Chaga - the Science

Let me talk a bit about Chaga. (Inonotus obliquus)

If you have not read my story about the first time I was introduced to chaga, you might want to take a peek. Grandmother Birch Medicine - my 1st meeting

The following is based upon cold science, as opposed to the previous article, Grandmother Birch Medicine - my 1st meeting, which briefly detailed an experienced that was personal, as all experience should be.

This is a powerful fungus that grows around the world in the far northern hemisphere. Though it can grow on a number of different types of trees such as cherry and elm, it primarily grows on birch trees. Chaga’s seemingly favorite tree to grow upon is the yellow birch tree and paper birch here in New England.

Contrary to myth (and not sure who started it), Chaga is a fungus or mushroom and so goes through a flowering stage where it spores. I’ve come across two old Chaga mushrooms in the stage of flowering and sporing. It was a beautiful sight! It actually happens under the bark of dead trees. Once the tree dies, the chaga starts a transformation towards its very secretive reproduction phase. The mushroom spreads a network of trailing tube things along the trunk under the bark. Once they are mature enough, and properly angled, they release spores. It is scientifically unknown whether the spores go airborne, or if insects take the spores to other trees. My Native American mentor said it was the insects who dispersed the spores, and I never knew him to be off in his information.

Of course it is rare to find chaga in a spore state because once it begins the spore stage is usually rapidly attacked by many critters in the environment, from bugs to molds. Also many trees don't live long enough after infected for the chaga to reach maturity. The Chaga has to reach a certain stage in its growth before the tree dies in order to move onto reproduction once the tree dies.

These spores settle in wounds of trees and take root. From these roots grows a mass in the tree’s heartwood. As the mass grows it expands outward until breaking through the outer bark in its 4th stage of growth. Then we see a black, charred looking gnarled growth that is quite hard on the outside. The outside even has a charred smell to it, though it is not burned.

The inside is a brown-yellowish corky material that has been used for a very long time as a fire starter. Though it does not combust, it does hold a coal in a smoldering state for hours and even days depending upon the size of the Chaga. Pioneers called it the “long match” for this very reason.

The words “chaga” is not from North America but rather comes from the Khanty peoples of Siberia. In other areas of the world where chaga grows and happened to be used by people, it had other names and was typically only known by some of the medicine people. Written record is of course all but non-existent in many indigenous cultures and so the exact names, locations and specific uses are hard to say.

The Chaga is a parasite that feeds upon the nutrients of the tree it grows on. Birch is well known to possess an amazing amount of health beneficial compounds and is and has been used in many medicines for thousands of years. So it is that Chaga found growing on birch trees contain far more medicinal compounds than other trees. Polysaccharides are the major ingredients of which we owe the medicinal qualities of Chaga. Polyphenols are also found within Chaga. Let me list a few of the chemical compounds found in Chaga growing on birch trees and the major medicinal qualities of them.

When you extract the polysaccharides and polyphenols in hot water you get powerful antiproliferative, antimutagenic, antiviral, antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic, antibacterial and vasodilatory effects.

1. Polysaccharides- work to greatly boost the immune system as well as treat bacterial and viral infections like HIV and especially types of cancer. Unfortunately since we cannot digest chitin (the cell walls holding all the medicines within) we need a good extraction method.

2. Polyphenols- work most excellently upon the brain functions. Attention span, concentration abilities, motivation of thought processes and cognition specifically.

3. Germanium- works to balance blood pressure and clean the blood of any free radicals.

4. Betulinic acid- works to fight all tumors and viral infections similar to Germanium. (unfortunately these are hardly bioavailable to us)

5. Tritrerpenes- is wonderful for detoxing the liver and thus treating things like hepatitis as well as fighting lung affections and cholesterol build-up.

A slew of other highly important minerals are found in birch growing Chaga that are highly beneficial and necessary for the human body. Some are available to us through digestion and others are not.

Chaga has been known for years and years as natural woodland “Healer” and has been highly respected by those close to the wilderness spirit. It has and still is utilized with great success for an anti-inflammatory agent, anti-tumor agent, anti- cancer of the uterine and gastric systems and functions, liver and breast cancer, stomach disorders, hypertension issues, intestinal paristies, killing influenza A & B viruses, fighting tooth decay by killing Streptococcus Mutans, and seriously boosting the entire immune system. Chaga has also been used successfully to help cure diabetes! It truly is a Wisdom Healer of the woodlands.

