A Chaga mushroom is a fruitless form of tinder fungus. It is called fruitless because the conk itself doesn't have any seeds, whereas the spores' source is located under the birch bark on the stem. And when the tree is getting old, and its bark starts to fall off, the spores are getting released and getting 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 inside, appears on the bark's outer side. It continues to grow in size and in about 3-4 years turns into a Chaga mushroom. Chaga's size depends on its age and sometimes can grow as big as one meter in diameter. The Chaga of such size is almost impossible to find nowadays due to the high demand for Chaga. Chaga hunters don't allow Chaga to grow bigger, and once found, they cut it off a tree right away.
Development and growth of Chaga mushroom.
Chaga spores diffused through the air penetrate a live birch tree heartwoods and make a mycelium.
Fine threads of mycelium penetrate the wood, and gradually destroying it produces a white rot. At the same time, in the heartwood, a fruiting body starts to develop.
Three-four years later, the spawn comes outside, and fruitless conk is beginning to develop and grow. These are the first signs of what is called Chaga.
A massive conk of Chaga has appeared on the stem of a tree. It will be growing as long as the tree is alive or until people cut it off.
Chaga is a parasitic fungus. It lives by drawing nutrients from a birch tree rather than from the ground. Within several years, it acquires an incredible amount of biologically active substances.
The main biologically active substances of Chaga fungus are the intensely colored water-soluble polyphenol pigments (chromogens) being synthesized from the complex phenolic aldehydes, polyphenols, oxiphenolic acids, and its quinones. The fruiting bodies of other mushrooms which often are mistaken for Chaga, do not possess such chromogens. The high content of the chromogenic complex of pigments is the main feature of Chaga fungus compared to other polypore fungi (AN Shivrina, 1959).
In other words, the chromogenic complex is a set of Chaga acids and melanins - substances that contain high amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants are essential in fighting free radicals. These are the adverse molecules that, in high concentration, can cause damage to our body cells and become a reason for premature aging and can cause such serious diseases as cancer and diabetes.
Along with much positive feedback about Chaga, there are some skeptical messages on the internet. But from occasional conversations with such people, it turns out that 90% of so-called "skeptics" either don't know a thing about Chaga or didn't even try to drink Chaga themselves. They just "thought" that all the positive information about Chaga on the internet was just hype. The rest of the interviewed "skeptics" had either mistakingly collected the wrong fungus or didn't dry 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 going to the forest for Chaga hunting, we are giving some recommendations about what they should expect and what they should avoid during their enterprise.
Even though Chaga can be easily distinguished from other fungi, inexperienced Chaga harvester would probably encounter with Chaga identification problem. Because once you are in the forest, you will notice the multitude of various fungus and conks sitting on trees. On the birch tree alone, you can find the following conks:
This is a false tinder fungus (Phellinus igniarius).
This is Birch bracket fungus. It resembles a hoof and has a pleasant mushroomy smell.
This is "suvel" - a conk that grows on a trunk with deformation of the wood fiber. Most often is mistaken for Chaga.
This is "cap". From a distance is very similar to chaga in appearance, but a closer look will reveal just many small branches.
One may think that it is not a big deal. You go to the forest, find Chaga, cut it off a tree, crash it, put in a cup, add some hot water, and Bob's your uncle.
However, it is not so simple, especially if you want to obtain the maximum benefits from Chaga tea.
Before setting off to the forest, it is essential to remember that the harvesting area should be ecologically clean. Resembling a sponge, Chaga mushroom sucks in all the contamination from surrounding air (heavy metals, fumes, radiation). These contaminants accumulate in Chaga. Therefore, you should be absolutely confident that the forest is located not closer than 100km from the nearest city, a highway, or industry of any sort.
The specially trained Chaga collectors from our company collect Chaga mushrooms from the Tomsk region's wild forests, Irkutsk region, Altai area and Khakassia (Siberia). All the gathered Chaga undergoes thorough examination for sanitary and ecological cleanness, including radiation control.
It is ok to collect Chaga mushroom all year round, but it is much easier to perform in the early spring or the late fall. In summer, the harvesting can become a bit more complicated because the Siberian forests are very rich in thick vegetation during this season. It is not easy even to walk through, let alone search for Chaga with your head thrown back all the time. Leaves are concealing Chaga conks, which usually sit high up a tree trunk. Moreover, in the spring and the summer, one should be careful about the ticks (dangerous bugs). The taiga is full of them.
