Chaga Mushroom | The Perfect Autumn Adaptogen | Free Herbal Monograph

– Chaga Mushroom –

This article was featured in HerbRally’s herbal monographs selection

Unique, mysterious and generous, Chaga is one of my favorite medicinal mushrooms to work with. Especially through Autumn and winter, I love adding this gentle yet powerfully supportive mushroom into my daily routine. The flavor is fairly neutral with a hint of woody vanilla that goes beautifully in a cup of chai tea or coffee. Let’s get to know Chaga!

A chunk of Chaga in front of a photo of the Egyptian pyramids | By Tania Oceana

Common Names: Chaga, Cinder conk, Black mass

Species: Inonotus obliquus

Kingdom: Fungi

Family: Hymenochaetaceae

Description: The visible mass (the sterile conk) is actually the mycelia (AKA Sclerotia).  This has an irregular shape and it’s color goes from light brown/orange in the middle to a dark brown and black (due to melanin) towards the surface. The texture is like cork when fresh and wood bark when dry.

Habitat: Found most commonly on Birch trees (to which it is parasitic) as well as Alder, Beech and other hardwood trees in cold northern regions. Native habitats include Russia and the Northern regions of Europe, Asia and North America. Chaga slowly infects the tree (which lives 1-8 decades after infection) after settling in wounds such as after a branch breaks off. 

Parts Utilized: Most commonly it’s the Sclerotia harvested from a tree, though the mycelia can also be cultivated in grain as well. Unlike other common mushrooms, the fruiting body is rarely seen and rarely, if ever, used. Because the fruiting event is rare, occurring within a host tree towards the end of its life, it’s details are still wrapped in mystery.

Energetics: Neutral, very slightly drying

Taste: Neutral with a mild woody, sweet and very slight astringent tones

Actions: Immunomodulating, Immune Tonic, Antiviral, Antiinflammatory, Tonic, Anti-Tumor, Anti-Cancer, Adaptogen, Stomachic 

Well known constituents: Beta Glucans, polyphenols, polysaccharides, phenolic compounds, betulin, betulinic acid, triterpenoids

Sources: Organically grown, wild harvest (note: make sure to only get ethically wild harvested because popularity is increasing and the slow growing stands can become endangered!)

Medicinal Uses:

 Seasonal Immune support

Excellent for use starting the beginning of Autumn (or slightly before) for those with weakened immunity and worked with consistently throughout winter (especially in Northern regions where Vitamin D is harder to get via sunlight and cold and flu seasons occur). Chaga supports the immune system without overstimulating it, which is where it’s immunomodulating benefit comes in. You do not want or need your immune system to be stimulated constantly, and this could potentially aggravate autoimmune conditions, but you may want to strengthen immune function up to a good level to keep healthy throughout winter. This intelligent ability of immunomodulating herbs to balance immune function, rather than have a blanket stimulating or suppressing action, is one of nature’s gifts to us. 

Cancer prevention, treatment & treatment support

Both historic and current use for a variety of cancer treatment exist in Russia, and there is a lot of modern research backing up these uses (though some studies point to only benefiting certains types of cancer, like stomach for example, and not other types).

 In addition to working just with Chaga, there is also use as support during other conventional cancer treatments. One study on its anti tumor potential (source 1) : “for those who are in the process of chemotherapy administration of the fungus will not only chemosensitize the tumor cells and thereby increasing the chemotherapeutic effects, but also help to restore the compromised immunity and protect against ulcerative GI tract damage and other side-effects induced by chemotherapy.” 

General, Stomach & Intestinal Health

Chaga has an extremely high level of antioxidants and is helpful to protect against oxidative stress, DNA damage, inflammation and offers a cardioprotective benefit from reduction in overall inflammation. The antiinflammatory benefit also makes its way to the stomach and lower gastrointestinal system, making it a great ally for those with digestive disorders such as ulcers, gastritis, IBS, Chrones and Irritable Bowel Disease in particular. There is also some benefit for metabolic disorders and blood sugar balance, however due to the potential of endangerment, it’s advised to work with more local and abundant herbs for general metabolic support. 

