural or man-made substances that prevent or delay cell damage or cell death from highly reactive molecules called free radicals, or toxic byproducts of metabolism. Our bodies need a proper balance of antioxidants and free radicals; however, when this balance is disrupted, this can lead to oxidative stress. Antioxidants are especially important in supporting a healthy response to the damaging effects of free radicals. Antioxidants are found in many foods including fruits, vegetables and wild fungi.

2. Supports Daily Energy

Chaga provides long-chain polysaccharides, which help our body to convert food into usable energy, providing a more enduring and sustained, natural energy. Chaga provides motivational energy, and in no time you’ll be tackling your daily chores like a pro. It’s no coincidence that I decided to build a business after drinking Chaga!

Read More: Chaga, a Great Coffee Alternative (or addition!)

3. Healthy Skin Support

Chaga is one of the most potent natural sources of melanin, which is essential for healthy pigmentation in human skin and is also an antioxidant. Chaga also contains beta-glucan, which is used in topical skincare applications as a powerful humectant. Beta-glucan has been shown to be more hydrating than hyaluronic acid, a commonly hyped skincare ingredient. Using Chaga both internally and topically can help support a healthy epidermis.

Read More: Mushroom Skincare 101

5. Chaga is an Adaptogen

As an adaptogen, Chaga supports a healthy response to stress and stress hormones. Adaptogens help support your body’s homeostasis.

6. Chaga’s Beneficial Compounds

Chaga contains a variety of beneficial compounds including but not limited to; melanin, polysaccharides, polyphenols, triterpenes, sterols and lignin. I encourage you to research these powerful compounds and the positive effects they can have on your body.

Comparing Chaga Tea Vs Tincture

It’s important to mention that the raw Chaga conk is not edible. It would be extremely harsh on the digestive tract, and is not considered safe. This is why you must take Chaga in extract form (Chaga tea or Chaga tincture), not eat the Chaga conk itself.

With a hot water extraction (AKA - Chaga tea), your body is able to access and utilize all of the water-soluble components of the mushroom, like antioxidants and polysaccharides, but not the alcohol-soluble compounds. The alcohol-soluble compounds are ‘trapped’ inside of Chaga’s cell walls and will pass through your body, unused.

An alcohol extraction makes the alcohol-soluble compounds, which are bound inside Chaga’s chitinous cell walls, bioavailable. The alcohol breaks down the cell walls, making the triterpenes, sterols, and long chain molecules bioavailable. These alcohol soluble compounds comprise some of Chaga’s most interesting benefits.

A dual-extract tincture is the best way to access ALL of Chaga’s most notable compounds, both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble. A dual-extract tincture combines a strong hot water extract with an alcohol extract, making all beneficial compounds readily available to the body. This is the best way to take advantage of all of Chaga’s benefits.

It’s important to emphasize that glycerin does not contain the essential chemical properties required to extract Chaga, and therefore, glycerin-based Chaga tinctures should not be considered a practical alternative to dual-extracted Chaga tinctures.

Read More: Comparing Chaga Tea vs Chaga Tincture

Differentiating Wild Chaga From Cultivated Chaga

Some companies grow Chaga on artificial substrates, such as sawdust, mulch, wood chips or grain. This is how Chaga is farmed commercially. It is important to be aware that this artificial Chaga is prevalent among the mushroom industry, and it does not provide the same benefits that wild Chaga does. There are two main differences between wild-harvested fungi and cultivated fungi.

The first is that wild fungi take weeks to years to grow, absorbing beneficial compounds from their natural substrate all the while. Meanwhile, cultivating fungi is a much quicker and cheaper process, and the substrate used is usually not the substrate that the fungus would grow on in the wild. For example, one of Chaga’s notable compounds is betulinic acid, which is only found in birch trees. Chaga cultivated on a non-birch substrate will not contain any betulinic acid.

The other main difference is that Chaga creates sterols in order to cope with the extreme temperature changes in it’s natural environment. Chaga cultivated in a controlled environment will not possess nearly as high concentrations of these notable sterols.

As a consumer, it isn't easy to make educated decisions about fungi. There is very little oversight regarding the accuracy of publicly available information on Chaga. We hope as awareness of functional fungi grows, that more fact-checking and consistency is implemented. In the meantime, we hope to provide some clarity for consumers new to functional fungi.

Read More: Why Buy Wild Adirondack Chaga?

Chaga Warnings

There are some people who should consult a physician before using Chaga. If you fall into one of the below categories, please consult your medical provider before you use Chaga products.

    • You have an upcoming surgery.

    • You have diabetes and/or are on diabetes medication.

    • You have a blood clotting disorder and/or are on medication to regulate blood pressure.
    • You are pregnant and/or breastfeeding.
    • You are prone to kidney stones, have osteoporosis, or are on a reduced oxalate diet.