However, most claims for chaga fighting off cancer and other diseases tend to be exaggerated. Though chaga has been tested to fight against metastasis and have a strong anti-cancer effect in early stages of cancer, the anti-tumor properties have only been seen in very laborious and long-term extraction methods. It has been medically found to assist in the harsh process of chemotherapy and radiation. Chaga has the ability to ease side-effects for these intense and immune system destroying cancer treatments.

If you would like to study in great detail the intricate details of Chaga healing I suggest a book entitled Cancer Ward by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. Within this book there are a few highly detailed pages specifically dedicated to Chaga.

Chaga is best for:

• Detoxing and supporting liver function

• Normalizes cholesterol

• Anti-viral

• Anti-inflammatory

• Balances the immune system

• Anti-ulcer

• Chaga stimulates natural healing processes in the human body- it does not change the bodies chemical structures

To use Chaga for medicine it is best as a tea. The powerful compounds are trapped within the indigestible cell walls of Chaga and must be extracted primarily through heat. Of course you can use alcohol to create a tincture form of Chaga as well. I am huge of the benefits of tea and so that is what I will speak on here.

Brewing Instructions- Method 1:

Making the tea traditionally to attain the highest medicinal quality takes about 2 days or 48 hours. Once you harvest the Chaga you want to tear it open and dig out the inner cork. This should be dried slowly to be stored in an air tight container for years of use. However, if you are going to make tea now you take the inner cork straight from the Chaga and let it soak for a few hours in cold water. This basically softens it for easier extraction of compounds. (See amounts for brewing below) After a few hours pass strain the Chaga cork and liquid. Save the cork and liquid both. Now pour water that has been boiled over the stove or fire into the container (preferably glass) containing the pre-soaked cork. It is a 5-1 ratio of water to Chaga. Cover and let this steep for about 48 hours. Then simmer (do not hard boil) it for at least 45 minutes, but you can cook it for up to 6 hours on low heat. Add the liquid from the original soak and strain into a glass jar. This Chaga tea can be kept in the fridge for drinking for up to 3 or 4 day. To drink just heat it up.

Tea making amounts:

• Chunks/cubes: 1/4 cup to 2 quarts of water

• Grind: 1/4 cup to 2 quarts of water

• Powder: 1/4 cup to 2 quarts of water

According to Bio Food Tech the following brewing time frames are the most ideal for extracting the most out of your chaga:

• when storing tea made with chaga chunks in a refrigerator the Phenolic values increase over a four day period

• when storing tea made from the powder in a refrigerator the Phenolic values remain the same over four days

• brew chunks/cubes at 176-185F for 6 hours to extract maximum Phenolic medicine- about 1.65% per cup

• brew grind at 176-185F for 4 hours to extract maximum Phenolic medicine- about 2.3% per cup

(The Grind is simply the chunks shredded up or mashed down.)

If you use cubes of the cork instead of shreds you can reuse the cubes 1 to 2 more times for tea making.

For traditional medicinal uses of most teas, including Chaga you should consume 3-4 mugs per day for optimum health benefits.

Chaga tea will not hurt you and can be drunk daily for extended periods of time. Unless you are allergic to any of the compounds you can drink Chaga tea everyday for the rest of your life.

Brewing Instructions Method 2:

Another method is to follow the same steps as above but after pouring the 5-1 ratio of water into the container with the Chaga, boil it on low heat for 5 minutes before letting steep for 48 hour. Then simmer it for at least 45 minutes, but you can cook it for up to 6 hours on low heat. Some claim this extracts even more of the medicinal compounds and I tend to agree. You can brew your chaga in a crockpot if you wish. Remember not to boil the chaga because it will destroy many of the medicinal properties.

Chaga is mild, slightly earthy and smoothly rich. Feel free to sweeten with raw honey, pure maple syrup, stevia, etc. You can add tang with lemon, lime, spearmint, peppermint… use your taste bud imagination. You can also make the tea and then freeze it to thaw it out many months down the line to drink. Freezing the tea holds its medicinal values without degradation.

I used to sell (rarely, most I gave it to people in need of the medicine), only hand harvest chaga that I had scouted and picked from live trees in the wild. I harvested with conscious and respect to the chaga, tree and forest ecosystem. I never over harvest and I always leave some behind so it may continue to grow. I also do not harvest from the dead or adulterate the chaga in any way. This is why I only sold raw chunks of chaga.

Many people try to get away with nasty business when harvesting and selling chaga today.

