Chaga Medicine and Sustainability


Chaga is earthy, dark, and mysterious with centuries of mythology and folklore behind its use from British Columbia to Russia and China. Throughout history it seems to have been touted as a cure-all and a secret to immortality or, at least, to good health and longevity. Chaga is currently a "super herb" along the same lines as a "super food" which has catapulted it into the spotlight to the point everyone's heard of chaga or is using chaga in some way as a herbal remedy or supplement. Despite its current popularity, I've found many people still lack the knowledge of what chaga is, where it comes from, how it should be harvested, and how it should be processed and used for medicine. Instead of this knowledge being shared, I see herbalists telling people not to harvest or use chaga, that it is at risk from over-harvesting, and that there are no human trials proving all the medicinal properties it is attributed with. I would really like to help clear this all up by simply sharing facts instead of propagating more fake lore or scare tactics about this useful medicinal fungus.

What is Chaga?

Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is not actually a fruiting mushroom, but a sclerotia -- a mass of hard mycelium that stores nutritional reserves for the living fungus it is a part of. What is mycelium? Think of mycelium as the roots of mushrooms and related fungi which serve to absorb, store, and transfer nutrients. With the very rare exception of the odd documented alder tree, chaga only grows on birch trees which it has a parasitic, not a symbiotic relationship with. Essentially chaga is a cancer that grows on and slowly kills the birch trees it infects. It can take 10-30 years for chaga fungus to kill its host tree. Chaga isn't just the hardened brown and black growth on the outside of the tree, but also the fungal growth infecting the entire trunk of the tree. Growths can become up to two metres in size! If you see a chaga growth on a birch tree, it means the entire tree is infected and already doomed for death. If you cut off the growth, you are not helping the tree in any way, you are just taking away some of the fungi's food supply and potentially wounding the tree leading it to a quicker death if done improperly.
I find it ironic and fitting that a fungus that acts like a cancer to its host tree is being studied to help treat cancerous tumours in humans. Chaga grows where birch trees grow. No birch trees, no chaga. A limited number of birch trees growing near heavily populated areas with too many people harvesting from them, no chaga. Chaga is not scarce or endangered as it can be found across the entire Northern Hemisphere of the Earth. It's likely this belief popped up because, unlike other medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and turkey tail, chaga cannot be easily farmed - it can only be cultured in a lab setting or propagated in the wild. For the most part it needs to come from the wild and most of the chaga available on the market is wild harvested. Foragers with forestry experience have been successful at infecting birch trees with chaga fungus using core samples from already infected trees. This practice leads to the further sustainability of chaga.
People who live in cities or far away from the source point of a wild resource will often view that resource as limited and precious. The mentality can go hand in hand with the "don't cut down trees!" viewpoint of cityfolk who live where trees are precious and few, but a knowledgeable forester knows that for a whole forest to be healthy, some trees need to be culled to let the others thrive. I live in a very rural area near the Boreal Forest where chaga is common as dirt and everyone and their mom knows how to harvest it and make tea. It's all about perspective, being a good steward to nature, and educating oneself.

Medicinal Properties of Chaga

Scientific studies of chaga are all very recent, but have been quite extensive. Research has been performed on its potential use for treating irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, ulcers, diabetes, high cholesterol, psoriasis, and inhibiting tumour growth for various types of cancer. Studies have shown that its polysaccharides stimulate the immune system and its betulin, hispolon, hispidin, lupeol, and mycosterols inhibit human influenza viruses. To translate this info as a herbalist, specific preparations of chaga can be anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antitumour, anti-ulcer, anti-lipidemic, hypoglycemic, adaptogenic, and immune-stimulating.
From my research, the only attribute that seems to be overrated is chaga's antioxidant properties. It is antioxidant, but not nearly as potently as people claim meaning if you're seeking to use chaga just for its antioxidant properties, there are better and more sustainable alternatives that are easier to prepare and ingest.

