What is chaga, exactly? It sounds kind of like a disease, but it’s actually the latest trendy superfood to grace health blogs everywhere. Chaga is a type of mushroom; the outside looks like burnt charcoal, while the inside is rust colored. It’s an adaptogen, which basically means it’s a healing food you can eat or use to reduce stress and naturally support your health.

Chaga grows as a “dense black mass” on birch trees infected with a certain fungus, according to Chaga Headquarters (yes, this ‘shroom has its own website. Are you surprised?). Chaga grows on other trees too, but mostly on birch trees in cooler climates. This mushroom can be used for many different things, but it’s mostly used for tea and in supplemental extracts, pills, and powders. 

The Science Behind Chaga

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Malyna Sanchez

According to mushroom researcher David Pilz, chaga starts to grow on a birch tree a year or two after the tree gets infected with the non-toxic, parasitic Inonotus Obliquus fungus. Chaga grows near the infection site and is big enough to harvest (10-15 inches wide) after 3-5 years. Chaga can be harvested off the same tree every few years (once the mass is big enough) until the tree dies.

The harvested part is called a sclerotia, which stores nutritional reserves for the fungus. Chaga is harvested by chopping it off the tree with an axe. Then it’s dried before being packaged for consumer use. Russia is the main producer of chaga thanks to its colder climate and abundant supply of birch trees.

Health Benefits of Chaga

Chaga is an adaptogen, so it’s perfect for easing anxiety, nervousness, and stress. Chaga contains f Beta-D-Glucans that supports the immune system. Research shows that chaga activates immune cells, helps to selectively kill cancer cells, reduces fatigue, and soothes blood vessel irritation. The betulinic acid in chaga can also break down LDL or “bad” cholesterol, which normalizes blood pressure. Chaga may help treat the common cold, allergies, autoimmune disorders, and gastrointestinal issues like ulcers. This mushroom truly is a superfood. 

Where to Buy Chaga

Chaga is sold as a raw powder, as dried chunks, and as an extract or pill. Pure chaga is only sold online, but you might be able to find it in bulk at specialty grocery stores. Chaga products (tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc.) are sold online and in health food stores such as Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme. Brands include Four Sigmatic, Chaga Mountain, American Wild Foods, and Moon Juice.

How to Use Chaga

Chaga has vanillin in it, so it has a slight vanilla flavor. The best way to use chaga is to make tea with its powder or chunks. You can also make chaga hot chocolate and coffee. You can buy the powder form and mix it into smoothies, soups, salad dressings, and more. One of my favorite bloggers, Lee From America, makes chaga lattes as a morning caffeine substitute. There are so many ways to incorporate this 'shroom into your diet! 

This superfood mushroom tastes good and is so good for you. There are so many ways to use it, from taking it as a supplement to drinking it in tea to adding it to smoothies. Get out of your comfort zone and give chaga a try, I really think you'll enjoy what it does for your body.