A chaga mushroom is a sterile form of the tinder mushroom. It's called sterile because the mushroom itself has no seeds, whereas the source of the spores is under the bark of the birch tree on the trunk. When the tree gets old and the bark starts to fall off, the spores are released and spread through the air by the wind. These seeds would get into the damaged parts of other birch trees, under the bark, and develop mycelium. Over time, the mycelium grows outwards and, by damaging the bark from the inside, appears on the outside of the bark. It continues to grow and in about 3-4 years becomes a chaga mushroom. The size of the chaga mushroom depends on its age and can sometimes reach up to one metre in diameter. Chaga of this size is almost impossible to find nowadays due to the high demand for chaga. Chaga hunters don't allow chaga to grow any larger, and once it is found, it is immediately cut from the tree.
Development and growth of Chaga mushroom.
Airborne chaga spores penetrate the heartwood of a live birch and form a mycelium.
Fine threads of mycelium penetrate the wood and gradually destroy it, causing white rot. At the same time, a fruiting body begins to develop in the heartwood.
Three to four years later, the spawn comes out and the fruitless conk begins to develop and grow. These are the first signs of what is called chaga.
A huge conk of chaga has appeared on the trunk of a tree. It will grow for as long as the tree lives, or until humans cut it down.
Chaga is a parasitic fungus. It lives by drawing nutrients from a birch tree rather than from the soil. In the course of a few years, it acquires an incredible amount of biologically active substances.
The main biologically active substances of the Chaga fungus are the intensely coloured water-soluble polyphenolic pigments (chromogens), which are synthesised from complex phenolic aldehydes, polyphenols, oxiphenolic acids and their quinones. The fruiting bodies of other mushrooms, which are often confused with chaga, do not contain such chromogens. The high content of the chromogenic complex of pigments is the main feature of the chaga mushroom in comparison with other polypore mushrooms (AN Shivrina, 1959).
In other words, the chromogenic complex is a set of Chaga acids and melanins - substances that contain high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants are essential in the fight against free radicals. These are the harmful molecules that, in high concentrations, can damage our body cells and become a reason for premature aging and cause such serious diseases as cancer and diabetes.
Along with a lot of positive feedback about chaga, there are some sceptical messages on the internet. But from occasional conversations with such people, it turns out that 90% of the so-called "sceptics" either don't know anything about chaga or haven't even tried to drink chaga themselves. They just "thought" that all the positive information about chaga on the internet was just hype. The rest of the "sceptics" interviewed had either collected the wrong mushroom, hadn't dried the chaga properly, or had prepared their chaga tea in the wrong way. Of course, such "chaga" would be of little help.
Therefore, for those who are going into the forest to hunt for chaga, here are some recommendations on what to expect and what to avoid.
Although chaga is easy to distinguish from other mushrooms, inexperienced chaga hunters are likely to encounter problems in identifying chaga. Once you are in the forest, you will notice the variety of mushrooms and conkers on the trees. On the birch tree alone you can find the following mushrooms:
This is a false tinder fungus (Phellinus igniarius).
This is birch bracket fungus. It resembles a hoof and has a pleasant mushroom smell.
This is "suvel" - a conk growing on a trunk with deformation of the wood fibre. Most often confused with chaga.
This is 'cap'. From a distance it looks a lot like chaga, but on closer inspection it is just a lot of little branches.
You might think this is no big deal. You go into the forest, find chaga, cut it from a tree, crush it, put it in a cup, add some hot water and Bob is your uncle.
But it is not that simple, especially if you want to get the most out of chaga tea.
Before heading into the forest, it is important to remember that the harvesting area should be ecologically clean. Like a sponge, the chaga mushroom absorbs all the pollutants in the air (heavy metals, fumes, radiation). These pollutants accumulate in the chaga. This is why you should be absolutely certain that the forest is no closer than 100km from the nearest town, motorway or industry of any kind.
Our company's specially trained Chaga collectors gather Chaga mushrooms from the wild forests of Tomsk Oblast, Irkutsk Oblast, Altai Oblast and Khakassia (Siberia). All collected chaga is thoroughly examined for sanitary and ecological purity, including radiation control.
