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Fungi Focus: Get to Know the Beneficial Chaga Mushrooms

by mackshepperson

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From gourmet dishes to entertaining video games, mushrooms have made their mark on popular culture and in society. You may visualize them as cute, stubby, and brightly capped organisms that sprout from moist rocks or tree trunks. However, a certain mushroom dares to defy the mainstream with its unusual feeding habits, and dark visual appeal.

The Chaga Mushroom: Black, Bitter, and Beneficial

Although several noteworthy mushrooms are of Asian origin, the chaga mushroom primarily hails from European countries such as Russia and Norway. In fact, the term “chaga” was derived from the equivalent for “fungus” in the dialect native to an indigenous group in Russia. If you live somewhere in England or Canada, you probably know it as the sterile conk trunk rot of birch.

Appearance. Chaga is not your ordinary mushroom in appearance—it looks like a lump of burnt coal. It’s a black and crumbly fungus that feeds off the nutrients of its host tree, a parasitic feeding process that could lead to the tree’s death over time. But, even with its bad reputation with trees, the chaga mushroom has played an important role in East European folk medicine.

Health and consumption. Traditionally, chaga was ground into powder and brewed like coffee, which it also resembles in taste. The most notable mention of chaga mushrooms and their benefits to health was in Nobel Prize laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s autobiography. Since then, several researchers have studied the use of chaga mushrooms in enhancing and maintaining good health. Various researches reveal that it contains immune-supporting compounds similar to those present in shiitake and maitake mushrooms.

Preparation. These days, the extracts of chaga mushrooms are commonly prepared via the hot water extraction method. Also called the “steam cleaning” method, hot water extraction is similar to the conventional way of making tea. This process allows the release of its active compounds from within the fungus’ cells.

Now that you know a little bit more about chaga mushrooms, you will probably agree that not all parasitic organisms are bad, after all. As they say, everything in nature has a purpose and reason for existence. Medicinal mushrooms promote and maintain good health and can help improve the immune system.

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