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< class="article__title title"> The Two Sides of Chaga: What Are They?>
The Two Sides of Chaga: What Are They?
Aug 16, 22
Tags: Chaga
This article has been vetted by the Onnit Advisory Board. Read more about our editorial process.
Author: Sony Sherpa

The Two Sides of Chaga: What Are They?

The health benefits of Chaga seem to be taking the world by storm. More and more people are just discovering that the bioactive compounds in Chaga—including beta-D-glucans and polysaccharides—can prevent and aid in treating a wide range of health complications. 

This new knowledge—especially in the western world, which did not pay much attention to Chaga a few decades back—has created a risky situation where we may lose this vital fungus. In recent years, many people have wanted to understand Chaga mushroom identification to head to the nearest hardwood forest to forage for Chaga. 

So, with the demand for Chaga tincture, powder, extract, capsules, and fresh Chaga increasing, how can we protect the world reserves of this black gold? 

Here we will talk about the two sides of Chaga and the many benefits of the mushroom, which has posed a considerable risk of overharvesting. We will also discuss sustainable methods of harvesting Chaga and what you can do as a consumer.

Let's change the world, one mushroom at a time!

Harvesting Chaga: What's This Risk We Are Talking About

Chaga or Inonotus obliquus is a medical marvel with a rich history in traditional and alternative medicine. Since the 16th century, Chaga has been described in folk and botanical medicine throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, where it was used both for healing and shamanic rituals. Chaga grows on living trunks of mature birch trees in cold climates and is, therefore, even called a birch fungus.

Known as the king of herbs or a gift from God, Chaga is used for various ailments like cancer, inflammation, and oxidative stress.It is also known to lower blood sugar levels, improve the immune response, combat viral infection, purify the blood, and relieve pain.

Due to Chaga's many health-boosting effects, it is gaining popularity in the superfood market. As a result, there has been a flood of Chaga health products almost exclusively harvested from the wild.

There is a rise in the global interest in natural products and supplements containing Chaga. As a result, mushroom cultivation has been turned into a business. 

Additionally, there has been a significant academic interest in this fungus, fueling a boom in the commercial exploitation of Chaga mushroom harvesting. As a result, there is a serious risk of extinction of Chaga.

As more and more people learn to use Chaga powder and many confess the health benefits of this phenomenal mushroom, we should only expect the demand for the medicinal mushroom to keep increasing. However, it is also our responsibility to ensure that the growing demand for Chaga mushroom extract does not force us to make the Chaga mushroom extinct. 

There is no doubt that the current generation will be able to enjoy the health benefits of Chaga. However, will the next generation be able to enjoy Chaga supplements if we keep doing what we are doing? 

Below, we take a deeper look at the two sides of Chaga mushroom. But first, let's look at what makes Chaga so effective that even Chaga tea works for weight loss

Medicinal Compounds in Chaga

Numerous compounds make Chaga good for many health problems (we will look at the mushroom's benefits below).The mushroom is known to have more than 400 medicinal compounds, each of which has its unique health benefits. The mushroom's bioactive compounds include: 

  • Inotodiol
  • Betulinic acid
  • Ergosterol peroxide
  • Polyphenols
  • Polysaccharides
  • Triterpenoids

The current research has not covered the benefits of all these bioactive compounds. However, for the compounds analyzed, the results have been awe-inspiring. For instance,polysaccharides from Chaga fruiting bodies have been shown to prevent metabolic abnormalities and treat chronic illnesses.

The Two Sides Of Chaga

In the last couple of years, herbalists have increasingly embraced the use of medicinal mushrooms, including Chaga, in clinical practice. In the modern-day world, research information and evidence have revealed that Chaga can be used for almost anything. Today, it is not uncommon for doctors and healthcare professionals to recommend Chaga for skin, hair, etc. 

However, it is worth noting that the medicinal properties of cultivated Chaga mushroom span centuries and across continents. It is just that today, its abundant benefits and use in promoting health are backed by a long list of peer-reviewed scientific research. So, for example, when we say you can use Chaga mushrooms for cancer, there are research studies supporting this claim. 