Chaga goes great in a cup of cozy Chai tea or coffee

Preparation and extraction:

  • Water extraction: Simmer for 20+ minutes to 2 hours. Chaga can be strained out and resimmered 2-4 times before it starts to lose color and potency ( ie. why I see Chaga as generous)
  • Alcohol extraction: In tincture making, it’s best to use a double extraction method with mushrooms, especially hard ones. There will be alcohol and water extraction  done separately, then the liquid from both extractions will be combined. The two most popular methods are as follows: 1. Tincture Chaga in 95% alcohol for 2+ weeks. Strain, save and then decoct the Chaga in water for 30minutes – 2 hours. Strain and combine the liquid. Or 2. Decoct the chaga first, strain and save then tincture the Chaga in alcohol for 2+ weeks. Strain and combine liquids. 
  • Powder can be added directly to decocting teas and soups (before or during cooking to enhance extraction with heat)

History of Use: 

Recorded use in Russian Folk Medicine since at least the 16th century for cancers, consumption, digestive disease and general pain. Still used in Russia for stomach and intestinal diseases. The name Chaga comes from the Russian word for fungus, which originates from the Komi-Permyak (the indiginous people) of the Siberian Kama River Basin.There is also historical and modern use in Scandinavia, NE Asia, Alaskan as well as some uses in Japan and even Tibet.

Folklore

A Finnish tale: “There was a legend about the first man who discovered Chaga in the forest. He was older than old, a long white beard that trailed before him & a long stretch of snow-white hair that followed behind him. He was so old that he was unable to stand up straight, though found himself in one of the beautiful Birch forests of Suomi where he stumbled upon the first Chaga. Upon drinking it, it was said that his hair turned pitch black & his youth was fully restored both physically & energetically.” Possibly a tale about the benefits of Chagas high antioxidant content?

My Experience: Enjoying a freshly brewed cup of Chaga tea feels like such a cozy experience. The relaxation is mild enough for me to wonder if it’s coming not only from the ritual of enjoying a warm cup of tea but also that this herb is a fairly rare and mysterious winter dwelling forest medicine here to help support me through my own winters? Either way, I used to be that person who caught all the colds in winter, but since working with Chaga (as well as other building immune adaptogen herbs) I am more confident in my body’s ability to hold its own in our long, wet & cold Pacific NW winters.  

Other Interesting Information: 

Even though Chaga mycelium that is cultivated on grain has some betulinic acid, it is much higher when found on Birch trees. Since Birch trees also contain Betulinic acid, there may be a synergetic effect going on as the Chaga holds onto and somehow processes this compound to make it more bioavailable to us. This occurrence seems to play a significant role in Chagas cancer fighting magic. 

Possible Contraindications

Oxalates: there seems to be a relatively high amount of oxalates in Chaga, which may cause contraindications to emerge in the future (especially for use with those with kidney disorders). It does seem though that the traditional method of simmering/boiling and straining the chaga, rather than consuming the powder whole, can significantly reduce the risk of ingesting excessive oxalates. 

Immune stimulation: even though Chaga can beautifully balance the immune system, it can also have an immune stimulating effect as well which could potentially interfere with medications that purposefully suppress immune function.

Chaga Coffee Recipe by Tania Oceana
Chaga Coffee Recipe by Tania Oceana

BONUS RECIPE

It’s super simple to add Chaga into your favorite black tea or coffee latte!

Simply add 1-2 tsp of strong Chaga Tea (see extraction methods above) or 1-2 dropperful (aprox. 1-2 ml) to your tea or coffee before adding creamer. Stir in and add creamer, optional sweetness and other additions like cinnamon powder!

Sources

  1. “Deciphering the antitumoral potential of the bioactive metabolites from medicinal mushroom Inonotus obliquus” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32877719/
  1. Medicinal Mushrooms with Christopher Hobbs (lecture)
  1. The Mycophile Volume 47:1 The Chaga Story by Ron Spinosa
  1. “Bioactivity-based analysis and chemical characterization of cytotoxic constituents from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) that induce apoptosis in human lung adenocarcinoma cells” https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S037887411831403X
  1. Vital Ways School – Notes taken
  1. Inhibitory effects of a polysaccharide extract from the Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (higher Basidiomycetes), on the proliferation of human neurogliocytoma cells. Ning XB, Qi Luo Q, Li C, Ding ZY, Pang J, Zhao C. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2014;16(1):29–36.
  1. Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630179
  1. Savage GP, Nilzen V, Österberg K, Vanhanen L. 2001. “Soluble and insoluble oxalate content of mushrooms”. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 53: 293- 296.
  2. Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160565/

Rose Hip Apple Sauce | Simple, Healthy Recipe

Why would you want to eat Rose Hips?

