For centuries people in Eastern Europe have been drinking chaga tea for its many health benefits. Chaga tea is made from the chaga mushroom, which typically grows on the trunks of birch trees in the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, you will typically find it in the Northeast.
The Latin name for chaga mushroom is Inonotus obliquus, but other common names include:
- birch conk
- cinder conk
- clinker polypore
Walking through a forest, you may mistake the chaga mushroom for a clump of dirt or a burnt section of the tree. At first glance, this fungus has the appearance of burnt charcoal or simply dirt. But if you look closer, you will find a nutrient-rich, rusty, yellowish-brown interior.
Cancer Prevention and Fighting
Several studies have found that substances present in chaga may effectively prevent cancer and slow tumor growth. One study showed that a hot water extract of chaga mushroom inhibited the growth and promoted the death of colon cancer cells. Another study suggests that chaga mushrooms may be beneficial in the development of anticancer drugs. Although these studies show promising results, further human research is needed to determine the effectiveness of using chaga to fight or prevent cancer.
Immune System Function
Beta-D-glucans found in chaga mushrooms help balance your immune system. This means that they can stimulate your immune system when you need a boost and downregulate it when it is overactive.
Reduction of Inflammation
Cytokines in your body, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, are responsible for inflammation. Betulinic acid, inotodial, and ergosterol peroxide are compounds in chaga that help reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of cytokines.
The outer portion of the chaga mushroom (sclerotium) contains high amounts of polyphenols, which act as antioxidants. They protect against free radicals that may lead to liver and other organ damage. This is encouraging, but more study is needed to confirm chaga mushrooms’ effectiveness in liver protection.
Chaga mushrooms may help prevent stomach ulcers caused by Helicobacter pylori. Substances found in chaga may prevent H. pylori bacteria from growing by interfering with bacterial cell communication.
Polysaccharides present in chaga mushrooms have been found to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol in animal testing, but it’s too soon to know whether that’s true in people.
Lower Blood Pressure
Researchers found that inflammation caused by oxidative stress may contribute to high blood pressure. Chaga’s antioxidant properties may help combat oxidation and lower blood pressure.
Lower Blood Sugar
In addition to regulating the immune system, the types of beta-D-glucans found in chaga have also been shown to help lower blood sugar levels. More research is needed to confirm how effective this may be in the treatment of conditions like diabetes.
Chaga Tea and Blood Thinners
Chaga tea may interact with blood thinners, such as warfarin or clopidogrel. Some studies suggest that chaga extract may add to the effects of your blood thinner. Talk to a healthcare provider before consuming chaga tea if you take other medications.
Chaga Tea and Diabetes Medicine
Researchers have discovered compounds in chaga mushroom extract that can potentially lower blood sugar. If you are taking diabetes medication or medication to lower your blood sugar, do not drink chaga tea without first discussing your medicines with your pharmacist or healthcare professional.
Chaga tea is high in oxalates. Oxalates bind to calcium during digestion and are eliminated in the stool. Any oxalate not attached to calcium goes through the kidneys and leaves in the urine. If there is too much oxalate and not enough water in the urine, the oxalates may form into kidney stones.
Chaga’s health benefits can be attributed to the abundance of nutrients found in the mushroom interior as well as the outer bark. Some of these substances include:
- Antioxidants: Chaga mushrooms have high levels of black pigment, which contains antioxidants, such as polyphenols.
- Beta-D-glucans: Beta-glucans can potentially regulate your immune system and lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Betulin and betulinic acid: Chaga mushrooms absorb these compounds from the tree bark as they grow. Researchers are studying ways to use betulin and betulinic acid to fight cancer.
- Polysaccharides: Polysaccharides found within chaga chitin walls provide various health benefits, including maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and promoting liver, heart, and intestinal health.
- Phytosterols: These compounds may help fight cancer cells and viruses.
How to Prepare Chaga Tea
Here is a simple way to prepare a good cup of chaga tea:
- Break chaga mushroom into 10-gram pieces.
- Grind one piece into a powder.
- Place 1 to 2 teaspoonfuls of the powder in a tea infuser.
- Add about 400 milliliters (roughly 12 ounces) of hot water and steep for about 5 minutes.
This will make about a cup and a half of tea. Enjoy with maple syrup or honey.