It is possible to pick chaga all year round, but it is much easier in early spring or late autumn. In the summer it can be a bit more difficult, because the Siberian forests are very rich in dense vegetation at this time of the year. It is not easy to walk through, let alone search for chaga with your head thrown back. The leaves hide the chaga conks, which are usually found high up on a tree trunk. In spring and summer you should also watch out for ticks (dangerous insects). The taiga is full of them.
In most cases, chaga grows very tall and is difficult to find, let alone cut. Healthy chaga grows only on old and living birch trees. This means that the tree should not be younger than 20 years old and the chaga should not grow lower than 1.5 metres from the ground. Chaga growing at the base of a tree should not be collected, as it has poor health-giving properties.
DEHYDRATING THE CHAGA MUSHROOM
So, you have managed to find and collect an ecologically clean chaga mushroom and happily returned home with your trophy. What do you need to do next before using the chaga for tea?
First of all, the chaga must be thoroughly cleaned of wood and bark residue. Then it should be cut into smaller pieces of about 10-15 cm each. Why would it be a bad idea to dry chaga in one big piece? Because the chaga would not be able to dry properly in one big chunk and would eventually rot. Use an axe to break up the big chunks.
How do you dry chaga? Quite simply, actually. You can do it in the oven at a temperature no higher than 50-60 degrees Celsius. Or you can put the smaller pieces on a sheet of paper and expose them to the sun. You can also place the chaga near a campfire or fireplace (but not too close). It is important to remember that dry chaga should not be overheated. There are two reasons for this:
1. Chaga is highly flammable and if placed too close to an open fire it can burst into flames like gunpowder. Hunters often use chaga as tinder for a campfire.
2. Heat destroys the healthy substances in chaga.
Ideally, Chaga should be dried to a moisture content of 14%. This is the standard set for chaga in the Russian Pharmacopoeia. Of course, it is impossible to accurately estimate the moisture content of chaga without any indicators.
The chaga mushrooms used to make our chaga extract powder are dried in a vacuum at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. This ensures that all of the health-promoting Chaga compounds are retained.
However, if you do decide to go ahead with the drying process, you should be prepared for a less than pleasant scene. If you collect chaga in the spring, its outer layer (the cracked black one) is likely to be infested with larvae, small spiders and bugs. And all these "inhabitants" will rush out of their shelter as soon as you start the drying process. It is nothing serious - just an unpleasant sight that may affect your desire to continue with the chaga tea.
We clean our chaga with hot steam. This is safe for the chaga and ensures its hygienic cleanliness.
How to crush the chaga
Next stage - crushing the chaga pieces. You want them to be about the same size as the tea (3-5 mm). You can do this with a hand grinder. Due to the rather large size of the chaga pieces (10-15 cm) and its stone-hard state, you will need to break the chaga into smaller pieces somehow before putting it into the grinder. You will probably have to use an axe again, which may not be entirely safe for your fingers. Be careful!
Instead of a manual meat grinder, you can use an electric chopper, a powerful one. In this case, be prepared to say goodbye to your chopper, because once you've chopped up the chaga, it won't be good for anything else. The rock-hard chaga chunks would damage the blades and the inner plastic walls of the chopper. However, it probably depends on the quality of the chopper.
Clouds of fine brown dust will accompany the chopping process, so make sure you have good access to fresh air.
Baikal Herbs Ltd uses industrial grinders to set any desired size of chunks. For example, if we need to make tea, we set the grinder to produce five millimetre chunks.
Chaga can only be considered high quality and used as a natural remedy if it meets the following requirements (we do not mention the chemical composition here)
CHAGA MUSHROOM STRUCTURE.
Chaga has three primary layers that are easily distinguished by their density and colour.
The outer layer of true chaga is called the sclerotium. This is the hardest layer. Most of the biologically active substances (melanin) are deposited in this particular layer. The next layer is called the fruiting body. It is less hard, but is also a solid dark brown layer, highly saturated with healthy substances. The third layer, which is porous, soft and yellow, is basically useless.
It is known that more than 80% of all active substances are concentrated in the sclerotium and the fruiting body of the chaga mushroom.