Some of the incredible benefits of Chaga, which make it a preferred health supplement around the globe, are:

  • The Chaga extract may prevent and slow the growth of cancer cells.
  • The fruiting body of Chaga helps reduce bad cholesterol levels, thereby protecting against cardiovascular diseases.
  • Inonotus obliquus supports the immune system and aids in fighting inflammation.
  • Chaga helps with diabetes management, helping diabetic people maintain healthy blood sugar levels. The mushroom also reduces insulin resistance in healthy people, reducing the risk of developing diabetes in the future. 
  • Chaga fights hair loss, reducing the rate at which its users experience hair thinning and baldness. 
  • The mushroom lowers high blood pressure, reducing cardiovascular disease risk. 
  • The fungus Inonotus Obliquus is an adaptogen. Chaga helps the body adapt to stress and reduces the risk of developing depression and anxiety. 

The internet is replete with stories of incredible harvests and an increasing amount of academic research that backs up the use of Chaga for health reasons. Even a Google Trend Analysis reveals that interest in the search term 'Chaga' has steadily increased(1) over the last decade, peaking with a 100% global interest during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those convinced of the health impact of consuming Chaga are not concerned with the extinction of black fungus but enjoy its benefits. For example, more people are using Chaga for blood pressure, with even more people deciding to share this plant medicine with their animals—today, it is more common than ever for homeowners to use Chaga for dogs

Chaga can only infect and grow on one in every 20,000 birch trees, making it extremely rare. What's more, for the mushroom to grow on a birch tree, its microscopic fertile fruiting bodies must release spores and infect another tree. 

The mushroom, however, generally releases sterile conk, which tends to be very selective regarding the birch stand it chooses to inhabit. This suggests that you need many birch stands to get enough Chaga for an average population. However, almost every healthcare professional who understands holistic health recommends Chaga edible mushrooms to their patients. 

Another cause of concern is that Chaga is fundamentally a pathogen, which in the end, destroys its host—when the microscopic fertile fruiting bodies infect the birch tree, the herbal medicine may eventually kill the tree. While Chaga may appear harmless, more often than not, the birch finally succumbs to this fungus. 

The medicinal mushroom Inonotus obliquus grows on yellow and white birch trees and poplar, oak, beech, and alder. Chaga will infect and live in its host tree anywhere from 10 to 80 years before eventually killing the host tree. 

While we consume Chaga for psoriasis and other health conditions, one of the different medicinal mushrooms used in herbal teas essentially consumes the trees it is growing on. So while we use the mushroom's fruiting body to prepare Chaga tea that does not have caffeine or combine the powder with coffee in the morning to get a nice kick for the day, the mushroom usually uses trees to feed itself, slowly killing them. 

Widespread harvesting of mushrooms like Chaga, or any organism, before it has the chance to reproduce has raised a serious concern about the species' survival. In addition, the overharvesting Chaga stands mean that we may not have enough Chaga in the future to take care of the mushroom's demand in our diet, foods, and lifestyle diseases. 

A similar thing has happened with Cordyceps, another medicinal fungus, where overharvesting has drastically affected the size and distribution of its population. When people discovered the health benefits of Cordyceps, they moved in to get as much of this special mushroom as possible. 

Let's now take a look at the Chaga harvesting impacts.

Overharvesting Chaga Mushrooms And Its Impact

Overharvesting Chaga Mushrooms And Its Impact

The interest in the medicinal benefit of Chaga has resulted in a rise in the awareness of the mushroom in the broader population. A recent search for 'Chaga health products' returned 1,180,000 hits on Google (accessed 7 am GMT 11th of August 2022).

It is essential to know that the overharvesting of Chaga involves more people learning about its products and then buying them. Today, people have access to information on how Chaga can combat abnormal cell growth, boost white blood cells to increase immunity, regulate blood clotting, and more. With millions of articles written about taking Chaga, you can expect wide, wild harvesting of this mushroom. 

