I grew up in Alaska and always wondered what the black bulbous things were on the side of birch trees (but I guess I was never curious enough to ask!) Mystery solved - they're a fungus called Chaga. But not just any kind of fungus, a medicinal one.
On my most recent trip back home we took a boat ride down the Susitna River with Mahay's Jet Boat Adventures and took a short hike around an island which had a beautiful boreal forest. There were a few locals admiring all the chaga in the trees, which made me curious. So when I saw the Boreal Botanicals booth with bottles of Chaga at the Saturday market in Homer the following week, I was ready with questions.
After speaking with Anne, one of the owners, and doing some research myself, here's what I learned.
Chaga is a sterile fungus found primarily on Birch trees.
It's black on the outside with a golden brown inside.
They can weigh up to 10 lbs.
Chaga only grows in very cold climates like, Alaska, Russia, Korea, Northern Europe, etc.
It takes 3-10 years for the Chaga to mature enough to be harvested.
Chaga should only be harvested from live trees, without damaging the tree itself.
Once harvested, it is broken into chunks.
It can be brewed into a tea, made into a tincture, or ground into a powder to be added to foods. (I also came across a reference to smoking it, but let's just not go there.)
Documented use of Chaga goes back to 16th century Siberia, and in the 12th century Tsar Monomakh used Chaga to cure his lip cancer. Mentions of it can be found from the ancient Romans. There are legends from 3,000 B.C. that tell of a birch fungus used to treat health concerns. It's been used by native cultures in Alaska for hundreds of years as well. And present day, the health benefits of Chaga are being studied more and more.
Some of these purported benefits include:
The highest levels of antioxidants of any food in the world.
In addition to numerous vitamins and minerals it contains significant levels of vitamins B, D, and K. As well as zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, iron and manganese (talk about a super food!)
Cognition enhancing (focus, people!)
Detoxifies the liver
Lowers blood pressure
Helps with hormonal imbalances (hello puberty! hello menopause!)
Lowers blood sugars
Tumor reducing benefits
Slows the aging process
Relieves symptoms of stress
So, that's what I've got for you. I think it's pretty darned interesting and I'm intrigued enough that I've started taking the tincture daily, and so has my 14 year-old daughter. We're both hopeful it will help soothe the symptoms of our current "life changes" and I'm curious to see if it will assist with my symptoms from Hashimoto's Disease. If you're interested in learning more about Chaga, or even trying some of the tincture, let me know!