Rose Hips by Tania Oceana
Rose Hips by Tania Oceana

Because they are chalk full of natural Vitamin C, tasty and they offer many holistic health benefits!

So what are Rose Hips & where do I get them?

If you’ve ever noticed pump, red and shiny orbs growing on rose bushes in fall, then you have seen rosehips! They are the fruit of the rose plant, and are edible – though watch out for pesticide use before consuming.

These fruits range in size, like roses do, from small and thin to large and fat. Some have ample sweet flesh while other have very little flesh and are mostly tart. A fresh, fat rose hip is a real treat!

Wild Rose in Oregon by Tania Oceana

Where do the grow? Anywhere where there are cultivated or wild roses – so mostly gardens and in the forest understory. They ripen up starting late Summer and are ready to harvest in Fall or sometimes early Winter. You want to be careful of the seeds because they have itchy hairs that are not pleasant to eat.

While fresh hips are a treat, dried hips are much more accessible and fairly easy and affordable to purchase. I highly recommend getting deseeded hips because it’s quite the process to separate them out yourself.

Did you know? Many edible fruits and berries belong to the Rose family, such as Apples, Peaches and Raspberries!

Rosehips as a Medicinal Herb & Food-as-Medicine Plant

Besides being very high in Vitamin C, rosehips also contain flavonoids, antioxidants, quercetin, pectin and more. This combination is beneficial for general and systemic inflammation and support healthy immune function.

Pictured: Dried, Fresh with other Rose Family plants and living Rosehip

There are too many health benefits to squeeze into one article, so check out this study entitled “Assessment of rosehips based on the content of their biologically active compounds” to learn more and how exactly these compounds benefit us via www.Sciencedirect.com

The various anti-inflammatory compounds can be useful in many inflammatory and autoimmune issues, such as arthritis, allergies and IBS.

The pectin is especially soothing to the digestive tract, and can help bulk up and moisten the contents in our bowels (such as with constipation).

“Rosehips contain a large range of important dietary antioxidants. The high antioxidant activity is mainly attributed to ascorbic acid that typically ranges from 3 g/kg to 40 g/kg [5], which is fairly more than any other commonly available fruits or vegetables” Sciencedirect.com

Incorporating wild and nutrient dense food into our diets is an excellent way to add variety and to “let food be thy medicine” as ancient Greek physician Hippocrates proclaimed.

Learn more about Roses HERE

OK So how do I prepare them?

Big batch of Rosehip Sauce from last year!

RECIPE TIME!

 Rose Hip Apple Sauce 
The Super Simple Healthy Snack!

 1/2 cup (or 1 part) Dried & Deseeded Rosehips

 1 cup (or 2 parts) Apple Juice (preferably Organic and 100% juice)* 

Add to a clean jar, combine by stirring and put a lid on. You want there to be room at the top of the jar so that the hips can expand. Put a label on your jar and refrigerate. The next day, or 24 hours later, check the consistency. Viola!

You can add more hips or juice to thin out or thicken up your sauce. The hips should be soft and the texture similar to apple sauce. You can use powdered Rosehips for a smoother texture, just make sure to break up any clumps.

Enjoy as a jelly, as a desert topping or straight out of the jar!

Check out my latest video on how and why to make Rosehip Applesauce

*Looking for a low or sugar free option? You can either use a juice with less sugar, cut the juice with water and/or substitute Stevia (a sweet and no-sugar herb). Since Stevia is so sweet, I suggest a ready-to-go product over the raw powder which varies quite a bit. My personal go to Stevia is this one by Pyrue because it doesn’t contain any fillers.

Bonus: More scientific studies on the anti-inflammatory benefits of Rosehips HERE

And last but not least, I’ve been asked a lot recently about herbs in addition to Vitamin C rich Rosehips to help support our immune system. Thankfully, there are many herbal allies that may help. Check out this quick read on immune boosting herbs!

– Stay Green!

By Herbalist Tania Oceana

Soft Skin Serum for Glowing Skin

More on Roses! Rose Hip Seed Oil for Beauty

Check out our SOFT Skin Serum featuring Rose Oil for healthy and beautiful skin!

ALSO CHECK OUT:

The Natural Approach to Beautiful Skin | CLEAR SKIN ACADEMY NOW OPEN!

And check out all of our articles here!

Rested | Herbs for Sleep

Finally the days are getting longer, the sky bluer. We are still practicing our quarantine habits of distancing and doing a lot online. For some, days can meld together and for many, the blue light of our addictive devices can stimulate our brains to stay up longer than we’d like, and reduce the restfulness of our sleep.