Access to more information on the health conditions that Chaga can be used as a treatment aid has led to the overharvesting of Inonotus obliquus with a profound ecological impact. Unfortunately, and sadly, there have been very few attempts to study it. 

For instance, a 2004 study(2) done on the sustainability of Chaga failed to take into account the full life cycle of the mushroom or consider the current unprecedented demand.

Wild Chaga mushroom grows for several decades in the northern climatic zones (northern hemisphere) and reproduces a single time during its entire life cycle.

Additionally, when the life cycle of Inonotus obliquus is over, the parasitic fungus falls to the ground and releases spores. The spores are spread out all over the boreal forest through various methods, where they can find new host trees.

That is why the ease with which Chaga can be harvested before it can reproduce imposes a severe threat.

Sustainable Chaga Harvesting Methods

Here are some things you can do to prevent further overharvesting of this fungus:

1. Use Proper Methods When Harvesting Chaga

Many foragers, particularly amateur ones, harvest Chaga using improper techniques. This can damage both the tree and the fungus. Look into safeguarding techniques when gathering to keep the mushrooms and the birch trees safe. 

2. Understand How to Differentiate Chaga on Birch Trees

Learning how to differentiate sterile conks with similar morphology from Chaga will prevent unnecessary destruction while harvesting.

3. Avoid Harvesting the Full Fruiting Body of Medicinal Mushrooms

When you harvest young and edible Chaga, it won't be able to release spores. Therefore, it is important not to harvest all the fungi you find. Instead, leave some Chaga mushrooms on the trees to ensure they will release spores when the time comes.

4. Invest in Understanding Chaga Distribution

More research is essential to understand the current distribution of Chaga mushrooms. With a deeper understanding of Chaga distribution worldwide, it will be much easier for consumers and sellers of Chaga mushrooms to use the mushroom economically. This will ensure the Chaga grows to a population that can sustain the use of its medicinal properties long-term. 

5. Leverage the Law to Protect Chaga

Legislative support is necessary for its protection. Chaga mushrooms need to be declared an endangered species. With the law protecting Chaga, we can have enough fungal resources and valuable sterile conks on birch tree species at all times. 

6. Buy Chaga Mushrooms from the Right Companies

As a consumer, only shop from companies that source their Chaga ethically. Avoid companies that are so focused on profit that they do not care about the state of the mushroom long-term. 

FAQs

What Happens If You Drink Chaga Every Day?

Consistent overconsumption of Chaga mushrooms may lead to damage or disease of the kidney and liver as it contains minerals excreted via these organs. Therefore, to avoid the side effects of the mushroom, you must stick to the proper Chaga dosage.

Who Should Not Drink Chaga Tea?

Chaga tea should be avoided by those with mushroom allergies, bleeding disorders or are prone to kidney stones. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also advised to steer clear of it. 

However, if you have to take Chaga while pregnant, discuss this with your doctor—the doctor may recommend a safe dosage for you and the growing baby in your womb. 

Do You Use The Black Part Of Chaga?

The black outer layer of the Chaga "sclerotium" contains a high concentration of powerful antioxidants melanin, which help protect the body's cells from harmful free radicals. Therefore, you may want to use this black part to get the antioxidants. 

Final Thoughts

Chaga mushroom has a very long life cycle and only one reproduction opportunity.  So, harvesting before the reproductive stage, combined with misinformation and lack of knowledge, creates the potential for commercial exploitation. 

Considering the two sides of Chaga, if we don't act soon, significant damage may occur. This article, however, gives you the facts about mushroom use and the risk of it going extinct. We have also shown you how to protect the Chaga reserves we have today. So, go out there and help protect this vital mushroom. 

We Would Love To Here Your Comments Leave A Comment

References

  1. Chaga (Inonotus obliquus): a medical marvel but a conservation dilemma? (1)https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341219177_Chaga_Inonotus_obliquus_a_medical_marvel_but_a_conservation_dilemma
  2. Chaga and Other Fungal Resources,  (2)http://www.fsl.orst.edu/mycology/PilzPage_files/Pilz2004ChagaReport.pdf
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