The History of Chaga in Herbal Medicine

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Ancient and Great History of Chaga Mushroom

Dubbed the “gift of God” or “king of herbs,” the chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) has been revered for millennia throughout Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, the northern United States, the mountains of North Carolina, and Canada.

Chaga has been used in folk and herbal medicine throughout Eastern Europe since the 16th century. Chaga is a birch fungus and grows on living trunks of mature birch trees in cold climates.

The name chaga (pronounced “cha-ga”) comes from the Russian word for mushroom (czaga), which is derived from the word for fungus. In Norway, chaga (kreftkjuke’) is translated “cancer polypore” in reference to its mushroom-like appearance and purported medicinal properties.

The use of chaga in Chinese medicine dates back thousands of years, when local people in the mountainous region of Siberia drank chaga tea daily, inhaled chaga, and used it topically (on the skin). Over time, its popularity spread to the west of the Urai Mountains and the Baltic regions of Eastern Europe.

Medicinal mushrooms to promote health

The International Society for Mushroom Science (ISMS), in its online article Medicinal Mushroom Products as a Good Source for Dietary Supplements, suggests that mushrooms may be useful as nutraceuticals – foods or food products that provide health and medicinal benefits. “These compounds, referred to as ‘mushroom nutriceuticals,’ exhibit either medicinal and/or restorative properties and have immense potential as dietary supplements…” writes ISMS.

Research also suggests that mushrooms, cultured molds, mycelia, and lichen may have antiviral, antimicrobial, anticancer, antihyperglycemic, cardioprotective, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Medicinal mushrooms are classified into two types: edible or extracted. Chaga is an extracted species. The extraction process is necessary to make at least some of the active components bioavailable, meaning to the extent that a nutrient (or drug) can be used by the body.

Like all natural materials, whole mushrooms have great variability in quality and uses. Individual chemicals can have intense reactions and thus undesirable side effects.

“Nutriceuticals, i.e. extracted products, occupy a middle ground between these extremes and have proven to be very useful. However, it is of paramount importance to receive a high quality and trustworthy product.” (ISM).

Possible health benefits of chaga

Researchers in Japan and China have studied the anti-cancer properties of the polysaccharides found in some mushrooms, including chaga, and found similar effects to chemotherapy and radiation, only without the side effects. Among Chaga’s many beneficial properties, the polysaccharides have been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory and immune-balancing properties that can stimulate the body to produce natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells fight infection and tumor growth.

In 1958, researchers in Finland and Russia found that chaga could prevent cancer of the breast, liver, uterus, and stomach, as well as high blood pressure and diabetes. The Russian journal Vestnik Dermatologii i Venerologii reported on the in 1973 Benefits of Chaga Extract for Psoriasis.

David Winston, herbalist and ethnobotanist with nearly 40 years of training in Cherokee, Chinese, and Western herbal traditions, points out that chaga is the most potent anti-cancer medicinal mushroom available. And in 1968, Russian Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about the medicinal use of chaga in his semi-autobiographical novel Cancer Ward, describing his experiences in a Tashkent hospital.

Chaga’s medicinal properties span centuries and continents. Today, its use in promoting health is supported by a long list of peer-reviewed scientific research.

Article Sources:

Inonotus oblique. (2012, October 31). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved November 5, 2012 at 5:48 p.m

Chang, ST”Product from Medicinal Mushrooms as a Good Source for Dietary Supplements.” International Society for Fungal Science.

Thanks to Laura G Owens

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