In most cases, Chaga grows very high and is difficult to find, let alone cut it off. Healthful Chaga grows only on aged and alive birch trees. This makes one remember that the tree should not be younger than 20 years old, and Chaga should grow no lower than 1,5 meters from the ground. Chaga that grows at the foot of a tree is not to be collected because such mushroom has poor health-supportive properties.
DEHYDRATION PROCESS OF CHAGA MUSHROOM
So, you have managed to find and collect an ecologically clean Chaga mushroom and happily returned home with your trophy. What is it to be done next before using the Chaga for tea?
First of all, Chaga must be thoroughly cleaned from the remains of wood and bark. Then it should be cut into smaller chunks to the size of about 10-15 cm each. Why would it be a bad idea to dry Chaga in a whole big chunk? Because as a big chunk, Chaga would not get properly dried through, and eventually, it will rot. Use an ax to break up the big chunks.
How to dry Chaga? In fact, very simple. You can do it in the oven at a temperature not higher than 50-60 degrees Celcius. Or you can put the smaller chunks on a sheet of paper and expose it to the sunlight. You could also put the Chaga near a bonfire or a fireplace (not too close, though). In doing so, please remember that dry Chaga should not be overheated. There are two reasons for that:
1. Chaga is highly inflammable, and if placed too close to the open fire, it may burst into flames like gun powder. Hunters are often using Chaga as a tinder material for making a bonfire.
2. The heat will destroy the healthy substances of Chaga.
Ideally, Chaga should be dried until it has a moisture content of 14%. This a standard specified for Chaga in the Russian Pharmacopeia book. Of course, it is impossible to guess precisely the Chaga's moisture content without any indicators.
Chaga mushroom used for our Chaga extract powder production gets dried under a temperature of 40 degrees Celcius in a vacuum unit. This ensures the total retention of health-supportive Chaga substances.
However, if you are set to carry on with the drying, you should be prepared to see kind of not a very pleasant scene. If you collect Chaga mushroom in the springtime, its outer layer (the cracked black one) is most likely to be populated with larva, small spiders, and bugs. And all these "residents" will rush out of their shelter once you start the drying process. It is nothing serious-just an unpleasant look that may influence your desire to continue with the Chaga tea.
We clean our Chaga mushroom chunks with hot steam. It is safe for Chaga and, at the same time, guarantees its sanitary cleanness.
Crushing of Chaga
Next stage - the crushing of Chaga chunks. You want them to be about the tea - like size pieces (3-5 mm). You can do it with a manual meat grinder. Due to Chaga's rather large chunks (10-15 cm) and its stone-hard state, you will have to somehow crush the Chaga into smaller pieces before putting them into the grinder. You will probably have to use an ax again, which might not be totally safe for your fingers. Be careful!
Instead of the manual meat grinder, you can use an electric chopper, a powerful one. In this case, you should be prepared to say "goodbye" to your chopper because after having chopped Chaga, it won't be good for anything else. The stonehard Chaga chunks would damage the blades and inner plastic walls of the chopper. However, it probably depends on the chopper quality.
Clouds of fine brown dust will accompany the procedure of grinding, so make sure you have good access to fresh air.
Baikal Herbs Ltd uses industrial grinding machines to set any required size of chunks,. For example, if we need to produce tea, we set the grinder for chunks' five-millimeter output size.
Chaga mushroom may be considered high quality and be used as a natural remedy only if it conforms to the following requirements (we do not mention chemical composition here):
Chaga must be wildcrafted and matured on a birch tree in an extremely harsh climate with frost reaching -40 degrees Celcius.
The birch tree should be older than 15-20 years old, and Chaga's age should be more than 5 years old.
The harvesting area should be located far from cities and industries and be free of any contaminants in the air.
Chaga should not be taken if it grows at the foot of the tree trunk.
High-quality Chaga should have a very black and cracked sclerotium (outer layer). The stronger is the black color in this layer, the more melanin and antioxidants it contains.
Chaga should be stone-hard. Usually, it cannot be broken without using an ax.
The drying process should be performed in special ovens with temperature control sensors. This would guarantee that biologically active substances would remain undamaged by the heat.
Chaga should be odorless, except for some slight foresty smell.
Storage place: a cool, dry place with room temperature not higher than 25 degrees Celcius.
CHAGA MUSHROOM STRUCTURE.
Chaga has three primary layers, which can be easily distinguished by its density and color.
The outer layer of the real 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 also is a solid dark brown layer highly saturated with healthy substances. The third layer, which is porous, soft, and yellow, is basically useless.