How to Sustainably Harvest Chaga

Most foragers will say chaga can be harvested any time of the year, and this is true, but with my background in caring for trees I find the best time of year to harvest chaga growths from birch trees is late fall to early spring when the trees are still resting and the sap isn't running. It is a lot easier to spot chaga in winter when all the leaves are gone. Coincidentally it is also the best time to harvest wood or to prune trees while doing the least harm. As a woodworker this is important to me; be kind to the host tree as well as the chaga growing on it!
Only harvest chaga from live trees. Dead tree equals dead chaga equals no medicinal properties. Chaga grows on paper birch (aka white birch or silver birch), yellow birch (aka sweet birch), and cherry birch. 
Do not rip off chaga growths with your bare hands as you will wound the tree and leave it susceptible to infection, rot, insect infestation, and early death. The best tools for harvesting chaga are a small hatchet or a large metal chisel and rubber or wood hammer to strike it with. A small well-sharpened folding saw is also good.
Do not harvest a chaga growth until it is at least the size of a grapefruit. How much of the growth one should sustainably harvest varies from forager to forager, some say take up to two thirds and some say only to take one third. You will have to use your discretion. What you harvest will grow back, but it may take 2-5 years. If you take an entire growth from a tree it can take up to 10-15 years to grow back! The most important rule of sustainably harvesting chaga is to never dig into the tree to obtain more chaga as this is the equivalent of picking off a scab and then scooping out a nice big chunk of flesh underneath. It's pretty cruel. Harvest the growth only from the exterior of the tree and keep your cuts flush with the protective bark. If you find chaga recessed into a tree that has to be dug out in order to be harvested, leave it alone and find another source to forage.

The more careful you are in your chaga harvesting, the longer the birch trees you harvest from will survive and you can continue to go back to them every few years to harvest more. The smart forager rotates where they harvest every year to give the trees a break and a chance to regrow their chaga sclerotium. It would be wise to have 5-10 different harvesting spots kept in rotation that are far away from populated areas. The careful foraging of chaga may even prolong the life of the birch tree being harvested from by slowing down the growth of the chaga fungus and therefore slowing down the tree's inevitable death. 

How to Process Chaga

It's not fun, that's for sure! Chaga can be gigantic, unwieldy, and hard as wood or stone. I've found the safest way to process it is to do so as soon as you bring it home and it is still as fresh and soft as it's ever going to be. If you let it dry out before breaking it down, it will become as hard as a rock. Fresh, the black outer skin has the consistency of tree bark and the inner yellow-brown mass has the consistency of chocolate (if chocolate were made of dense cork). You want to keep both the outer black skin and the interior. Some people throw away the black crust, but it is the most medicinally potent part of the chaga growth! When fully dried, you might as well try to break down a log of dried, seasoned firewood into a powder - yikes!

Clean off any leaves, fir needles, debris, and spider webs out of any nooks and crannies. Break a huge chunk down into more manageable but still large pieces with your hatchet or chisel and then break those chunks down into even smaller ones using a good, clean pair of sharp garden shears over a clean stainless steel bowl. I do this while watching a movie or talking to a friend and taking frequent breaks to rest my hand from the repetitive cutting motion. It is best to dry the small (1 cm - ish) chunks before processing any further. Other folks will bypass this careful method and put the whole fresh chunk of chaga in a pillow case and then smash it with a sledgehammer... It's hard to keep things sterile and contained with this folk method, but it's definitely easier to accomplish for people with arthritic hands.

To dry chaga, the small chunks can be placed in a dehydrator on a low setting with no heat. Heat will damage the medicinal properties. It can also be air dried (if you have a herb drying rack) or placed in paper bags that you shake multiple times a day for at least 2 weeks. The pieces won't shrink, but will go from feeling heavy and moist to feeling dry and light.

