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Chaga (Inonotus obliquus)

Primary benefits: Fights cancer and helps heal the gut.

In Russia’s Kama River basin, chaga has long been used as medicine, and the name “chaga” is derived from one of their words for “mushroom.” Yet chaga is technically not a mushroom — it’s a conk, a charcoal-like formation that grows on wounded trees hosting the fungus Inonotus obliquus. And it’s most definitely medicinal, containing more than 200 different bioactive molecules.

The first recorded use of chaga to fight cancer was in the 12th century, and contemporary research may now explain why it works. Chaga grows primarily on birch trees, whose bark contains high levels of betulinic acid, a substance that prompts cancer cells to self-destruct while leaving healthy cells untouched. Researchers are now investigating betulinic acid as a treatment for a dozen different types of cancer, including lung, pancreatic, and colon.

Traditionally, chaga has been used to treat stubborn skin conditions and heal stomach ulcerations. “Chaga has an affinity for the gut,” says Mason Bresett, ND, whose research focuses on functional mushrooms, who prescribes chaga for digestive support and to help patients with gut-related skin conditions.

chaga mushroom

How to use chaga:

Grind chaga to a fine powder (or purchase it powdered) and stir it into a warm beverage. Hobbs recommends pouring 2 cups of boiled water over 1 heaping tablespoon of powdered chaga and steeping the mixture for an hour. (Consuming the chaga residue offers additional health benefits, but if it bothers you, strain the mixture like tea.) Drink one 8-ounce mug of chaga brew a day for preventive purposes; increase that to two or three cups for a therapeutic dose.

Bresett likes to mix half a teaspoon of finely ground chaga extract with cacao powder and top it off with a little maple syrup to make hot chocolate. “Chaga and chocolate taste really good together, so it’s a great way to soothe the digestive system as well as get some immune support.”

More on Mushrooms

Fungi have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Discover five more varieties and their many health benefits at “The Health Benefits of Medicinal Mushrooms,” from which this article was excerpted.

Catherine Guthrie

Catherine Guthrie is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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