The Chaga extract produced by Baikal Herbs Ltd is made exclusively from these two layers. The third soft layer is cut out and discarded. This is why the concentration of chromogenic complex (melanin) and antioxidants in our freeze-dried Chaga extract is so high. This is important because many manufacturers use all three layers in their products. This certainly reduces the cost of the finished product, but inevitably results in lower quality.
The image on the right (click to enlarge) shows two pieces of chaga: one with a soft layer (left) and one without. The image at the top shows all three layers in a cross-section of the chaga mushroom.
This is a video in the Korean language, which was filmed in our factory. You can have a look at the production process of Chaga FD extract:
Chemical composition of Chaga mushroom
The long-lasting interactions between chaga and a birch tree result in the formation and accumulation of biologically active substances in the chaga body. The combined complex of these substances gives rise to the unique therapeutic properties of the chaga mushroom.
Main active ingredients of the chaga mushroom:
In addition to the organic compounds, Chaga also contains a balanced mix of natural minerals and trace elements. The most important minerals are listed below:
Potassium - 41.7 mg/g. Potassium is essential for normal body growth. It adjusts the basic balance of the body, skin health, stimulates the kidneys and cleanses the body from toxic toxins. The presence of potassium in chaga, together with magnesium and iron, ensures a good therapeutic effect in the treatment of the circulatory system.
Magnesium - 1.90 mg/g. Magnesium plays a key role in the regulation of blood sugar levels, the release of insulin by the pancreas and the protection of its fragile cells. The magnesium contained in Chaga is the coenzyme's best ally in energy production. After taking Chaga for only 5-10 days, you will feel more active and fresh.
Iron - 0.02 mg/g. The main structural component of haemoglobin, a component of red blood cells that delivers oxygen to every cell.
Calcium - 3.50 mg/g. The main role of calcium in your body is to organise the integrity of the skeletal system. People over the age of 50 often experience back pain, which is usually associated with calcium deficiency. Lack of calcium, potassium and chromium in the body leads to cancer. Therefore, it is important to take preventive measures by consuming Chaga products, which contain all the macro- and microelements.
Manganese - 53.4 mg / g. Manganese deficiency can lead to diabetes.
Zinc - 28.40 mg/g. Zinc is necessary for us to maintain a healthy immune system. Even a small deficiency of zinc reduces the ability of the immune system to defend the body against tumour cells.
Chaga antioxidants and free radicals.
There is a well-known substance in nature that causes iron to rust and oil to turn rancid. In the human body, it damages DNA, impairs memory and accelerates ageing. This destroyer is none other than the most abundant chemical element in the world, oxygen. We cannot live without oxygen, but at the same time oxygen can sometimes become a terrible threat to our health. Every day we breathe polluted air, eat food loaded with chemicals, drink water containing dozens of harmful substances; we lead a life full of stress. Scientists have found that the formation of so-called "free radicals" takes place under the influence of the above-mentioned factors. These free radicals are responsible for the accelerated destruction and deformation of your body's cells.
The problem lies in the structure of the atoms of this gas. Normally, the oxygen nucleus is surrounded by 8 electrons, which combine in pairs to form a stable and harmless molecule. But sometimes, under the influence of external factors, an electron is removed or, on the contrary, an extra electron is added. In this case, an extremely active structure is formed, known as a free radical.
What are these external factors that turn oxygen from our friend to our enemy? The best known are cigarette smoke, urban smog and ultraviolet radiation. Like 'molecular terrorists', free radicals 'roam' the living cells of the body, throwing everything into chaos. In order to obtain a normal (balanced) amount of electrons, they are prepared to 'rip' the missing particle from any other molecule, setting off a chain reaction of destruction. This process is known as 'oxidative stress' and is thought to be responsible for many diseases - from cataracts and loss of muscle mass to cancer.
Factors that cause an excess of free radicals in the human body.
Chemicals in food
Environmental factors such as air pollution.
Weak immune system
UV sun rays.
It is impossible to be completely protected from free radicals. But you can keep them at a low level by neutralising as many of them as possible. This can be done with chaga antioxidants.
The amount of antioxidants in raw chaga or chaga tea is much lower than in chaga extract. This is why it is recommended to use chaga extract. Chaga tea would be great as an accompanying drink, mostly for pleasure rather than treatment.