Drink: Chaga

Minnesota Eat & Drink

March 22, 2017

Christina|Lake Time Magazine

In the deep, dark forests
of northern Minnesota's landscape, there exists an unsightly growth on our ever-familiar birch trees that has the capacity to bring medicinal properties and health benefits to a growing international audience. You've likely walked under these growths and never noticed them or paid them any attention. If noticed, at first glance you may think of a burl on a tree, however, these growths are certainly no ordinary extension of tree bark... these are mushrooms.

Chaga, or Inonotus obliquus for you sciency folk, is a growth that is jet black on the outside with a deep golden interior. It's look and feel is closer to a piece of charcoal than what you'd typically think of as a spongy fungus. Chaga thrives in our cold northern climate, which makes northern MN, WI, and Canada (as well as Russia, Korea, eastern and northern Europe, and Alaska) a playground for those seeking these medicinal mushrooms.

Chaga is typically harvested in the winter (easier to find without the other forest foliage) and is cut from the tree with chisels and hammers in order to maintain the most clean and unpolluted specimen possible, but also as to cause no harm to the tree itself. Companies like Icecube Enterprises, Inc. in Remer, MN pride themselves on abiding by strict practices of clean extraction- only human muscle and simple tools; no chainsaws with gas fumes and pollutants that could adversely affect the purity of the mushroom. In addition, they will only accept chaga that has been harvested from live trees. Why is this so important? 

CHAGA SERVES AS A HEALING PARTNER FOR THE TREES ON WHICH IT GROWS- HEALING DAMAGED OR SPLINTERED BARK- BUT ALSO AS A HEALING PARTNER FOR HUMANS.

It feeds on the nutrients and compounds found in birch trees and concentrates them into a form that is of great value to human health.

So, what is so important about chaga? For several hundred years or perhaps several millennia, chaga has been consumed as food- ground and put in stews, soups, and beverages. Some cultures found that despite their harsh climates, regular chaga consumption not only boost physical stamina but also prevented many degenerative diseases, and was also thought to prolong life. Research shows that cultures across the globe have used chaga to cure everything from tumors to cancer to lung diseases, and to fight stress, regulate energy, and combat inflammatory skin diseases... to name a few. It has widespread health implications. 

What is in chaga mushrooms that make them such a powerful health agent? One of the key sterols found in chaga is lanosterol which helps the body rebuild cell membranes and possesses antiviral properties. Polysaccharide, which is a known immune system supporter, is found in high levels in chaga, specifically 1,3 beta glucan (the most potent and healing polysaccharide). This is known for activating the immune system and reducing and stabilizing blood sugar levels. Chaga is also found to be high in B complex, which offers a myriad of health benefits including immune support, nervous and digestive system regulation, promoting cellular energy production, hormone production, and helps power your brain, heart, lungs, and other organs. Research indicates great things for chaga in the world of healthcare, without the toxicity often seen with medication.

Chaga isn't exactly "rare" but it isn't an unlimited resource, either. Typically, it can take a tree up to 15 years to regrow chaga after it's been harvested safely- cut even with the tree bark, as opposed to carved out of the tree completely. Safe chaga extraction from the tree is so important for this to be a continued health resource for the future.

Chaga can be made into tea or purchased as a tincture with sublingual drops that are absorbed under the tongue and directly into your blood stream. You can find chaga products in various health food stores, organic markets, and online but make sure what you are buying and who you are buying from maintains the highest level of purity and conservation techniques.

Do your research and give chaga a try. Search it out and prepare it yourself or buy it ready to be consumed.