Since it’s sold by the weight folks will try rubbing pebbles into the bark, soaking the chaga in ground water usually contaminated with bacteria which turns the chaga toxic and bitter, but once its dry you cannot see that it was soaked, only when it is wet do you know… The bacteria remains and can poison people or give them parasites, etc…

They will also cut down trees to get chaga they cannot reach- illegal. They will harvest from dead trees, which means the chaga is also dead or dying and has no medicinal value anymore. The live chaga on live trees continually circulates water from the tree, through the chaga and back into the tree. This hydro process keeps the chaga filled with fresh nutrients and growing healthy. When the tree dies the water circulation stops. The chaga may continue to survive for a short while, but the chaga can no longer recirculate the water content, which then becomes stagnant and unhealthy. It is much like the kidneys ceasing to work in the human body, poisoning occurs as the system goes septic.

They will also carve out every last speck leaving no chaga left to grow back…


Those are some of the dangers and unsavory actions of many people selling chaga today, including the many unproven and highly exaggerated claims many websites make about chaga.



After I harvested the chaga I clean it of as much of the outer black bark as possible before shipping. See images below of chaga fresh off the tree compared to the cleaned product ready for shipment. Though there are some studies that suggest the outer black bark is medicinal and worth brewing with the inner cork, the main component suggested as medicinal, melanin, is not water soluble or soluble in stomach acids. Therefore to use the outer crust for the antioxidant melanin is quite frivolous. Sclerotim is present in high quantities in the outer black bark as well and is a powerful anti-oxidant. Sadly the anti-oxidants found in the bark of chaga are NOT digestible by the human digestive tract. Only through high quality long-term extraction methods can any anti-oxidants be extracted from the bark of chaga. You cannot extract them through tea infusion processes.

So between that fact and the fact that I have found many molds and other unsavory critters infesting the outer bark of many chaga fungi, I make it a point to remove the outer black bark.

My main intent for having harvested and sold chaga was to offer the highest medicinal value to the customer. I do not feel the outer bark is in many cases suitable for people to use who are seeking medicine. Molds, mildew, insect eggs and larva, scat from mice, voles, flying squirrels and countless other external contaminates that I have found infecting and embedded in the outer bark of the chaga is in my opinion plenty of reasons to avoid using it for medicinal tea. Not to mention the fact that most all the medicinal chemicals found in the bark are not digestible anyway.

Therefore I call the bark “dead” because unless you are going to spend the proper time working the proper extraction processes beyond mere tea, that is what it is to you. I never felt risking the health of my customers to make a few extra bucks utilizing the potentially contaminated outer bark was worth it. Some folks disagree, but when it comes to chaga there is much discrepancy and details not agreed upon by many people who study, harvest and use it. When I used to make personal extracts I left the black bark on, but for tea I removed it. Why should you pay for weight that will be of no use to you?

I have always harvested with consciousness and a deep reverence to not only the chaga, but also the tree and entire ecosystem in which it grows. If I had an order for 5 pounds and I found 5 pounds of chaga, but only 5 pounds, I would only harvest 3 pounds and leave the other two to grow and procreate. I never over harvest for money or any other reason. I understand how powerful chaga is as a medicine for the people of today, but I also understand how important it will continue to be for future generations and the continuing ecosystem and no amount of money is worth endangering that.

Chaga takes an average of 4-5 years to be harvestable. Trees infected with chaga can live for 10, maybe 20 years before the chaga kills them. Though when chaga is growing in the tree and the chaga takes nutrients from the tree, the chaga is working to grow and procreate thereby slowly killing the tree. It is no different than a disease growing within the body of any organism. But it has its unique place and purpose within the ecosystem and therefore deserves respect. I also make sure to harvest in the wilderness, far from roads, towns and other pollution sources because fungi in general are well known to soak up and store radionuclides and heavy metals.

There is a lot of talk about how pure and elite Alaskan chaga is, but unless I see laboratory verified documents to back up such a claim, I cannot buy into it. I have a RAD II certificate from training and worked for a time in a government clean-up facility. I know enough about radiation to understand the basics quite well. The Fukashima disaster in Japan flooded the west coast of America and Alaska with more radioactive contamination than most places in the world. Beings that fungi soak up radionuclides like a sponge I can take a pretty good guess that many of the west coast and Alaskan longer living fungi have decent levels built up in them. Including chaga. Beings that the Fukashima disaster began (yes it continues today) in April of 2011, the trees hosting chaga could very well be alive for many more years to come, and the chaga will continue to hold those radionuclides.

