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Chaga – the antioxidant-rich superfood of the North

Chaga – the antioxidant-rich superfood of the North

Heli Koskinen

Chaga is a medicinal mushroom which has turned from a traditional natural remedy into one of the trendiest superfoods of today. Chaga mushroom grows on birch trees in colder climates. That is why it has been used a lot particularly in the Northern and Slavic countries and Russia where the health benefits of chaga have been passed on from generations to generations. Chaga is a superior source of antioxidants which is why it is most commonly used to support the immune system. Chaga is traditionally used to brew tea but it has also found its way into cosmetics and supplements.

What is chaga mushroom?

On the first look, chaga doesn’t exactly give the impression of being a superfood in high demand. Chaga is a black fungus which grows on the side of hardwood, usually birches, and resembles burned coal. It grows on the damaged parts of birches, such as cracks. Spotting chaga on the side of a tree means that the tree is reaching the end of its life.

Chaga grows on the side of birch trees.

Chaga grows on the side of birch trees.

Chaga is harvested from naturally-grown trees, though you need the landowner’s permission to do it. In order to respond to the great demand of this superfood, chaga has also begun to be cultivated in Finland. Finland is in fact a forerunner in utilizing chaga. The Finnish brands Four Sigmatic and KÄÄPÄ have evolved from startups into successful companies in just a few years and chaga is in a key role in both of the companies’ products. KÄÄPÄ is also the largest cultivator of chaga in Finland with a cultivation network the size of 200 hectares.

Health effects of chaga are of great interest

Chaga has been used in folk medicine around the world for centuries and the earliest documentation of its usage is from the 13th century. Chaga has been particularly known in Northern Europe, Russia, Baltic countries, Japan and Korea. Tea prepared from chaga has been used as natural medicine for centuries especially in Russia and other Slavic countries. In Karelia, chaga was used to treat all kinds of problems from flu to cancer. During the world wars, coffee was brewed from chaga as a substitute for regular coffee in Finland.

Chaga is one of the most powerful herbs found in the Finnish woods as it contains plenty of antioxidants. Other important nutrients found in chaga include vitamins (especially vitamin B), minerals such as iron and zinc, betulin, beta glucan, melanin and amino acids.

The health effects of chaga are nowadays under great interest. The amount of clinical trials made with chaga are very limited but scientific research on the effects of chaga has been conducted in cell cultures. The results with cell culture research have been promising: chaga has been found to function as antioxidants, kill certain cancer cells and decrease inflammation. Research done with mice has also indicated that chaga can slow down the progression of cancer. However, these results can not be generalized to concern humans as well which is why more research needs to be done on humans.

Chaga is beneficial when used internally and externally

After chaga is harvested it is dried and ground. Dried and ground chaga is most commonly used to prepare tea, extracts or cosmetics. Chaga is even added to chewing gums or xylitol products.

Please note that chaga should not be used if you are taking blood-thinning medication, antibiotics or injected glucose.

Chaga in drinks

Chaga has a mild and a slightly sweet taste. You can also note the mushroom flavour in drinks made of chaga. Honey and cardamom are often used in chaga drinks to complement the flavor of chaga, as it is very mild on its own.

Here is a simple recipe for brewing chaga tea:

  • Add 1–2 teaspoons of chaga powder to 0,5–1 liters of water, depending on how strong you like your tea. Puhdistamo Instant Chaga is perfect for making chaga tea!
  • Brew the tea for at least 15 minutes so that as much nutrients as possible are dissolved in the water.
  • Add honey, cardamom or cinnamon and enjoy!

If you are more of a coffee drinker, you can also add chaga in your coffee. Try for example this recipe:

  • one cup of black coffee
  • ½ teaspoon of chaga powder
  • ½ teaspoons of honey
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut oil
  • cinnamon or cardamom

If you prefer to get the benefits of chaga without brewing hot drinks, you can try liquid chaga extracts or elixirs. Chaga extracts are ready-to-consume drops which can be enjoyed as such or added to hot or cold drinks, smoothies or in yogurt.

Chaga in cosmetics

In addition to drinks and supplements, chaga is also used externally in cosmetics. Chaga contains betulin which can be found in birch sap and bark. Betulin efficiently reduces inflammation and stimulates the production of healthy cells. Many kinds of creams and salves have been made from chaga to treat atopic skin, psoriasis, varicose veins, insect bites and small wounds.

You can find chaga powders, extracts, cosmetics and supplements in our selection. Find your favorites!

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