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!

Lion’s Mane | The fuzzy and actually kind of cute mushroom for your brain

Lion’s Mane Mushroom

This beautiful mushroom, also called Yamabushitake (Latin name Hericium erinaceus) is well deserving of it’s hype as a powerful nootropic.

While many supplements do exists, Lion’s Mane is also an edible mushroom and can be found at Asian supermarkets, farmers markets and sometimes I’ll find it at my local health food store (ex. New Season) here in Portland, OR.

What is a nootropic?

Nootropics are “smart drugs” or cognitive enhancers that are drugs, supplements and other substances that may improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation.

While all edible mushrooms do contain immune supportive beta glucans in varying concentrations, Lion’s Mane’s specialty is it’s affinity with the nervous system. Nervous system health (or lack thereof) is associated with age-related cognitive decline, memory, mood and feelings of mental sharpness. And these are the areas where Lion’s Mane shines.

Mood and Depression

So about this year so far…I think that we are all reevaluating out mental space and can hopefully give more time and energy to those areas of our life that bring true fulfillment while minimizing areas that do not. Suffice to say, safe and healthy methods to boost mood are needed.

A 2019 study (here) shows promising research for therapeutic use of Lions Mane for depression, stating “It has been used to treat cognitive impairment, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Bioactive compounds extracted from the mycelia and fruiting bodies of H. erinaceus have been found to promote the expression of neurotrophic factors that are associated with cell proliferation such as nerve growth factors. … H. erinaceus may be a potential alternative medicine for the treatment of depression.”

Another study (here) also shows a reduction in both depression and anxiety in people taking Lion’s Mane for four weeks (compared to a placebo).

These uses correlate well with traditional uses of this mushroom, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine. They are also used frequently in Japan and Korea as both a food and as medicine for a wide range of complaints.

Mental Clarity, Focus and Memory

We all want to be sharp. One way that Lion’s Mane may promote mental acuity is by stimulating nerve growth factor. There are promising animal trials (here) as well as human studies. This study shows promising results for age-related cognitive impairment and memory in older adults. Another recent pilot study shows encouraging data with possible prevention of Early Alzheimer’s.

One area of interest that I think that will be explored more is if the combination of nerve-supportive properties of Lion’s Mane is further enhanced because of it’s immune balancing properties, since calming an overactive immune system may lower general inflammation (along with it’s high antioxidants content). This is more of my own Herbalist brain trying to connect dots, but there is a lot of exciting research on the horizon!

Lion’s Mane is native to North America, Europe and Asia, though I’d suggest finding a sustainable source or growing them at home to use. When eating mushrooms, don’t forget to cook them or process to get past their sturdy cell walls and access all their healthy goodness!

Vitamin D supplementation in respiratory infections | Scientific Research of Interest

There is a solid body of evidence in the scientific literature to support the notion of Vitamin D supplementation positively affecting health outcomes from respiratory infections.

Though whole food nutrition is important, some nutrients like Vitamin D are hard to come by in our modern diet

This study in the British Journal of Medicine, states that “Supplementation with vitamin D3 may reduce disease burden in patients with frequent RTIs.” Read the full article HERE.

As a supporter of holistic health, we here at Mossy Tonic tend to highlight a whole herb, whole food approach to well being over supplementation. That being said, Vitamin D is a nutrient that is hard to come by in our modern diet at sufficient amounts (see below), and the benefits from sunshine have real limitation.

Note the discrepancy of the RDA (recommended daily amount) of Vitamin D, at 600 IU (international units) and the much higher therapeutic daily dose of Vitamin D in the study, at 4,000 IU/day.

Natural sources of Vitamin D include beef liver, fish and egg yolk. While some traditional foods (like organ meet) contain higher amounts of Vitamin D, more modern diets can be lacking in vitamins and do not get anywhere close to the therapeutic doses of Vitamin D seen in these studies.

Sunshine assists in Vitamin D Production
The body makes vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun

Sunlight also helps our bodies produce Vitamin D, however variations in latitude, season and skin color affect how much we make. People living in middle and high latitudes (farther from the equator) have less sunlight and it’s limited even more during the winter months. Those will darker skin need more sunlight to produce Vitamin D because of the sun-protective quality of melanin. Because of these factors, sunlight cannot always be relied on to supply adequate amounts of Vitamin D.

That being said, I want to stress that is IS good to “soak up the sun” when you can and in healthy moderation as it still can be a good source of Vitamin D.

Additional Studies

Vitamin D Supplementation to Prevent Acute Respiratory Tract Infections: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Individual Participant Data” declares that “Vitamin D supplementation reduced the risk of acute respiratory tract infection among all participants”.

Vitamin D may reduce susceptibility to C.V-19-associated lung injury” by Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D.