Chaga mushrooms are immensely popular in natural medicine for the various health benefits they provide.
However, due to their in-demand status, foragers are starting to overharvest chaga, which could have negative effects on the future of this adaptogenic mushroom and even lead to extinction.
Let's look into the two sides of chaga mushrooms and what you can do to prevent overharvesting.
What are Chaga Mushrooms?
Chaga mushrooms (Inonotus obliquus) are sterile conks that grow on birch trees. Known as one of the healthiest fungi in the world, these mushrooms have become quite popular in alternative medicine over the last decade. They prefer cooler climates, which is why they mostly grow in northern Europe, Asia, and North America.
Chaga mushrooms provide an abundance of health benefits. For example, a study done on diabetic mice indicates that Inonotus obliquus could aid in diabetes management, thanks to its ability to lower blood sugar levels.
In addition to its anti-diabetic properties, this medicinal mushroom lowers cholesterol levels, boosts immunity, and keeps your hair and skin healthy.
Chaga also shows great potential to fight cancer, thanks to its ability to slow down the spread of cancer cells and aid in their destruction.
Some of the most prominent potential health benefits of chaga mushrooms include:
- increases the production of white blood cells and reduces inflammation
- promotes tumor cell apoptosis and provides anticancer effects
- relieves sleep disorders
- treats skin issues
- lowers blood pressure
- aids in the treatment of autoimmune diseases
- lessens oxidative stress
Medicinal Compounds Found in Chaga
Chaga contains over 400 bioactive compounds, all with unique benefits. Some of the most talked-about compounds found in Inonotus obliquus are:
- ergosterol peroxide
- betulinic acid
While researchers are only starting to look into the potential of many of these compounds, some are already known to have profound effects. For example, polysaccharides found in chaga fruiting bodies were proven to treat chronic illnesses and prevent metabolic disorders.
The Two Sides of Chaga
Inonotus obliquus has a history of medical use in eastern medicine. This mushroom appears to lower blood sugar levels, improve the immune response, and even combat abnormal cell growth.
Unfortunately, the many benefits chaga provides are the reason this fungus is being overharvested. According to United Plant Savers, chaga mushrooms are at serious risk of extinction due to overharvesting.
This mushroom grows on birch trees, a tree species commonly found in boreal forests. However, this parasitic fungus can only infect, and therefore grow, on one in every 20,000 birch trees, making it extremely rare.
In recent years, more and more people are turning to plant medicine, with chaga being among the most popular and well-researched medicinal fungi.
Thanks to the many medicinal properties of chaga, this fungus has become more in demand than ever, and foragers are overharvesting it to meet those demands.
The Problem with Overharvesting Chaga Mushrooms
When the life cycle of chaga mushrooms is over, they fall to the ground and release spores. The wing and animals then spread out those spores all over the boreal forest, where they find new host trees.
Chaga harvested while it's still young and edible won’t be able to release spores. Thus, when you find chaga growing on birch trees, it’s important not to harvest all of the fungi you find. Leaving some chaga mushrooms on the trees ensures they’ll release spores when the time comes.
However, many foragers, especially amateur ones, go all-in when they harvest chaga. Since this mushroom is hard to find and worth a lot of money, foragers often take all the fungi they can get their hands on, leading to overharvesting and improper harvesting, which can damage both the tree and the fungus.
What Can You Do About Chaga Overharvesting?
Whether you want to start harvesting chaga or using it for its health benefits, it’s important to look into what you can do to prevent further overharvesting of this fungus.
What Foragers Can Do
If you’re new to harvesting chaga, look into safeguarding techniques you can use when harvesting to keep both the mushrooms and the birch trees safe. Additionally, learn to differentiate chaga from other sterile conks that are similar in appearance, so you don’t cause any unnecessary destruction while harvesting.
What Consumers Can Do
If you're not a forager, you can prevent overharvesting by looking into the companies you're buying chaga supplements from. Whether you’re buying chaga powders, teas, or foods fortified with chaga extracts, only shop from companies that source their chaga mushrooms ethically.
Are You Interested in Taking Chaga Mushrooms?
If you’re interested in trying chaga mushrooms, what better way to do so than a delicious bowl of cereal you’ll enjoy starting your day with?
Forij Superfood Granola is a vegan and gluten-free granola with high-quality, organic ingredients. It contains an ethically sourced, hyperconcentrated chaga powder, as well as lion’s mane and cordyceps mushrooms, which pack an abundance of benefits, as well.
You can choose from three delicious flavors: sunflower seed cacao, cinnamon, and vanilla almond. Or get a bundle with all three flavors if you can’t decide on just one!
The Two Sides of Chaga FAQ
Does chaga have side effects?
There is no research on the side effects of chaga mushrooms, but centuries of use and anecdotal evidence suggest that this mushroom is completely safe. Still, you should be cautious of certain drug interactions when taking chaga.
In a 2006 study, a chaga aqueous extract inhibited platelet aggregation, leading to slow blood clotting. In healthy individuals, this results in a reduced risk of blood clots. However, if you have a bleeding disorder or are having surgery soon, chaga mushrooms may increase the risk of bleeding.
Who should not drink chaga tea?
For generally healthy individuals, it’s completely safe to consume chaga supplements, including chaga tea. However, people with bleeding disorders should be cautious, as these medicinal mushrooms slow down blood clotting, which could lead to excess bleeding if you get hurt.
Although there is no research to suggest chaga tea could be unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding people, many choose to avoid chaga tea during pregnancy, as well as other adaptogenic and herbal teas.
How long does it take chaga to work?
You need to take chaga every day for about two to three weeks before you start noticing results. Over time and with regular use, its effects will be more pronounced, especially if you’re taking the medicinal mushroom for its immunity-boosting and anti-cancer properties.
Can you use the black part of chaga?
While you can’t eat the black outer layer (sclerotium) of chaga mushrooms raw, you can certainly reap its benefits by taking it in powder form.
The black part of chaga is full of antioxidants and contains a high concentration of melanin. If you want to reap these benefits, look for supplements made of whole chaga mushrooms and eat chaga fortified foods that use the whole mushroom.
Is chaga good for your skin?
Both in vivo and in vitro studies suggest that chaga provides amazing skin benefits. A test-tube study looked at the anti-melanogenesis effect of this mushroom. The chaga mushroom extract was proven to protect the skin from the sun and prevent dark spots by slowing down the synthesis of melanin complexes.
How much chaga can I take?
Though chaga is incredibly healthy, you shouldn't exceed a daily dose of Inonotus obliquus of 1-2 tablespoons. Generally, you should aim for up to 2000 mg of chaga per day. Chaga is high in oxalates, which won't cause issues if you don't consume too much of it, but can cause kidney issues due to overconsumption.
The information provided in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or illness. The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by a healthcare professional or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).