Read More: Chaga Warnings: Oxalates & Side Effects

Are there any Chaga Look-alike Species?

There’s only one mushroom that is frequently mistaken for Chaga, Meshima mushroom (Phellinus linteus). Don’t worry though, Meshima is reported to share many of Chaga’s benefits (especially when used on dogs). If you’re feeling adventurous, I encourage you to try finding some Chaga. It can be great fun, and there are no poisonous look-alikes.

chaga vs meshima chaga lookalike species

Sustainable Harvesting Practices

If you find Chaga on your own and decide you want to harvest it, please first make sure it is legal within your state/country. If it is legal, we ask that you adopt a few common sense harvesting techniques. First, try to find a poroid in the area to ensure that the Chaga will be able to reproduce. Chaga may regrow on it’s host tree if you leave at least 25% of it behind. Avoid penetrating the bark or cambium layer of the tree. Refrain from harvesting pieces that aren’t yet the size of a fist. Friends, I think I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to say. Thanks for listening. Please, share the knowledge! All the best, be strong, and keep Chaga’n on.

Read More: Is Wild Chaga Harvesting Sustainable?

Garrett Kopp Expert Chaga Harvester and woodsman

About The Author

Garrett Kopp is the 25 year old Chaga visionary and founder of Birch Boys, Inc., a company well-known for its assortment of teas, tinctures, and extracts from healing wild fungi. Kopp grew up in the Adirondack Mountains, where he naturally developed a broad passion for the wild northern forests of New York. He began to specialize and narrow this passion toward Chaga after a freak accident where he helped himself to a cup of what appeared to be iced tea in his Grandmother’s refrigerator, who had started harvesting Chaga and brewing it on her own amidst a battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Soon thereafter, Kopp and his grandmother expanded their Chaga harvesting activities to local farmer's markets, where they discovered significant demand for the fungus and its powerful ability to help everyday people.

These entrepreneurial efforts landed Kopp acceptance into Clarkson University’s early entrance program, the Clarkson School, where he studied Engineering & Management and Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Several years and hundreds of research hours later, Kopp returned to his hometown. Having shipped to over 20,0000 individuals throughout all 50 states, Birch Boys has organically grown into a nationally recognized online brand . Kopp is proud to have built a vertically integrated supply chain, sustainably sourcing the fruits of tree-borne fungi from over 220,000 leased acres of leased private land in the Adirondack park, where it is carefully harvested by hand before being dried, processed, and extracted with love, at his fungi factory in none other than Tupper Lake, NY.

Recommended Reading

Why Buy Wild Adirondack Chaga?

Top 10 Misconceptions About Chaga

Chaga Warnings: Oxalates and Side Effects

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Comments (10)

  • Very interesting. Thank you for the information on Chaga. I collect it here on PEI on a regular basis. And you are right,it can be a fun day,searching the woods for Chaga

  • How to use this powder! In any tea or juice or? Any other? Pls send me info on how to take it? Thanks

  • While walking in the woods near her home in Barnesville, GA my sister came across several large black mushrooms growing on the ground. I attempted to research them and could only find information that suggests it might be a Chaga mushroom. It meets the description except it is growing on the ground and not in a tree. I was unable to find anyone who could tell me what it might be, any information you may know would be helpful. If you can identify this by images please email me a way to share images. I really would like to know.

  • Are there certain times of the year that is best to havest turkey tail or chaga?
    Also is there directions for your tincture on the bottle? And is every condition the same dose? I was just told a week ago I have a carcinoid if my lymph node of the small intestine. So any information would be much appreciated!
    Thank you

    Lisa Applegate
  • This was so helpful, thank you!

  • I found a large piece of Chaga about 3 pounds on a white birch in Queens County Nova Scotia bear Buckfield. Your map should be updated to include Nova Scotia as a location to find Chaga.

    Paul Bezanson
  • I am insulin dependent diabetic. Been taking Chaga mushrooms for few months. It does not effect blood sugars which makes me happy. Please tell me more. Thanks Cindy

  • My son recommended Chaga Tea Chunks to me since I have had acute respiratory distress syndrome 4 times and was in a coma for a month and a half 9 years ago. He so recommended chaga to his Dad who had lesions on his lungs from working in a steel mill. After his dad drank chaga tea for one month he went back to the doctors. Lo and behold his lesions were gone. I order 1 lb. Of the chaga chunks and now on my second gallon! I feel as though I can breathe better already! Oh and service from Birch Boys was spot on! Will definitely be ordering again and I’m telling everyone I know. Thanks my new friends at Birch Boys for a job well done!!

  • I have lowered my aic to almost normal in 6 months. Feel younger too

  • I am realy proud of chaga

    Concilia tshukudu

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