One of the developing trends for foods and beverages in particular may well reside with the chaga mushroom. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is particularly interesting at the moment and is rivalling cordyceps for some interesting medicinal and health benefits in the mushroom family.
To be honest if you saw the chaga you would be forgiven for thinking what on earth a small, chubby looking mushroom might do with such enormous media appeal. In fact does it not even look that much like a mushroom – I leave that to readers to decide on looking at the picture.
What is Chaga ?
Chaga is described as white rot fungus from the Hymenochaetaceae family of the Basidomycetes type of fungi. It looks like a charcoal black mass of mycelia with an irregular shape and is often found protruding from cut parts of birch trees mainly although other trees are affected. It is predominantly found in Northern Europe especially Russia and the sub-Arctic.
The fungus is parasitic in many respects but fortunately non-toxic. The dark, rather hard and dry cracked exterior, often looks like a piece of burnt charcoal. This is the sclerotium. The interior has a rusty yellow-brown colour.
Tea is the most popular vehicle for this mushroom. The mushroom has been used in folk medicine throughout Russia and much of western Siberia from the 1500s onwards (Hartwell, 1982; Spinosa, 2006).
It has gained popularity as a tea in Mongolia and China for many years but had started to gain increased credibility in the West because of its many touted health properties.
Preparation Of Chaga Tea
The most popular way to consume chaga is by preparing a delicious cup of tea. the recipe below was supplied by one of our contacts in Buddha Teas who recommended this foolproof method. They also supply teabags if you don’t want to go through the longer winded approach.
- Crumble the chaga mushroom into roughly 10g chunks
- Grind a portion to powder using a blender or coffee grinder.
- Place one teaspoon or two if preferred into a tea infuser to make the tea.
- Place the tea infuser into a large mug and pour in about 400 ml of hot water.
- Leave the chaga and hot water steeping for at least 5 minutes. the longer the better to extract the health components from the fungus.
- Remove the infuser from the mug and add maple syrup, lemon or orange, or honey to taste.
It contains contains many polyphenolic compounds including triterpenoids such as betulinic acid derivatives, melano-glucan complexes, steroids and ergosterol peroxides (Kang et al., 2015). It’s likely I. obliquus contains these compounds because of its close association with silver birch which produces compounds like betulinic acid and betulin.
A group of lanostane-type triterpenes have been characterised from the fungal head (Sagayama et al., 2019).
The polysachharides of which there are many include the following sugars: rhamnose, arabinose, xylose, mannose, glucose, and galactose.
Indeed the antioxidative capacity of this mushroom is ‘enormous’ for want of a better expression. Weight for weight it has one of the highest ORAC values measured.
There are many benefits ascribed to the fungus. The most interesting are the following:-
Immune Role For Chaga
Chaga is full of beta-D-glucans and these have a role to play in supporting the immune system. It is regarded as a Biological Response Modifier (BRM). This means that is helps to iron out fluctuations for want of a better term in response to various types of immune challenge.
There is some role in protecting immune cells such as lymphocytes but the nature of the clinical benefit has yet to be established. However, there is a strong association with improving immune resposnse and this impact sin a number of health arenas (Park et al., 2004).
There is a long history of use in using chaga to treat cancers (Szychowski et al., 2018). The extracts of chaga are active against various cell cancer lines such as liver cancer cells (Youn et al., 2008). The use of chaga may well support other cancer reduction strategies especially in conjunction with other pharmaceuticals. The mechanisms have yet to be worked out but there appears to be an excite g role in stemming the aggressive nature of cancer cells. It is apparent that a large amount of clinical work is required to demonstrate how effective the various lignans are but there is evidence from related studies with other mushroom species that they hold great promise and deserve further examination.
One recent study found that the ergosterol peroxides could suppress the growth and proliferation of a colorectal cancer cell line. The mechanism appears to involve down-regulation of an important pathway, the beta-catenin pathway in colorectal cancer cell lines (Kang et al., 2015). It could be a potential treatment for such a cancer.
Anti-Microbial, Anti-Viral and Antibacterial Benefits
One of the most interesting and intriguing effects of the polysaccharides and lignin from Inonotus spp. is their activity against AIDS like virus particles. It’s an area to be developed and one that shows especially exciting promise.
Gastrointestinal Issues, Ulcers and Gastritis
The immune boosting or ameliorating benefits of chaga help it to act as a type of prebiotic. The prebiotic aspect deserves more study and increases the amount of Bacteroidetes in the gut. These are beneficial bacteria and ones to be promoted.
It has been used throughout eastern medicine for managing gastrointestinal issues. It appears to ameliorate the effects of the ulcer causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori. It seems to sooth the stomach my helping to modify the stomach lining and reduces the severity of the ulcerous symptoms.
Another exciting possibility is the management of acute pancreatitis. here, the polysaccharide helps regulate the gut bacteria which is altered during this unpleasant condition (Hu et al., 2017). the study has so far been conducted in mice but there is excitement here over the poossibilities and potentially a way of reducing the development of pancreatic cancer which so far has eluded treatment using modern medicine.
The Presence of Betulinic Acid
The chaga mushroom picks up betulinic acid amongst other components from birch trees and this compound has been shown to have some interesting clinical benefits which we’ve discussed elsewhere. The main interest is in the reduction of blood borne LDL cholesterol which is the ‘bad cholesterol’ in the blood stream.
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