The name makes me think of its immunity-boosting powers barreling through our bodies like a locomotive. Though appearing to be a conglomeration of coal or a large gnarled tumor, chaga mushroom actually has significant healing potential. Nature certainly has a way of visually communicating its intrinsic use — because despite its tumor-like appearance, chaga has come to be known for its tumor [cancer] fighting qualities. This fungus is chock full of antioxidants, which protect human cells from free radicals [that can cause cancer]. Adaptogenic in profile, it also helps our body cope with stress and bring us back to a state of balance, thus increasing our resiliency to disease and mood disorders.
Historically, this mushroom has been predominantly revered and utilized in Eastern European countries among botanical and folkloric medicine. Its cancer combating benefits have even been captured in literary prose, via an appearance in Russian novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1967 novel, Cancer Ward. Its popularity in the West is only a recent phenomenon.
Being parasitic, mushroom hunters in Western North Carolina can find Inonotus obliquus clinging to the trunk of mature black, paper or yellow birch trees. As is the case with other fungi, the mushroom and the tree can remain healthy companions for many years before it is detrimental. Therefore harvesting can [and should] be done mindfully and over time, allowing for the fungus to regenerate and providing protection for the life of the tree. Responsible foraging is essential to preserving the ecological balance in our forests. Using small chiseling utensils, one can chip pieces away without cutting into the tree or disturbing the part of the chaga that is sealing the wound it has inflicted on the trunk of the tree. Once you have harvested your chaga and bring it home, break it apart into smaller pieces and allow it to dry for several weeks.
Unlike many of its fungi brothers and sisters, chaga is most potent and best consumed as a tea. After you have dried your pieces of chaga, you can simmer small pieces in water or crush them further into powder for steeping as a tea. Steeped on its own, the flavor resembles a strong black tea, you might want to get a bit creative with your chaga concoction to enjoy the medicinal perks while keeping your tastebuds happy. I recommend first trying the recipe below adapted from Mother Earth News and chilling it in the fridge for a couple of hours to cool you down as the weather gets warmer here in Asheville.
Iced Chaga Chai Recipe
(Adapted from Mother Earth News Magazine)
• 4 oz chaga chunks or powder
• 1 cinnamon stick
• 2 tsp dried orange peel
• 1 tsp dried rose hips
• 1 tsp cardamon pods
- 1 tsp coriander seeds or powder
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
• 1 tbsp fresh ginger, thinly sliced [or try candied ginger if you’re feeling adventurous!]
Blend all dry herbs together and store in a mason jar with a tight lid. Boil 4 tablespoons of the chaga blend together with the fresh [or candied] ginger in 1 quart of water until a rich and dark in color. Strain and chill overnight in the fridge. Mix with equal parts dairy, coconut or almond milk and your sweetener of choice (raw sugar, honey or maple syrup).
Reposted from my writings on the Ashevillage Blog