Once your small chaga pieces are dry you can either store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark, and dry place or grind them into a powder for making medicines. Dried chaga can be harsh on a coffee or herb grinder, so the smaller your chunks are, the better it will work. I like to use a vintage hand-cranked metal meat grinder to break down my dried chaga chunks into a coarse grind suitable for making tea decoctions and alcohol extracts.

How to Properly Prepare Chaga Medicine

Chaga should never be ingested raw and unprocessed. Raw mushrooms contain chitin which the human body is unable to digest and the medicinal properties need to be extracted as our bodies cannot do it on their own. Ingesting unprocessed chaga will lead to gastrointestinal distress with no medicinal benefit to you. Beware of people and herbal companies selling raw chaga powder in capsule form! They are often not educated enough to know they are hurting and scamming you simultaneously.

Chaga "Tea" Decoction

Who should use a chaga decoction? Water does not extract all the medicinal compounds of chaga so it will not work for every health issue. A water decoction is best for those who want to use chaga tea to help treat arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, stomach and digestive issues and potentially high cholesterol and high blood sugar.

2-4 tbsps of ground chaga per 1 litre of water

The longer the amount of time chaga has to infuse, the more medicinally potent it becomes. Basic tea steeping is not enough, so a low temperature decoction must be made. Place your chaga and water in a stainless steel pot or a crock pot on low heat. It is important to never boil the water or the medicinal properties will be lost. So hot it almost boils, but doesn't bubble is perfect (around 180 F). Infuse until the water reduces by half and top up with more water until it reduces by half again. Due this 2-3 times. Once the last addition of water has reduced by half, strain out your chaga grinds.

The liquid is now ready to be drunk as is with cream and honey or used as a base for chai, hot cocoa, coffee, or into smoothies. The decoction can be stored in a canning jar in the fridge for a few weeks so you can make a big batch to drink all month before you need to repeat the process again. Brewers will make the decoction and add it to beer recipes instead of hops. I've seen the decoction used to make mead (honey wine) as well!

The leftover chaga grounds can be tossed into your compost or directly into your garden beds just like coffee grounds.

Double Extraction

To get the full spectrum of medicinal benefits from chaga, a double extraction using water and alcohol is one of the best proven methods of processing chaga. Double extracted chaga powders created using steam and alcohol can be purchased from herbal suppliers, but cannot be reproduced at home as the equipment needed is incredibly expensive and large. These processed powders can be used as is without the need to make a decoction. A double extracted powder can be added to your morning coffee, your instant hot chocolate mix, your smoothies, your yogurt, raw chocolate truffle or bliss ball recipes, etc. If you want to buy chaga to take in capsule form, make sure the chaga powder the capsules contain is double extracted first!

You can make your own chaga double extraction at home, but it will not be a powder, it will be a liqueur - nothing wrong with that!

Who should use a double extract of chaga? People hoping to benefit from it's antiviral, antitumor, and immune-stimulating properties. The double extract isn't really meant to be used on a daily basis, but when it is needed. If being used as an antiviral or immune booster to treat cold and flu viruses, it should only be taken for 5-7 days before use is discontinued and the body allowed to finish healing on its own. If being used to inhibit tumor growth, it would be best to use it under the direction of a registered herbalist, naturopath, or doctor. That being said, medicinal turkey tail mushrooms have done better in cancer trials than chaga so far...

Chaga Liqueur Recipe

Fill a one gallon jar with ground chaga, fresh or dried, leaving only 3-4 inches of air space at the top of the jar to make space for the alcohol. Top up with alcohol with a minimum percentage of 40-60%. A good, strong brandy or bourbon makes a superior tasting extract compared to vodka or 100% grain alcohol. As the chaga absorbs the alcohol, you may need to top up the jar with even more booze. Seal with a good, tight lid.

Place the jar in a cool, dark place. Shake it every day if you can. It will need to be left to infuse for 2-3 months before you open the jar again. This is a lot longer of a stretch of time than for making herbal tinctures. The medicinal properties of mushrooms are very slow to extract -- the longer the better.

