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/

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!

Healthy Habits and Lung Support

Written by Tania Ocean. Updated 1/8/21

Wishing anyone reading this health, happiness and support during this difficult time. Please reach out with more questions or if you cannot access herbs that you are looking for.

So, you probably already know about how the “Rona” spreads and how to use good hygeine and social distancing to reduce spread. If not, please read about it via the CDC here .

What I would like to share is a Western Herbal perspective on at-home tools for those interested in this holistic approach including herbs and daily habits.

Powerful and easily accessible Herbal Allies

First and foremost: Herbs for a cough when a cough is not just a cough. There are wet coughs, dry ones, productive, spastic and more, and a they can change with time. An herbal tactic is to balance out the system. Since the virus is commonly seen with a cold, dry cough, the aim is to employ herbs which warm up, disperse, moisten and expectorate the congested lung cough.

Adding herbs that also posses antimicrobial and anti-viral properties is also helpful. While this is a virus, it’s not uncommon for bacterial infections to also occur or intensify when the immune system is busy fighting off a viral infection.

Next, we need moisture, because the cough is dry, even if there is phlegm that comes up occasionally. And we need warmth, to thin and allow expulsion of the stuck phlegm. To aid in the breaking up and expulsion of phlegm are the expectorants. This is a property that an herb has, and can be found in many different herbs, some cooling and some warming. And lastly, it would be great to add an herb with anti-microbial properties in support of our own hard working white blood cell defense.

OK, so may be asking “Well then which herb should I use for this?” This question is well suited to an allopathic approach, but is not as objective within the broad paradigm of traditional healing systems such as Western Herbalism. Often, answer is usually “Well, there are many options, but it depends.” What is depends on is the issue a person is having, what other imbalances and health qualities that person possesses. This includes their organ system or immune weaknesses or excesses (for example, does this person have respiratory allergies?), their history, mental state, lifestyle and what medications they may be taking. And also important, is the fact that many herbs do so many things that if I looked up “Lung Herbs”, I could find a list of 100’s, in not more, different herbs that help the lungs in one way or another. They are very different and can have very different affects on the lungs. One can be perfect for one person and cause more issues for another. This is often a mismatch of “this good herb” for an specific issue, but sometimes it’s also just a mysteriously bad match for someone.

OK are you still with me? Good. Now let’s get into the Herbs and healthy habit.

Herbs

Kitchen staples; raw garlic and seasoning herbs

Garlic – A classic, raw garlic is warming, stimulation (easily penetrates through the body), is potently anti-microbial against both bacteria and viruses. It is warming and drying, though it does contain a bit of oil for lubrication. Great teammate to have and benefits greatly with other complimentary herbs.

Elecampane– This pungent herb is not as common, but posses strong moving, warming and expectorant properties.

Coltsfoot – A little goes a long way to help and unproductive cough to ramp up for a bit, effectively expel annoying phlegm so that a cough can then settle back down.

Licorice – While licorice root is often underrated, it is mildly helpful in so many ways that it almost seems unlikely. It is moistening to the respiratory tract and is an expectorant. It is mildly anti-viral, it soothes digestive issues in a wide range (from constipation, indigestion and loose bowels notably). It is naturally sweet and little bit in a formula compliments both the flavor and action.

Marshmallow Root – This soothing herb is very different than the above ones in flavor, feel and effect. Instead of being spicy or stimulating, this herb is neutral to almost sweetish in flavor, and becomes slimy in texture. When is comes to dry, irritated tissues and mucus membranes, slime can be your friend. The slick quality of Marshmallow soothes and protects the respiratory and digestive systems. This can help soften up stuck mucus so that it can more easily dislodge from the lungs. It also soothes an irritated throat. For irritation in the stomach, with for example acid reflex (possibly exacerbated for some with garlic or tomatoes consumption), this herb helps to coat and neutralize the burning.

With the above herbs, which together are a great team, you could make a strong, simmered tea with the Elecampane, Coltfoot and Licorice, eat a bit of raw garlic with a meal and between meals add some Marshmallow to water and drink it down. This would ideally be done 3 times a day if mild symptoms were present. For strong tea, use at least a tablespoon of each herb per cup of water (use a tsp for Coltsfoot).

Note: I am not a doctor and this information is for educational purposes only. For specifics in doses and measurements, please see the resources below.

So now that you may feel excited to try these herbs, you may not have access to them. That’s OK. These are great examples of useful herbs, but they are not the only, or “best” ones. So, here are some great substitutes.

