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Chaga Mushroom: Multiple Names that Suggest a Curious Unique

by mackshepperson

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What’s in the name Chaga? Scientifically called Inonotus obliquus, it has also been commonly called the “King of Herbs”, “Gift from God”, Birch Mushroom, Birch Clinker, Cinder Conk, Birch Canker Polypore, Black Mass and Sterile Conk Trunk Rot of Birch. The Japanese call it Kabanoanatake, which means “Diamond of the Forest;” while for the Chinese it is Bai Hua Rong, which loosely means “King of Plants”.

Phew! More research would probably yield even more challenging names in other languages for this mushroom. The name Chaga itself is the anglicized version of the Russian word czaga, which means “fungus”. Putting the two words together, the Chaga mushroom name literally translates to “fungus mushroom”, which would sound pleonastic to anyone who knows that mushrooms are really classified as neither plant nor animal, but as fungi.

If the etymology of any word literally means the study of the true sense of a word, then the Chaga’s many curious monickers deserve a second look. It would certainly be fascinating to know why the Chaga has been given such names. For example, the names King of Herbs, King of Plants, Gift from God, and Diamond of the Forest all seem to attribute magical or divine powers to the Chaga.

This stature may have been due to Siberian folk medicine applications of the mushroom as tea, smoke inhalation, and topical treatment for many injuries or rashes. Siberian indigenous people, specifically the Komi-Permyak, who gave the name Chaga to this mushroom, have been documented to often live longer than 100 years. Furthermore, the Chaga has been proclaimed as a superior medicinal mushroom in the first among ancient Chinese medical books, for its wide range of homeopathic prescriptions.

The names Birch Canker Polypore, Black Mass, Birch Clinker, Birch Mushroom, Cinder Conk and Sterile Conk Trunk Rot of Birch all refer to how or where the Chaga can be seen. It is known to grow parasitically mostly on the trunks of the birch, although it may do likewise on alder and spruce trees. In contrast to many umbrella-shaped mushrooms, the Chaga appears like corky or leathery burnt charcoal that seems to have erupted from the trunk of the tree.

Chaga’s high beta-glucan content is an attribute it shares with other mushrooms that promote a healthy immune system.* But as unique as its many names, Chaga also offers anti-oxidant properties through its betulinic acid and polyphenol content.*

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