Strain out the alcohol in a jelly bag or seive lined with cheesecloth, measure the liquid you have, and place the liquid extract in a clean glass jar with an air tight lid. Don't throw out the chaga grounds! Put them in a large stock pot and add 2-3 litres of water. Repeat the decoction-making process from the recipe above until you've reduced and added water three times. Strain the decoction again with a jelly bag or seive lined with cheesecloth.

If you have more of the water decoction than the alcohol extract, put aside the excess water decoction and save it for other uses. I like to sweeten the decoction before blending it with the alcohol extract as chaga is very bitter. Honey or maple syrup pair very well with chaga as does dark brown sugar. Add 1-2 cups of sweetener per 1 litre of liquid. Heat in a clean stainless steel pot only until the sweetener is completely dissolved into the decoction. Cool this infusion and then blend it with the alcohol extraction you put aside.

You're now finished! Almost... before using, I recommend storing it in a large canning jar for 1-3 weeks and allow any remaining sediment to settle and the liqueur to fully clarify, then carefully pour off the liqueur from the sediment. Bottle it in fancy bottles or store it in a large canning jar. It doesn't need to be refrigerated. After blending, your double extract should be 20-30% alcohol. It is definitely medicine, but it is also delicious. Drink as is, blend half and half with cream, spike your coffee, or come up with cocktail recipes.

Chaga's Other Uses

Because of it's almost cork-like texture that makes it burn well, chaga has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples as tinder for starting fires or for mixing into smoking blends to make sure they burn evenly. It has also been used for divination, as incense, and as a folk remedy for treating arthritis with heat and smoke from burning chaga chunks applied near affected joints.

In my region, chaga is the closest natural equivalent we have to chocolate besides roasted purple avens root. It is dark and bitter, but not unpleasant. This makes chaga useful for cooking and flavouring alongside its medicinal properties. A chaga decoction can easily be turned into chaga syrup for ice cream, pancakes, hot drinks, and cocktails. I've made chaga infused maple syrup (tastes like chocolate molasses) and chaga infused honey. I've made chaga truffles, chaga fudge, and chaga ice cream. There are recipes out there for chaga brownies, chaga beer, and chaga mead/wine. It has potential for savoury meat marinades and sauces. Food is often medicine and the possibilities are only limited by your own creativity!

How to Purchase Sustainable Chaga

It doesn't matter what part of the world chaga comes from, it matters how it was harvested and how it was processed. Be wary of large wholesale herb and natural health supplement distributors who don't care where their chaga comes from and who haven't asked their suppliers the right questions. They will either say "I don't know" or outright lie to you. Now that you are armed with knowledge, you know the right questions to ask a forager or company who makes chaga products: when was the chaga harvested, how much of each growth is harvested, are the trees cut down to harvest, how is the chaga processed, how was it dried, is the chaga powder or capsules a double extraction, is the tincture full spectrum? 

If a business is unable to answer your questions, gives you sketchy responses, or their website doesn't contain any information other than a buy it now button and ridiculous cure-all claims, move on and find another source of chaga. If you're buying chaga at a farmer's market and they stutter, pause, or sweat when faced with your questions, also move on. A good forager knows what they are doing and has been doing it for years. A good herbal company knows what they are doing in making their chaga products and why they are doing it a certain way. Look for confidence, knowledge, and experience from your source.

Written by forager & herbalist Sarah Lawless

Resources:

The Fungal Pharmacy by Robert Rogers

"Chaga and Other Fungual Resources" by David Pilz

Chaga: Functional Components & Biological Activity

Chaga Monograph by ORIVeDA

Chaga HQ

Chaga Recipes from Chaga Grove


8 comments


  • Sarah Lawless

    Tiffany – I’m not familiar with JHS. We sell wild harvested chaga in the shop as a double extract and as small chunks.

    Otherwise, the Chaga HQ link in the article’s resources has a decent page on recommended chaga sellers who meet sustainability guidelines.

    Cheers!