Please remember that when consuming chaga in any form to avoid taking penicillin or intravenous injections of glucose or other immune suppressing medications because they interfere with the chaga compounds.

NOTE: Under FDA law in the United States it is illegal for a manufacturer to make any medical claims for health supplements. None of the products offered for sale on our website or direct to retail consumers are intended to be used in the treatment or mitigation of any disease state. All statements made by Element Mountain are intended for informational purposes only. The statements made here have not been evaluated by the FDA, and our products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. As with any dietary or herbal supplement, you should advise your health care practitioner of the use of this product. If you are nursing, pregnant, or considering pregnancy, you should consult your health care practitioner prior to using any health supplement products.

chag winter.png


Incredible wealth of information here. Fungi and mycelium networks greatly interest me. Thank you so much for sharing what you do through here. I am learning lots. I have been using cordyceps for assistance to lower mast cell activation and as an adaptogen and lung strengthener...and so many things. Fungi offer our bodies a vast amount beneficial relationships in certain forms. Gosh, humans have hardly even tapped into this area.
Thanks for the write up, I learned a few things about chaga that I did not know. I also use lions mane and cordyceps when I can. Have you tried agarikon? Learning how to forage for these things in the wild is high up on my list of things to do if/when I can regain enough of my health to.
They will also cut down trees to get chaga they cannot reach- illegal.
The sad part is that in the Midwest birch trees are also being "poached" to be sold for home decorations. :(

Edit: Most of us are not able to go hiking and find it outselves so how can we trust the source when we buy online?
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Thanks for the write up, I learned a few things about chaga that I did not know. I also use lions mane and cordyceps when I can. Have you tried agarikon?
Quite welcome. Lion's Mane is a great mushroom! I use that a lot for many reasons, but one main reason is that it is very good medicine for brain inflammation.
Agarikon I tried once years ago, but unless I could locate a source that is proven to self cultivate, I avoid it. Since it grows in old growth forests, the conk as well as those forests are endangered. Another example of how human expansion and destructive behaviors are destroying good medicines.
The sad part is that in the Midwest birch trees are also being "poached" to be sold for home decorations. :(

Edit: Most of us are not able to go hiking and find it outselves so how can we trust the source when we buy online?
Where there are people there will be those who do shitty things, sadly but a fact.

Buying online and trusting the source - certainly an issue today. An unseen product from an unseen seller... and an unseen source.
I suggest looking for small sellers, particularly in locations away from the Pacific Ocean and cities. Rural sellers that harvest and prepare their own, as opposed to a middle man. Look for websites that give lots of photos of the forest the chaga is being harvested from, images of the harvester, and solid detail about chaga itself and their harvest methods and preparation methods. A good supplier will take pride in the medicine and work involved, and will detail that on their site. When I sold chaga I had lots of detail (actually the above was taken directly from the content of my store site I sold though), but also details of the forest, the location, etc. I had a video posted of me searching for and harvesting chaga so people could see exactly how it was done. I also photographed every source I harvested from, and included that photo, along with the exact day with the chaga I shipped. That way buyers could see the exact tree their chaga came from.
Just avoid buying from the invisible people; Amazon and other bulk suppliers.
Even though I typically not partial, or trusting of large herbal suppliers, there are a couple that I do recommend.

The first is a supplier of Eastern Tea Medicines. It was actually started by one of my students many years back, who had such a passion for preserving tribal authenticity and supporting the ancient ways of people still living and practicing them. In the bulking shadow of the major corporate tea industry that clear cuts, mass cultivates, pollutes and offers the world depleted and worthless teas, my student saw an opportunity to delve deeply into the mountains of Asia. He sought out true tea artisans who still live with, care for, harvest and prepare teas in the ancient ways. Then he created Wild Tea Chi in order to not only bring their products to the world, but support their disappearing lifestyles and traditions, as well as bring to to world their stories.

After a number of years, he gave the small company to his assistant, who is also a dear friend of mine. She has equal the passion, intelligence, compassion and care for the traditions of her people, and has carried the torch well.

I can 100% recommend their products as the best quality Eastern Medicinal Teas I’ve ever come across.

Wild Tea Chi

Another botanical company that I feel does well in locating and offering high quality medicinal plants is

I don’t know them personally, but have used some of their products and they feel solid.

Mountain Rose Herbs

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