Chaga mushrooms grow on the trunks of the birch tree and are technically a fungus. They grow in the cold climates of Siberia, Northern Europe and North America and aren’t reminiscent of any mushroom we might’ve consumed – in fact, they’re quite the opposite.\nSaid to resemble something between burnt charcoal and a lump of dirt, Chaga mushrooms look like a woody growth, which is called a conk, protruding from the bark of their host tree. They can therefore be easily missed but cut open this wood-like fungus, and you’ll reveal a soft, orange flesh inside.\nDon’t let their less-than-beautiful appearance put you off, Chaga mushrooms have many health benefits and have been used as a medicinal mushroom in Siberia and across Asia for generations. They’re now increasing in popularity as a food supplement in the west as we cotton onto their health benefits.\nChaga mushrooms: fast facts\n\nChaga mushrooms are a fungus, and they grow in cold climates on the bark of birch trees.\nThey’ve been used as a medicinal mushroom in folk and traditional medical practices in Asia and Alaska for centuries.\nChaga mushrooms are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support the health of the immune system and have anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing benefits.\nTraditionally, Chaga was, and still is, consumed as a tea or a tincture, but Chaga capsules are available that can be taken as a food supplement.\nChaga mushrooms are medicinal and do not cause any hallucinogenic or psychoactive effects.\n\nWhat are the health benefits of Chaga mushrooms?\nChaga mushrooms are rich in fibre and antioxidants, whilst being low in calories, making them a popular food supplement, with various health benefits.\nSupports the immune system\n\nThe immune system is a complex system of molecules, cells, tissue, and organs, and it’s our defence system against invading bacteria, viruses and parasites. White blood cells are a critical part of the immune system, and when an invading organism is detected, the immune system signals that an attack is imminent by releasing chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines then stimulate the production of white blood cells.\nThere is evidence to suggest that Chaga mushrooms may help to manage the production of cytokines, helping to stimulate our immunity’s communication systems. Studies into this area are continuing but look promising for Chaga mushrooms and their ability to support the health of the immune system.\nAnti-inflammatory properties\nNot all cytokines are beneficial – some cytokines are harmful and studies suggest that compounds in Chaga mushrooms help to prevent the production of these harmful varieties. In doing so, this helps to reduce inflammation.\nA build-up of inflammation in the body can lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. \nAnti-ageing properties\n\nChaga mushrooms are rich in antioxidants that help to neutralise unstable molecules of oxygen called free radicals. Free radicals can cause damage to our cells, including our skin cells, especially as we age.\nThis so-called oxidative stress can lead to visible signs of ageing including wrinkling, skin sagging and a decline in the texture and appearance of the skin. Therefore, in theory, Chaga mushrooms could help to reduce these visible signs of ageing.\nWhilst no studies have been carried out to prove or disprove this theory since the antioxidants in Chaga mushrooms can neutralise free radicals, it’s likely they’ll have a positive effect on ageing skin.\nPotential benefits to cholesterol and blood sugar levels\nAnimal studies have found that extracts of Chaga mushrooms can both lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels, helping to manage diabetes and lower our risk of developing heart disease respectively.\nIt’s thought that these properties are down to Chaga mushrooms being a rich source of antioxidants. Human studies are needed, however, to see if the same result can be replicated to benefit our own health.\nCan Chaga mushrooms cause side effects?\nSince Chaga mushrooms may have the ability to lower blood sugar levels, it’s not recommended that those taking insulin to manage their diabetes consume Chaga.\nChaga mushrooms may also interfere with medications that regulate blood clotting, so it’s not advised that you consume them if you have any condition that affects the way your blood clots.\nThere have been no studies that have fully analysed the effect of taking Chaga mushroom supplements on a regular basis. However, with no known side effects for most people, they’re generally considered safe for regular consumption. It isn’t recommended that they’re used by pregnant or breastfeeding women as their safety hasn’t yet been established.\nHow can I consume Chaga mushrooms?\nIt’s not common for Chaga mushrooms to be eaten fresh, as they’re so unlike any other mushroom we use in cooking.\nInstead, Chaga has always traditionally been consumed as a tea or a tincture. Chaga mushroom powders are available that can be made into tea with warm water. Or you can use whole fresh or dried Chaga mushrooms, grated into a fine powder to be brewed.\n\nMaking your own preparations using Chaga mushrooms might be a little time consuming for a busy lifestyle. But you can still reap the rewards by taking a Chaga mushroom capsule such as these organic Chaga mushroom capsules from Mushrooms 4 Life. Chaga food supplements can vary in potency, so always check the label for the correct serving size.\nStudies continue into this medicinal mushroom to see just how many health benefits it may have, and it’s an interesting area of research. In the meantime, taking Chaga mushroom supplements as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle is seen as beneficial. Chaga mushrooms do not have a sedating effect, so they can be taken any time of day.\nAs with any food supplement, it may take up to three months to notice any health benefits, but you may experience an improvement in your susceptibility to infection and disease along with an improvement in the appearance of your skin.\nJoin us to get updates and special deals monthly:\n\n \n\n
Hannah de Gruchy
Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.