  • Tiffany

    Thank you Sarah for this great info! What are the best companies selling Chaga? I am a Naturopathic Physician and have recently purchased Chaga from JHS also known as Mushroom Science. Do you know if they adhere to all of the points you mention here?
    Thank you,
    Tiffany
    Thank you!


  • Doreen Shababy

    fantastic and informative article!


  • Stephanie

    Ack! I had a major typo in my meta-analysis! In-viTRO is a petri-dish or test tube experiment, while in-viVO is an experiment on a living organism.


  • Stephanie

    I decided to investigate the scholarly research in chaga/Inonotus obliquus, since I am both a scientist/engineer and one of those city folk that have heard that chaga has no confirmed medicinal uses and has seen it oversold as a miracle cure.

    The following are publicly available journal articles that have been cited over 100 times according to Google Scholar. For those unfamiliar with the crazy world of scientific journals, more citations tend to mean greater acceptance as “good research” by the scientific community — people don’t tend to reference things that they don’t think are important or true. The majority of papers I saw in my search had fewer than 50 citations, with a good chunk having less than 10, which is less than promising. I also limited the research to the past 15 years, just to shorten the list a bit and show more recent developments.

    I included a brief interpretation of the results, for those who don’t want to dig through the technical babble. Please take these with a grain of salt, as all interpretations of data are biased in some way, and it’s important to come to your own conclusions. I am also not a biologist, experienced herbalist, or have any schooling in related topics, though I do have a strong background in organic chemistry, am a budding herbalist specializing in psychoactive medicines (much like Sarah!), and have done a good deal of biomedical research in the name of understanding my medical conditions and treatments. Those caveats aside, interpretations by others tend to help those unfamiliar with the topic, and I do have enough general science chops to interpret data in new subject areas fairly decently.

    Paper 1

    Antioxidant effect of Inonotus obliquus, authored by Long Cui, Dong-Seok Kim, and Kyoung-Chan Park from Seoul National University. 236 citations on Google Scholar. Published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2005.

    http://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/31548710/Antioxidant_effect_of_Inonotus_obliquus.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1491181444&Signature=PD2e77TqQv8mtRxUCnCt%2FS4hAMk%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DAntioxidant_effect_of_Inonotus_obliquus.pdf

    Paper evaluates four different kinds of extracts of chaga for antioxidant activity against DPPH, superoxide, and peroxyl radicals (all quite potent oxidators) in-vitro. Additionally, they tested the protective effects of the antioxidants against oxidative stress in a human cell line (also in-vitro). Their conclusion was that several compounds in chaga have antioxidant effects, but traditional hot water extracts (chaga tea) don’t extract the best ones (polyphenols) in significant enough quantities to have notable effect. They temper this finding with other literature in the science community that have found that several other compounds in chaga actually promote oxidation and can be cytotoxic. The best method that they found of creating an extraction that exhibits healthy antioxidant and protective effects is pretty complicated, involving an ethanol extraction, dissolving in water at boiling temperatures, concentrating the liquid portion, mixing it with more ethanol and removing it to precipitate things, mixing it with ethyl acetate, and then taking out the top layer of the resulting liquid which is high in polyphenols.

    Paper 2

    Anti-cancer effect and structural characterization of endo-polysaccharide from cultivated mycelia of Inonotus obliquus, authored by Yong Ook Kim, Hae Woong Park, Jong Hoon Kim, Jae Young Lee, Seong Hoon Moon, and Chul Soo Shin from Yonsei University and Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB). 194 citations on Google Scholar. Published in Life Sciences in 2006.

