Feeding our bodies, that means so many different things to so many people. We are a land of plenty, I have witnessed firsthand how overcome with emotion a person became when I took them to our local supermarket one evening to pick up a few food items. He could not believe that so much food could be available at any time of the day and night, but yet it is. Why is it the basics of nutritious food elude us, we consume chemicals by the pound and wonder why our bodies fail to maintain a healthy balance. We need to change. I do not think that we will ever change the food system dramatically, we need to change ourselves. My plan is to provide a new series of health articles based on two kingdoms, the plant kingdom and the fungi kingdom. While some of the items we cannot grow directly, they can be readily available to us in the surrounding city and state we live. Many of the items are easily grown at home. And remember:
“Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re healthy” ~Author Unknown
Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as Chaga mushroom is a fungus in Hymenochaetaceae family. It is parasitic on birch and other trees. The sterile conk is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. It is not the fruiting body of the fungus like we see with other fungus species, but a sclerotia or mass of mycelium, mostly black due to the presence of massive amounts of melanin.
Chaga fungus is mostly found in cold climates, documents dating back to 16th century Russia confirm its use. Since the early 1960’s, Russia, has used Chaga extract as part of their natural cancer treatment. While many have tried to grow this commercially, growers have found that they are unable to duplicate the medicinal composition through wild simulated conditions, or using indoor controlled environment. It appears that a symbiotic condition exists between the host tree and the slow growing fungus that create the two major compounds which are Melanin and Betulinic Acid. This is a key point when looking for Chaga, harvest it yourself when found in the wild or make sure that the Chaga you purchase if wild harvested to provide the greatest medicinal benefit.
So how good is Chaga for us, without sophisticated laboratory equipment and years of clinical testing to do my own tests, I refer to the Orac scale? The Orac scale is a scalar value derived in the laboratory for comparing the antioxidant content of different foods or nutritional supplements, higher numbers are better meaning that they contain higher concentrations of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, free radicals try to inhibit the body from functioning properly. Free radicals can be caused by improper diet, the normal body process of digesting food, breaking down certain medicines, and also by pollution around us. A partial list of Orac scale values are provided below. Remember higher is better.
Grape juice 2,377
Red Currants 3,383
Peppermint (fresh) 13,978
Goji Berries (wolfberry) 24,287
Basil (dried) 49,926
Parsley (dried) 71,000
Oregano (dried) 159,277
*Chaga (wild) 3,655,700
*Highest value ever tested by (Conducted by Tuffs University Dept. of Health Sciences Boston, MA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Health Project Expo 2003)
You can purchase Chaga in whole form, chunks, slices, powdered, in tea bags, or capsules. Some burn the chunks like incense, yielding a light fragrance like sandalwood but yet it does not have any effect of breathing disorders. The outside of the Chaga looks like burnt charcoal while the inside looks like cork. It does not burn like dry wood, it smolders. After cutting the Chaga from the tree, it is preferable to slice the Chaga with a band saw or chunk the Chaga using a hatchet or heavy cleaver. Allow the Chaga to air dry for several days to a week, if using a mechanical method to reduce the size of the Chaga careful attention must be used to insure the Chaga is not heated during that process. Heating the Chaga kills the living melanin and other phyto-nutrient properties of the mushroom. A hand meat grinder makes a perfect instrument to reduce the size of the Chaga without destroying any of the beneficial properties of the mushroom. After grinding, store the powder in a dark container and use it for making tea or, package the powder into air tight vacuum sealed bags or glass jar to preserve it for longer periods of time. If purchasing for yourself or for a family, consider that 50 grams is roughly 18 large teaspoons which in turn can make up to 27 liters (over 100 cups) of tea. The tea can be used hot or cold with the same results.
The key to making Chaga tea is not to overheat the tea water. The Chaga contains no caffeine to upset your stomach, and it has very little taste, just a slight hint of vanilla. Heat purified water up slowly to under 125F degrees and add the powder, 1 standard teaspoon to 1 liter of water. Let the tea steep, the longer you let the tea steep the stronger the tea. Many let the tea steep overnight in an effort to extract every possible nutrient. There is some confusion regarding the proper way to make a tea, whether to use boiling water or cool the water before use down to 125F degrees. The one thing that they all agree on is that is making a large batch for several days use, the stored Chaga brew will start to lose potency after a 4 days period. If planning to use for several days, plane to make a fresh batch every 5th day. Adjust the strength to your individual taste buds.
After drinking the tea, what can you expect? Within the first 30 minutes you should start to breathe easier, people experiencing colds, sinus infections and allergies have stated this. Additional statements included increased mental clarity, and increased energy. Long term use (daily use for more than two weeks) helps to regulate bowel movements and improve skin tone. Because of the high levels or Melanin, people have also stated that they do not burn when sun bathing. Chaga has been proven to lower blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol levels, have anti-parasitic capabilities and is an adaptogenic drink which basically means if your auto-immune system is out of whack it will bring it back to proper levels. All this without the addition of caffeine or adding artificial chemicals.
Vince Kirchner, a certified Permaculture instructor and an Ohio State University Master Gardener, is owner of Great Lakes Permaculture, Tiffin.