The History of Chaga in Herbal Medicine
Chaga Mushroom Ancient and Vast History
Called the “Gift from God” or the “King of Herbs,” the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) has been respected for thousands of years throughout Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, Northern United States, North Carolina mountains and Canada.
Since the 16th century Chaga has been used in folk and botanical medicine throughout Eastern Europe. A birch fungus, Chaga grows on living trunks of mature birch trees in cold climates.
The name Chaga (pronounced “cha-ga”) originates from the Russian word for mushroom (czaga) which is derived from the word for fungus. In Norway Chaga (kreftkjuke’) translates to “cancer polypore” in reference to its fungal appearance and alleged medicinal properties.
Use of Chaga in Chinese medicine dates back thousands of years where locals in the mountain 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 Baltic regions of Eastern Europe.
Medicinal Mushrooms to Promote Health
The International Society for Mushroom Science (ISMS) suggest in their online article, “Products of medicinal mushrooms as a good source of dietary supplements,” that mushrooms may be useful as nutraceuticals — food or food products that provide health and medical benefits. “These compounds called ‘mushroom nutriceuticals’ exhibit either medicinal and/or tonic qualities and have immense potential as dietary supplements… ” writes ISMS.
Research also suggests mushrooms, cultivated molds, mycelia and lichens may have antiviral, antimicrobial, anticancer, antihyperglycemic, cardioprotective, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Medicinal mushrooms are classified into two species: edible or extracted. Chaga is an extracted species. The extraction process is necessary to make at least some of the active components bioavailable, which is the extent a nutrient (or medication) can be used by the body.
Like all natural materials, whole mushrooms have a great deal of variability in quality and benefit. Single chemicals can have intense responses and with that, unwanted side effects.
“Nutriceuticals, which are extracted products, occupy a middle ground between these extremes and have proven to be very useful. However, to obtain a good quality and trustworthy product is of paramount importance.” (ISM).
Potential Health Benefits of Chaga
Researchers in Japan and China have studied anticancer properties of the polysaccharides found in some mushrooms, including Chaga, and found the effects comparable to chemotherapy and radiation, only without side effects. Among the many beneficial properties in Chaga, the polysaccharides have been shown to have strong anti-inflammatory and immune balancing properties which may stimulate the body to produce natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells fight infections and battle tumor growth.
In 1958 researchers in Finland and Russia found Chaga may offer anticancer benefits for breast, liver uterine and gastric cancers as well as offer use in hypertension and diabetes. The Russian journal Vestnik Dermatologii i Venerologii reported in 1973 about the benefits of Chaga extract for psoriasis.
David Winston an herbalist and ethnobotanist with almost 40 years of training in Cherokee, Chinese and Western herbal traditions, suggests Chaga is the strongest anticancer medicinal mushroom available. And in 1968 Russian Nobel Prize laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about the medicinal use of Chaga in his semi-autobiographical novel Cancer Ward where he describes his experience in a hospital in Tashkent.
The medicinal properties of Chaga span centuries and across continents. Today its use in promoting health is backed by a long list of peer-reviewed scientific research.
Inonotus obliquus. (2012, October 31). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17:48, November 5, 2012,
Chang, S.T.”Product of medicinal mushrooms as a good source of dietary supplements.” International Society for Mushroom Science.