Threatened and becoming increasingly more difficult to find between its growth requirements and over harvesting. Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is one of the most potent antioxidants on the planet and is also helpful in supporting a healthy gut microbiome. Research shows the link between leaky gut to a leaky blood brain barrier. Studies suggest when balance is restored to the gut barrier, this also helps restore balance to the blood brain barrier, assisting is a whole host of symptoms within the body. You may also find it shows cholesterol and blood pressure lowering qualities, immune boosting abilities, anti cancer and much more.
Identification & Harvest
The first step to finding Chaga is to make sure you’re looking in the right place. Chaga grows almost exclusively on birch trees in cold climates, like those in Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, and some northern parts of the United States. Within the US, Chaga is most often found in North Carolina in the mountainous regions or the woods of Maine, however, many people find Chaga in other northern states as well.
Chaga can be found on ash, elm, beech, alder, and hornbeam trees, however, only Chaga growing on birch trees produces plant-based sterols, betulinic acid, and other constituents that can improve human health. When Chaga grows on other trees, it does not contain the same beneficial compounds.
Chaga Mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)
Also known as: clinker polypore, cinder conk or birch canker polypore
Region: Canada, Siberia, Scandinavia, and some northern parts of the United States. Within the US, Chaga is most often found in North Carolina in the mountainous regions or the woods of Maine.
Season: All year
Habitat: ash, elm, beech, alder, and hornbeam trees, however, only Chaga growing on birch trees produces plant-based sterols
Size: 2-15.5 inches diameter
Shape: Rounded, compact
Color: Black or Brown and Orange
Notes: does not resemble a traditional mushroom
Common health benefits of Chaga Mushroom
Chaga mushroom has been used in traditional folk medicine for generations to support good cardiovascular function due to its hypocholesterolemic characteristics (cholesterol reducing actions). In recent years, studies on mice have shown that Chaga significantly reduces LDL (low-density lipoproteins "bad" cholesterol), free fatty acids, total cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and increases HDL (low-density lipoproteins "good" cholesterol), all of which are beneficial to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.
As a medicinal mushroom, the cell walls of Chaga are composed of chitin, a unique fiber and polysaccharide substance. Because cholesterol is tied up in chylomicrons in the stomach and transferred to the liver to be regenerated or eliminated from the body, fibre is essential in decreasing cholesterol levels. Additionally, Chaga is liver protective due to its rich antioxidant status. Chaga helps support the liver in its role of creating, recycling and excreting cholesterol in the body.
Immune System Support/Anti-cancer
Chaga mushroom is a powerful immune-modulator that helps support and maintain a healthy immune system. Specifically enhancing the activation and activity of natural killer cells. These powerful immune cells are part of the innate immune system and enhance the activity of macrophages (our front line immune cells that first attack and eat up viral or bacterial infected cells, effectively working to remove them from the body).
Chaga is special in that it also contains betulin and betulinic acid – two unique triterpenoid compounds that provide Chaga with its potential anti-cancer properties and combat cancer cells.
Terms to Know
Free Radicals: an uncharged molecule (typically highly reactive and short-lived) having an unpaired valence electron.
Macrophages: a large phagocytic cell found in stationary form in the tissues or as a mobile white blood cell, especially at sites of infection. Critical for innate immunity, normal tissue development, homeostasis, and repair of damaged tissue.
Blood Pressure Reduction
Being a powerful adaptogen, Chaga works on the HPA axis (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis) and buffers the stress response helping to lower stress and improve blood pressure. It may also help support healthy blood pressure and blood pressure reduction by t’s high antioxidant content. Antioxidants help lower whole body inflammation and reduce the formation of plaque within blood vessels that can increase blood pressure.
The polysaccharides in Chaga mushroom are naturally anti inflammatory and as we know, inflammation is a key driver of all symptoms, disease states and disturbances in the body. Chaga also has the ability to activating the production of anti inflammatory compounds such as IL-10 by upregulate the Nrf2 pathway in the body.
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Chaga is one of the most potent antioxidants on the planet. It measures higher on the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) than other well known antioxidant rich foods as the acai berry, baobab and turmeric root. Free radicals drive cell death, damage DNA and cell function, and cause inflammation and degradation in the brain and the whole body. Oxidative stress increases the production of free radicals, which causes inflammation, mitochondrial malfunction, and cell death. Antioxidants serve to counteract and balance free radicals by giving themselves and preventing cellular DNA damage and hence cell function.
Naturally, our bodies require free radicals in order to activate our immune systems and keep us healthy. However, illnesses can emerge when the amounts of free radicals become too high and overwhelm the antioxidant system. Consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, such as Chaga ensures we’re really able to support our wellbeing and help balance that antioxidant system and protect our cells.
Chaga has been shown to be protective against Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration and inflammation by acting as an antioxidant and upregulating the Nrf2 pathway–one of the key anti inflammatory pathways in the body.
Chaga mushroom has also shown to inhibit apoptosis, and suppressed an excessive accumulation of reactive oxygen species between cells, helping to balance antioxidant and pro-oxidant.
Ayales, Adriana. Adaptogens: Herbs for Longevity and Everyday Wellness. Sterling Publishing Company, Incorporated, 2019.
“Chaga Mushroom Benefits: A Science, Health, & Supplement Guide.” Real Mushrooms, 10 February 2022, https://www.realmushrooms.com/chaga-mushroom-benefits/. Accessed 21 January 2023.
“How to Identify Chaga Mushroom in Nature.” Forage Hyperfoods, https://foragehyperfoods.com/en-us/blogs/news/how-to-identify-chaga-mushroom-in-nature. Accessed 21 January 2023.
Hedley, Eliza. “Top 3 Medicinal Mushrooms for Brain Health.” Teelixir, 4 February 2021, https://teelixir.com/blogs/news/mushrooms-for-brain-health#3best. Accessed 8 January 2023.