Additional Herbs

Spicy peppers help to move circulation and warm the body

Instead of Garlic, Ginger, both fresh and dried, also posses strong antimicrobial, warming and diffusive properties. Other spicy herbs such as Cayenne also help to loosen phlegm and warm up the body with enhanced circulation.

Instead of Marshmallow, Slippery Elm is used in a similar way and for similar purposes. In you can’t find that, then Linden is good, and if you’re thinking “I’ve never heard of these!” then just know that if you have flaxseeds or chia seeds, then the slime of them can suffice (if prepared as to access their slime, ex. making and consuming flax “gel” instead of just eating dries flax).

Cinnamon – Another underrated herb, classic cinnamon possesses warming, moistening and mild anti-microbial properties. Personally I find this herb to be delicious and relish adding the powder onto fruits (especially apple), in desserts, over coffee or into Chai tea (yes, even though Chai often already has Cinnamon). It can also help to sweeten up an herbal formulas with some of the more bitter tasting herbs listed above

If you can’t find Coltsfoot or Elecampane, then Yerba Santa is a great option for dispelling lung phlegm. It is a resinous leaf that is common in the Southwest portions of North America and especially the drier areas in California. Thyme is also a nice substitute.

Stinging Nettles | Photo by Tania Oceana

Bonus for those with Asthma and Allergies: Nettle is a nourishing herb that slowly, with consistent use, can help to build the strength of the respiratory tract and lower the allergic response. Also known as Stinging Nettles, this herb is also a great food herb and it’s high nutrient and mineral content supports general health and more specifically hair, nails and bone health.

Preventative Immune Support

These herbs are taken consistently and ideally taken at least a few weeks before an infection arises. At least one dose per day is great.

Reishi, Chaga and Maitake are featured in our Trilogy Blend Mushroom Tincture

Mushrooms – There are mushrooms that are more intense in their support of immune strength, but all mushrooms are at least a little bit helpful due to their Beta-glucan content. The heavy hitter for now though is Reishi, though Chaga and Shitake are also great. What’s great about mushrooms is that even the heavy hitters with many impressive studies under their belts, they are still very safe and can often be consumed in large and consistent doses. Soup, tea, extract and double-extracted tincture are all great. They just must be proceeded in a way that makes them bio-available, such as heat (boiling) or as with powdered mycelium. Top or bottom (fruiting body or mycelium), it’s all good!

Astragalus – A great, moistening and immune building herbs with a particular liking for chronically inflamed or past-injured lungs. A daily tea is great or it can be added into soup stock.

Dandelion Root – This herb stimulates digestion and supports liver function. If you are someone who deals with constipation, uses substances that are hard on the liver (alcohol, for example), eats processed or hard-to-digest food often, eat excessively or has an excessive hormonal load (ex. acne associated with the menstrual cycle), then your body and immune system may be more distracted by “cleaning up” extra metabolic waste and associated inflammation. This strains the eliminating organs (the liver and skin in particular), and in their excessive maintenance, they may not have as a robust response to an infection and the extra toxic load of spent white blood cells piling up. The metaphor is that when the body has extra support in decluttering and thus quelling excess inflammation, it can focus more efficiently at supporting a strong immune battle.

I can’t help myself, I have to mention sleep, nourishing food and mental and emotional hygiene– you need them if you want to support your immune system. Journaling, meditating, stretches, breath work and other self care practices go a long way to ease the mind so that your immune system can stay focused and strong. Relaxation supporting herbs include Passionflower, Skullcap and Chamomile.

Other Supportive habits

This virus thrives in cold. Keeping warm by eating hot tea and food, dressing warmly and yes, refriening from galavanting in the cold rain, are helpful. The idea of choosing to support a mild fever can be important to note even if it’s a controversial idea. While rarely a fever can increase to a harmful excess, a mild fever is a natural response by the body to kill invading pathogens. Personally, I like to encourage a fever until it breaks with some hot, spicy tea, a hot bath and a nap wrapped in two blankets.

Fasting. Intermittent fasting seems to benefit a healthy immune response, and is a way to reduce the work load of the whole body from digestion (an energy heavy process) to general body maintenance (healing inflammation) and active immune defense. (See sources below for studies on fasting).

Vitamin D supplementation. Because of the lack of strong sunlight in winter months (in much of the world outside of the equatorial zone), and rarity of eating traditional foods high in Vit. D such as liver, many are deficient. Vitamin D assists the immune system (and well as many other bodily systems) and there are various studies linking supplementation with better viral outcomes (here is one). Note that the RDA may be higher than previously thought, so ask a doctor or natural practitioner about dosing.