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hae_Woong_Park/publication/7316572_Anti-cancer_effect_and_structural_characterization_of_endo-polysaccharide_from_cultivated_mycelia_of_Inonotus_obliquus/links/00b4953702387ca55e000000.pdf

    The endo-polysaccharide in question was also evaluated by Paper 1, who determined that general polysaccharides have good superoxide radical scavenging activity (a specific type of antioxidant activity, studied in-vitro) as has been confirmed by other mushroom studies, but was found to have no protective effect against oxidative stress in the human cells they investigated (also in-vitro). This paper goes further into the details, stating that isolated extracts have done well in reacting with specific chemicals or in cells, but that little work has been done on full organisms. They used mice with purified extracts of these chemicals (look at figure 1 to see the lengthy process, involving hot water extraction, adding ethanol, adding some more water, and a lot of other things). They found that the endo-polysaccharides didn’t kill cancer cells or normal cells directly, but the mice genetically predisposition to cancer had significantly fewer tumors over time and lived longer with injections of these chemicals. In other words, injections might prevent tumors through stimulating immune response, but they found it doesn’t directly kill tumors. They theorized that oral consumption would be more complicated and possibly ineffective. In their conclusions, they also mentioned that there’s a lot of contradictory research regarding similar mushroom extractions of these types of compounds both improving and worsening tumor growth.

    Paper 3

    Immuno-stimulating effect of the endo-polysaccharide produced by submerged culture of Inonotus obliquus, authored by Yong Ook Kim, Sang Bae Han, Hong Woen Lee, Hyo Jung Ahn, Yeo Dae Yoon, Joon Ki Jung, Hwan Mook Kim, and Chul Soo Shin from Yonsei University and KRIBB. 174 citations on Google Scholar. Published in Life Sciences in 2005.

    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Yong_Ook_Kim/publication/7773713_Immuno-stimulating_effect_of_the_endo-polysaccharide_produced_by_submerged_culture_of_Inonotus_obliquus/links/5774e14a08aead7ba06fb9cd.pdf

    This is the paper that directly led to Paper 2, aka the study that identified endo-polysaccharides as worth investigating further. Not really worth reading unless you want background on why Paper 2 exists. Their findings were that endo-polysaccharides are better than exo-polysaccharides, and that there was evidence that they did not kill tumors directly, but prevented them via improving immune response (the finding confirmed by Paper 2).

    Paper 4

    Antioxidant Small Phenolic Ingredients in Inonotus obliquus (persoon) Pilat (Chaga), authored by Yuki Nakajima, Yuzo Sato, and Tetsuya Konishi from Niigata University of Pharmacy and Applied Life Science. 112 citations on Google Scholar. Published in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin in 2007.

    https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/cpb/55/8/55_8_1222/_pdf

    These folks investigated the traditional hot water extract of chaga for antioxidant effect compared to other medicinal fungi. They found that it had the strongest anti-oxidant effects on superoxide and hydroxyl radicals in-vitro (which you may remember from Paper 1) out of the fungi they studied. Meanwhile, a methanol extraction provided a similar effect. They note that hot water extracts of the corky inner body had the same antioxidant effect as the hard black outer shell, but that methanol extracts of each part had different antioxidants. So, ultimately, there are different antioxidants in each part, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from a simple hot water extraction. They then go into detail about the specific antioxidants they found, but that’s not really relevant here. They suggest that the main antioxidants in extractions might be Melanin or polyphenols (the primary finding of Paper 1!).

    Paper 5

    New antioxidant polyphenols from the medicinal mushroom Inonotus obliquus, authored by In-Kyoung Lee, Young-Sook Kim, Yoon-Woo Jang, Jin-Young Jung and Bong-Sik Yun from KRIBB. 119 citations on Google Scholar. Published in Bioorganic and Medicinal Letters in 2007.

    http://robinschaga.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/New-Antioxidant-polyphenols-from-the-medicinal-mushroom-Inonotus-obliquus.pdf

    Guess what, it’s polyphenol time again. This paper assesses the antioxidant effects of a double methanol extraction of chaga, which was then separated using various solvents into major compounds. They tested the antioxidant activity against ABTS, DPPH, and superoxides in-vitro, finding that they’re quite good against ABTS and DPPH, but only moderately good at dealing with superoxides.