Thankfully, there are many herbal allies that may help.

Insomnia, the inability to fall and stay asleep, is incredibly common! The most common sleep issues are as followed

  1. Difficulty getting to sleep (not feeling tired or feeling tired but not able to fall asleep)
  2. Waking up in the night (one or more time, with or with out restless/shallow sleep and an inability to get back to sleep)
  3. Restless leg syndrome (which can cause or exacerbate the previous two complaints)

Since there are many contributing factors, let’s take a look at the most common.

Artificial light

Blue light interacts with the pineal gland, which secretes melatonin, which contributes to our circadian rhythm (and naturally correlates with the sun in the sky, thus helping to increase energy in the day and decrease it at night).

Try using a blue light filtering setting or app on your device, have a cut-off time for using devices (ideally at least 2-3 hours before bed) and dim home lights and replace blue-white lights with warm yellow lights.

Overthinking

I personally believe that this correlates with device use because we can access such vast and controversial information, as well as continue work and socialization at any hour. For the majority of human history and prehistory, late evenings and nights consist mainly of winding down activities rather than stimulating ones. It’s OK to sign off.

Some herbs which help to slow down and relax our nervous system include Passionflower (my personal favorite), Kava and Holy Basil. Slow deep breathes, relaxing music and peaceful literature are also underrated tools.

Relaxing Tea Blend

– 1 part Passionflower herb

– 1 Part Chamomile Flowers

– 1 Part Skullcap

Combine, and use 1tsp per cup of freshly boiled water. Steep covered for 3 minutes, strain, add sweetener if desired and enjoy.

Note: Stevia is a great herb for sugar substitution, keto and low carb diets. To learn more about how to utilize this naturally sweet herb, check out this article “Simply Add Stevia”.

Can’t Fall Asleep

Maybe you feel relaxed and are snuggled up in bed, but end up tossing and turning. Since there are many and varied factors individual to you, let’s just look at which herbs may be of most benefit.

Valerian | This stinky herb is well known as sleep herb, but did you know that one out of every ten people experience the opposite effect (increased energy)? This if definitely worth a try, especially if there’s accompanying muscle tension. Tip: add in a blend because of the pungent flavor.

Ashwagandha | Since this herb is an adaptogen, it’s commonly thought to be energizing, which is partly true. This herb helps to regulate and balance the body and energy levels long term, but I find it to be quote sleepy within 20 minutes of ingesting. The flavor is a bit like dirt, but can hide pretty well in a chai type drink (obviously without black tea or caffeine).

Hops | This resinous herb is very sedating, and a little goes a long way (which can also be said about it’s flavor). I like to use this herb in formulas rather than alone, mostly due to it’s very potent and somewhat harsh aroma/flavor. But it get’s the job done!

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Restless Leg Syndrome

I myself suffered from this for a time, and I found three factors which have since resolved this issue. One is caffeine, which if I ingest (in amounts larger than green tea) after around 4pm, stays in my system in sufficient quantities to disrupts my sleep schedule. A second is magnesium, which can relax muscle spasms. An herb high in magnesium is Oat straw, which is of benefit in restoring nervous system well being. There are also dietary and supplemental avenues of ingestion, in addition to an epsom salt bath which causes absorption through the skin. The last is actually a cannabis lotion. I’ve found that using a lotion of salve with mostly THC or a combination of THC and CBD (the two most popular cannabinoids) helps to relive spasms locally. I live in Oregon, so these products are widely available, and no you won’t feel a high when using a THC lotion topically on unbroken skin (though it’s a possibility with use on a mucus membrane).

Whatever your reasons for poor sleep, do what you can to increase the quality of this very important restorative process. You may already feel the correlation your mental and physical health have with your sleep. You deserve deep and restorative sleep!

Goodnight Tea Blend

– 1 part Valerian root

– 1 part Passionflower

– 1 part Lemon Balm

Combine and make a standard tea extraction, and I wouldn’t drink this 1/2-1 hour before bedtime.

And you gentle with yourself. Our minds want to “what if!” us all day long, but remind it that you are more than just your thoughts, and that it’s OK to say “give it a rest please” to your inner ego voice who’s yapping on and on. Long breath in, long breath out. You got this. Now go get those jammies on and brush those teeth!

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposed only and should not be taken as medical advice. Consult your doctor before starting any supplementation.