It is a well-known fact that more than 80% of all active substances are concentrated in the sclerotium and the fruiting body of Chaga mushrooms.
The Chaga extract produced by Baikal Herbs Ltd is made exclusively from these two layers. We cut out the third soft layer and throw it away. This is why the concentration of chromogenic complex (melanin) and antioxidants in our Freeze-Dried Chaga extract is so high. This is a significant point because many manufacturers use all three layers in their products. In doing so, they surely reduce the finished product cost but inevitably end up with a lower quality.
The picture on the right (clickable) illustrates two chunks of Chaga mushroom: one contains a soft layer (left), and the other doesn't. The top picture shows all three layers in the cross-section of the Chaga chunk.
This is a video in the Korean language filmed at our company. You can see the manufacturing process of Chaga FD extract:
Chemical composition of Chaga mushroom
The longstanding interrelated processes 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 calls forth the unique therapeutical properties of the Chaga mushroom.
Principal active substances of Chaga mushroom
Water-soluble polyphenolic pigments (chromogens): antioxidants that kill free radicals. In all the other mushrooms, such chromogens have not been found.
Flavonoids: organic plant substances providing anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic, diuretic, and choleretic actions.
Alkaloids: the biologically active substance of selective action, on the cardiac muscle, for example.
Phenol compounds (tannins): these are tanning agents able to partially coagulate proteins. As a result, a protective film on mucous coats and skin of the body is being formed. These compounds are widely used in medicine owing to their expressed anti-inflammatory and styptic effects.
A complex of organic acids. Thanks to the content of organic acids, Chaga mushroom possesses the ability to regulate and normalize the acid-base balance in the human body.
Additionally, Chaga is abundant in melanin. Melanin helps to stimulate metabolism in the body, has an anti-inflammatory, regenerating effect. As you can see, almost all organic substances in a birch mushroom, have beneficial properties for humans.
In addition to the organic active substances, Chaga also contains a balanced mix of natural minerals and trace elements. Below are the most important minerals:
Potassium - 41.7 mg / g. Potassium is essential for normal body growth. It is adjusting the base balance of the body, skin health, stimulates kidneys, and cleanses the body from poisonous toxins. The presence of potassium in Chaga mushroom, as well as 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 regulating blood sugar level, insulin release from the pancreas, and protecting its fragile cells. Magnesium found in birch Chaga is the best ally of the coenzyme in energy production. Having taken chaga even during the first 5-10 days, you will already feel more active and fresh.
Iron - 0.02 mg / g. The main structural component of hemoglobin, a component of red blood cells supplying each cell with oxygen.
Calcium - 3,50mg / g. The main role of calcium in your body is the organization of the integrity of the skeletal system. People over 50 years of age often experience pain in their back, which is usually associated with a 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 - 28,40mg / g. Zinc is necessary for us to maintain a healthy immune system. Even a small deficiency of zinc reduces the immune system's ability to defend the body against tumor cells.
Chaga antioxidants and free radicals.
There is a well-known substance in nature, which has been known to cause the iron to rust and the oil to become rancid. In the human body, this substance damages DNA impairs memory, and accelerates aging. This destroyer is none other than the most common chemical element in the world known as oxygen. We cannot live without oxygen, but at the same time, sometimes the oxygen can turn into a terrible danger 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 the so-called "free radicals" is taking place due to 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 is related to the structure of the atoms of this gas. Normally, the oxygen nucleus is surrounded by 8 electrons combined in pairs to form a stable and not dangerous molecule. But sometimes, under the influence of external factors, an electron is being taken away or on the contrary, an additional electron is being added. In this case, an extremely active structure is being formed, which is known as free radicals.
What are these external factors that turn oxygen from our friend to our enemy? Most known of them are cigarette smoke, urban smog, and ultraviolet radiation. Free radicals, like "molecular terrorists," "roam" on the living cells of the body, plunging everything into chaos. To gain a normal (balanced) amount of electrons, they are ready to "tear-off" the missing particle from any other molecule causing a chain reaction of destruction. This process is known as "oxidative stress", it is considered responsible for a lot of diseases - from cataract and loss of muscle bulk to cancer.
Factors that cause an excessive amount 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 get fully protected from free radicals. But you can keep them at small numbers by neutralizing as much of them as possible. This can be done with Chaga antioxidants.
The content of antioxidants in raw Chaga or Chaga tea is uncomparably lower than in Chaga extract. This is why it is recommendable to use Chaga extract. Chaga tea would be great as an accompanying drink, mostly for pleasure than treatment.