    Paper 6

    Biologically Active Compounds from Aphyllophorales (Polypore) Fungi, authored by Jordan K. Zjawiony from the University of Mississippi. 333 citations on Google Scholar. Published in the Journal of Natural Products in 2004.

    http://esa.ipb.pt/pdf/Refmush_15.pdf

    Ah, our first non-Asian paper and a very generic paper on various polypores, which is why it’s also heavily cited despite being a basic overview. This paper is good if you want to know more about specific compounds isolated from a variety of fungi, but that’s about it. For the bit specifically about chaga, it mentions an earlier finding that lignins (a compound related to polyphenols!) can inhibit HIV protease, but provides no novel data. And the paper that published that earlier finding was from 1998 with 103 citations on Google Scholar, focusing on a hot water extraction that they directly reacted with HIV-1 protease in-vitro.

    Meta-analysis

    It’s clear that the research has primarily focused on antioxidants and anti-cancer effects, with polyphenolics being the main category of compounds exhibiting those effects.

    However, the vast majority of the research is from South Korea from 2005-2007, which raises a lot of red flags. South Korea is a small country that has few research institutions compared to bigger countries like the United States, Canada, and the collective European Union. With the research focused around these couple years, it’s highly likely that all the results come from just a couple actual experiments that were shared widely within the Korean academic circles. Trust me, sometimes a single experiment can spawn a dozen papers. Japan was the other country that seemed to do novel work, and they’re suspiciously close to Korea and likely had some cross-research-work in a similar manner. Meanwhile, the lone non-Asian paper was a very rough overview that barely mentions chaga at all.

    All except one of the papers focus on very, very early research — isolating compounds and doing in-vitro (effectively petri-dish) experiments. These are great starting points, but you really have no idea how such chemicals will react in a full living organism based on putting chemicals together in a pot and seeing what happens. Living organisms are complicated and apparently only studied in-vitro (in a living organism) with mice with Paper 2. And even then, we have no idea how these compounds will effect humans; again, mice are a great starting point, and can often be used to identify more promising compounds, but there’s a great deal of difference between a mouse and a human.

    It’s clear that chaga isn’t well-researched, and most of the results have either been ignored or are considered questionable by the scientific community, based on the low citations of the majority of papers. The results of these particular papers suggest that the antioxidant and tumor-preventative effects of chaga are a result of the polyphenols and/or polysaccharides. There is extremely limited data that suggests it could do well against HIV-1 protease, which may or may not be extendable to viruses in general. It is possible that other compounds in chaga may be detrimental to the antioxidant effect, it is possible that traditional hot water extractions are not as effective as concentrated injections, and there is no evidence at all regarding oral consumption of chaga extractions being effective (oral consumption is nowhere near the same as bathing cells in chemicals, and much less effective than directly injecting compounds into the bloodstream which is more similar to bathing cells in chemicals).

    All the papers mention the use of chaga in traditional herbalism, and I do believe there is much lost and/or undiscovered knowledge in these traditional preparation that have worked for hundreds or thousands of years. Unfortunately, modern science just hasn’t caught up, or they just don’t care. So it’s sort of true that there is no modern scholarly research backing up the effects of chaga on humans, but there are plenty of anecdotal and historical accounts.

    Conclusion

    Take that as you will. Remain skeptical and do your research. Question my conclusions and look at the papers yourselves, educating yourself in the progression of medicinal studies, methods and their connection to actual usefulness in humans, and analyzing methods for flaws. Avoid sensationalist results that have extremely generalized claims that are too good to be true. Think about the things that you hear as data points, and come to your own conclusions while being wary of the human tendency to look for things that confirm your beliefs or to reject things that go against your beliefs just because they’re inconvenient. Consider that the people educated in science, herbalism, and ethnobiology probably have a better idea than a lay person in this area, too, and that community consensus does matter for ideas that are worth trusting.


Leave a comment


Please note, comments must be approved before they are published