Chaga Tea–A Trend That Lives Up to Its Hype
Have you heard of Chaga tea? It was included in a recent “Superfoods That Don’t Suck” feature in Toronto Life magazine. While it may not be completely mainstream yet, it has gotten the attention of researchers who have been examining its purported health benefits for at least the past ten years. Here’s the lowdown on this trendy tea and the mushroom it contains.
What is Chaga?
Chaga is a white-rot fungus that grows on birch trees in the northern hemisphere–think Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada. It has been used as a folk remedy for centuries in Russia and East Asian countries. Its scientific name is Inonotus obliquus and it looks less like a mushroom than a “dense black mass” with a “hard & cracked black exterior” and a rusty yellow-brown interior. It is most often consumed as tea.
Benefits of Chaga
Researchers in a variety of disciplines have been studying Chaga for years. It turns out that the hype surrounding this fungus is well deserved. In 2015, biologist Seema Patel wrote of Chaga mushrooms: “Biological roles as antioxidant, antiinflammation, anticancer, immunomodulation, antiallergy, antilipemic, hypoglycaemic, antiviral, neurostimulation have been validated.” We’ll look more closely at some of those claims here as we summarize the many health benefits of Chaga mushrooms.
The various studies into Chaga mushrooms show how complex they are. As was noted in a report on Chaga’s potential for controlling allergies, “differential health effects of Chaga mushroom are exerted by distinct groups of substances in the mushroom.” For allergies, it is a 70% ethanol extract (EE) of Chaga that shows promise, even for severe reactions like anaphylaxis. Researchers compared the Chaga extract to Dexa, a drug that suppresses the body’s immune response to help treat allergic reactions. They found that the Chaga EE improved symptoms but, unlike Dexa, did not cause side effects like weight loss and reduction in size of the spleen. For this reason, researchers concluded that Chaga mushroom may have potential as an allergy treatment.
It is this ability to target “bad” cells and leave healthy cells alone that has researchers looking at Chaga as a possible cancer treatment. A study on human hepatoma (liver cancer) cells showed that a water extract of Chaga mushroom could prevent the spread and induce the death of cancer cells while also leaving healthy cells unharmed. This is incredibly important, since current chemotherapeutic treatments for cancer can damage healthy cells, causing many awful side effects. Studies are ongoing and are mostly in vitro or animal-based, but researchers are optimistic about the potential for Chaga extracts to treat various cancers.
Chaga can also help with more routine health matters. In her summary, Seema Patel cited research showing the many potential benefits of Chaga mushrooms:
- Like all mushrooms, Chaga are high in total phenolic content, which means they are an excellent source of natural antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals.
- The high level of antioxidants make Chaga mushrooms a natural anti-inflammatory. Although studies are ongoing, there is evidence that Chaga mushrooms can help alleviate asthma, as well as colitis and other gastrointestinal ailments.
- The combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in Chaga have been shown to improve overall immune system functioning.
- Chaga mushrooms may have neuroprotective compounds–a study cited by Patel makes note of the “critical” impact of Chaga on “higher brain functions like learning and memory.”
- There is also some evidence that Chaga has an antiviral effect, shown in studies of its effect on some herpes and hepatitis viruses.
Other research has shown anti-diabetic capabilties and anti-microbial properties in Chaga mushrooms.
In short, Chaga is one very powerful fungus. Chaga tea is widely available at health food stores. As with any medicinal product, be sure to check with your health care practitioner before beginning a Chaga tea regimen.
The references and information on this website are intended to provide general information to the reader. The content of this post is not intended to diagnose health problems, offer personal medical advice, or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified healthcare professional. Please consult your healthcare practitioner for any advice on natural health care products or medication. No information on this website should be used to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent a disease or condition.
 Ju, Hyun Kyoung et al. “Effect of steam treatment on soluble phenolic content and antioxidant activity of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)” Food Chemistry 119 (2010), p. 619-625.
 Patel, Seema. “Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) Mushroom: Nutraceutical Assessment Based on Latest Findings” in Emerging Bioresources with Nutraceutical and Pharmaceutical Prospects New York: Springer, 2015, p. 115-126.
 Nguyet, Thi Minh Nguyen et al. “The mast cell stabilizing activity of Chaga mushroom critical for its
therapeutic effect on food allergy is derived from inotodiol.” International Immunopharmacology. 54 (2018), p. 286-295.
 Youn, Myung-Ja et al. “Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus ) induces G0/G1 arrest
and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells.” World Journal of Gastroenterology. 14, no. 4 (2008), p. 511-517.
 Giridharan, VV et al. “Amelioration of scopolamine induced cognitive dysfunction and oxidative stress by Inonotus obliquus – a medicinal mushroom.” Food & Function. 2, no. 6 (2011), p. 320-7.
 Patel, p. 116-121.
 Balandaykin, Mikhail E. and Ivan V. Zmitrovich. “Review on Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes): Realm of Medicinal Applications and Approaches on Estimating its Resource Potential.” International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 17, no. 2 (2015), p. 95-104.