“The king of mushrooms”, otherwise known as Chaga is not your average mushroom. Unlike many other fungi, Chaga starts growing from the inside of a tree, instead of developing on the surface. As it grows and matures, it protrudes from the tree. You’ll be able to recognize Chaga by its dark, almost black exterior. Looking like something has burnt on the tree. From the inside, it’s a rich orange-brown color with a corky texture. So can you eat Chaga raw?
To put it simply consuming raw Chaga does no harm. But keep in mind, that heating expands the cell walls of the fungi, allowing for more nutrients to become bioavailable for human consumption and produce a stronger healing potion.
The scientific name of Chaga mushroom is Inonotus obliquus. Chaga is not a new discovery early eastern Slavic populations in Europe used it to treat a variety of internal and external issues. They used the fungi for stomachaches, kidney issues, lung problems, inflammation of the joints, and treating tumors. Chaga was also popular as a topical application for skin diseases. It was ingested as tea to increase overall vigor, immunity, and health.
How to consume Chaga?
Chaga shouldn’t be eaten raw or cooked like other types of mushrooms. It is a hard, dense polypore mass, that’s properties need to be extracted. The extraction requires prolonged simmering or soaking. This process makes the beneficial components bioavailable to the human body – meaning the body is able to absorb the nutrients.
Traditionally, the polypore is broken up into small pieces, then boiled to make tea. The fungus is removed before drinking the tea. It is also commonly finely powdered and mixed into liquids. As well as combined with binders to make a salve or medicinal application.
Risk of brewing tea with raw chaga
Moisture causes Chaga to lose its nutritional value once harvested from a tree. As it’s easily exposed to mold, you’ll need the fungus to be dried for a longer shelf-life, and in order to risk any health hazards accruing from improper storage.
There are two most prevalent types of mold, the more common one is white mold on the Sclerotium – black outer layer. The second one is a greenish-blue mold in the inner layer. Both develop with improper processing and storage. Chaga with mold on it isn`t safe for consumption!
While you may not think that it needs to be dried if you are just going to enjoy a cup of fresh Chaga straight after cutting it off a tree, it is unlikely that you are going to use all your harvested Chaga at once. So it’s best to get into the habit of drying it, to avoid any mishaps.
Don’t boil your Chaga!
It’s best to keep Chaga under boiling temperatures. So the key to a good tea is letting it simmer and steep over a longer period of time. The length of brewing is something we recommend you experiment with and adjust to your taste. The longer you let your tea simmer, the richer the color, flavor, and potency. Some people like to let their tea simmer over several days. If you’re curious about this topic or would like to see our favorite Chaga tea brewing method, check out our article: “Does boiling Chaga ruin it?”.
How often to consume chaga?
Generally talking, a cup or two of Chaga tea in a day is great for boosting your health. When dealing with a serious health concern, we’ve heard of people drinking six to eight cups of tea daily.
The truth is you won’t feel any immediate effects from consuming the fungus. The benefits accumulate over time, with long-term use. So it’s best to get into a habit of incorporating the superfood into your diet through various products and recipes.
If you don’t have access to the raw fungus, there are quite a few companies nowadays selling Chaga powder, tinctures, coffees, teas, and supplements. Most health food stores have the super-fungus available in some form. Before making your purchase at a store or online, be sure you trust the company and its harvesting practices.
Things to look out for when buying Chaga
- Ultimately the best-harvested Chaga is from fall or winter, not only is the visibility better, due to fallen leaves. But the temperature is below 5 degrees Celsius, and that is when the sap starts to run. Sap is the fluid found in Chaga, containing dissolved mineral salts and nutrients.
- Make sure you trust the people to use best practices for sustainable harvesting. Chaga should never be harvested immature, it takes up to 20 years for the fungi to be considered fully mature. Around 40% (ideally 50%) of the Chaga should always be left on the tree, this allows the sclerotium to grow back.
- Sclerotium is a precious part of the superfood, containing high amounts of melanin. This is where a lot of your antioxidants hide. That’s why we recommend our readers to buy Chaga chunks instead of powder. It’s easy to determine whether the sclerotium is still intact on the nuggets. Also don’t forget, the little chunks can be reused up to 6 times without losing their potency and long brewed tea from the nuggets tends to taste sweeter. If you’re interested in the topic, check out our recenlty published article on “Does Chaga increase melanin?”
What else does the fungus contain?
Chaga contains a large number of polysaccharides in the form of β glucans, which have a strong antioxidant activity inside your body. These compounds help fight off free radicals, maintaining a normal cell cycle. They also act as prebiotics to stimulate the growth of healthy gut microbiota.
On the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) scale, Chaga is an ultra-potent source of antioxidants and is naturally rich in betulinic acid. The fungus benefits your health by supporting normal vital functions on a cellular level.
Other things found in the fungus are trace minerals like antimony, boron, chromium, copper, germanium, manganese, selenium, and zinc. As well as macro minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.
As much as eating raw Chaga does no harm, it does no good for you either. Chaga mushroom is a living organism, heating expands the cell walls of the fungi, allowing for more nutrients to become bioavailable for human consumption.
The easiest way to consume Chaga at home is by brewing your own tea. Just remember not to let the water come to a boil, and let the tea simmer for as long as possible. For the easiest use, we recommend using Chaga chunks, whether store-bought or harvested and dried yourself. It’s important to leave the black outer layer of the fungus. There’s the melanin, with your antioxidants! Dry and reuse your Chaga nuggets five times before throwing them away!
If you’ve decided to buy your Chaga, make sure to check the background of your suppliers. There are a few things to keep in mind when looking for the optimal product: first and foremost ethical, well-timed harvesting, secondly that the sclerotium has not been removed.
Chaga mushroom is full of incredible vitamins, minerals, and compounds that will help to take your health to another level. Generally talking, a cup or two of Chaga tea in a day is good for boosting your health!
To learn more, head over to our article “5 benefits of Chaga for skin health“.