Sugar reduction. Refined, added sugar can unfortunately suppress our immune system. Be aware of and avoid added sugar, but don’t worry too much about natural sugars in whole foods like fruit. (For a handy guild to differentiating the sugars in food, check out this guild to understanding the new food nutrition label. Thankfully it’s easier to differentiate between the sugars now!) Tip: Tasty sugar-free recipes and tips to start your year off well here.

Lavender helps calm the nerves and the lungs

Bonus! Herbal steam. Inhaling warm, herbally aromatic vapor can help to calm a cough, loosen phlegm and enhance relaxation (especially with Lavender). You can use fresh or dried herbs such as Eucalyptus, Thyme or Lavender. You can also use the essential oils of these herbs, though use caution with both the doses (a little goes a long way) and make sure the steam isn’t too hot. (While I don’t endorse any particular essential oil brand, just try to find a local, Organic source ideally and one that’s not part of a MLM scheme).

Note: some herbs can be wildharvested in a way that threatens their endangered status. Please be aware of your sourcing. If you are a local in Portland, Home Grown Apothecary sources Organic and Ethically wild-harvested herbs.

Sources and Additional Links

I want to express gratitude for work many nationally recognized Herbalists and holistic medical professional are doing. They are spending their time researching, testing and compiling information to give out free for the benefit of the people. Special thank you to Dr. Aviva Romm, Jim McDonald, Yarrow Willard, 7Song, Paul Bergner and many more! Your insights are so valuable.

On Garlic’s antibiotic power: Allium sativum: Antibiotic and Immune Properties by Paul Bergner

Co19 Prevention: From Commonsense to Natural Remedies (& Avoiding Nonsense!) by Aviva Romm MD

An Herbalist’s Notes on the CO-19 Virus 7Song Northeast School of Botanical Medicine

Fasting and Ashtma – A Pilot Study To Investigate the Immune-Modulatory Effects of Fasting in Steroid-Naive Mild Asthmatics.

Intermittent Fasting Confers Protection in CNS Autoimmunity by Altering the Gut Microbiota


More info in Fasting by Dr. Françoise Wilhelmi de Toledo. A video here and compilation of studies here (Note, this doctor works with short (ex. intermittent) and long fasts (3+ Days). Longer fasts should only be done with medical supervision and ideally as prevention.)

Chaga Mushroom Tea

A food-as-medicine ally, Chaga Tea is a comforting, neutral flavored and deep dark brew.

Small chunks of Organically grown Chaga Mushroom, 2019

This unique mushroom looks like knotted bark, and is a blessing for those who do not enjoy the common texture and flavor or mushrooms.

Chaga is found in Northern Forests, usually on birch trees, in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Chaga colonizes tree wounds, and while it slowly draws nutrients from the tree, it also offers its antimicrobial properties to protect the wound from invasion of other harmful organisms.

Chaga is most well known for it’s adaptogenic properties. An adaptogen is an herb which helps to slowly strengthen and balance our immune response, stress response and hormone system (which is affected by an excessive stress response). Instead of overstimulating the immune system, which may aggravate autoimmune issues, an adaptogen helps to slowly build up a more proportionate response – one that can better target actual threats such as viral infections. This makes is a great daily tea to drink before the cold and flu season.

Bonus Health Benefit: Chaga has one of the highest antioxidant content of any food!

Chaga Tea

HOW TO BREW

  1. Find a good, Organic or Ethically Wild Harvested source of Chaga
  2. Use 1tsp of small chunks (or 1Tbsp of larger chunks) of Chaga per 1 cup of boiling water
  3. Combine water and Chaga into a pot, cover with a lid and simmer on low for 20+ minutes (if they are larger chunks you can simmer for 40 minutes)
  4. Strain into a mug or jar. Keep the Chaga bits! They can be re-brewed until the brown color fades
  5. Let cool until warm. Enjoy alone, added into Chai tea, coffee, or other teas. Add milk of choice and sweetener as desired
  6. Refrigerate strained bit and use within the month. Freshly brewed, plain chaga tea can last a couple of days when refrigerated.

Interested in learning more? Check out these sources!

Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15630179

Antiinflammatory and Immunomodulating Properties of Fungal Metabolites https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1160565/

COMMENTS

  1. Pretty great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I’ve really loved browsing your blog…