Chaga mushroom tea has long been considered a health elixir in Russia, Siberia and many northern European countries but has so far largely avoided the limelight in the Western world. This drink, derived from the irregularly-shaped and strange-looking mushrooms that grow along the barks of birch tree trunks in Russia and northern countries, has made a name for itself as a potent strengthener of the immune system and has shown great promise in the treatment of cancer.
The chaga mushroom has a black, solid, charcoal-like appearance, very much different from the appearance of the typical mushroom. It is parasitic in nature, and eventually contributes to the death of its host. The inside of the mushroom bears the color of rusted iron and has cream-colored veins. It has a texture that resembles that of a cork.
Chaga mushroom tea was introduced to much of the world by the Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn through his novel ‘Cancer Ward’ where the main character is cured of cancer with help from this beverage. Curiosity about the chaga mushroom tea was thought to have increased as interest in Solzhenitsyn himself deepened in the West. The novel was thought to be autobiographical, as Solzhenitsyn likewise suffered from cancer himself.
Over the decades, there have been studies conducted in various parts of the world on the purported cancer-fighting abilities of the mushroom. In 1958, researchers in Russia and Finland found that chaga mushroom has potent fighting capabilities against cancer affecting the breast, the liver and the uterus. Japanese researchers meanwhile tested chaga extracts in the mid-1990s and came to the conclusion that cells exposed to such extracts were less likely to grow uncontrollably. Two years after that, Polish researchers were able to demonstrate that chaga inhibits tumor growth. And in 2005, Korean researchers were able to show that cells infused with chaga mushroom extracts were considerably more resistant to DNA damage upon exposure to oxidating agents.
The anti-cancer properties of chaga mushroom are said to be derived from the huge load of phytochemicals, polysaccharides and antioxidants that are naturally found within the herb. Many of these substances are also found in many types of medicinal mushrooms that are also thought to impart anti-cancer properties like reishi, cordyceps and shiitake. In addition, it is also a source of betulinic acid, a compound derived from the wood of the birch trees that typically host the mushrooms. Betulinic acid is said to help counter viral infections and fight tumors.
Traditionally, the chaga mushroom has been taken as a tea in Russia. The inner parts of the mushroom are typically shredded, then soaked and softened in cold water for a couple of hours. The water with the chaga essence is then saved and stored in a container while the softened mushrooms are further placed in a cup of hot water and allowed to stand for about two days at room temperature. After two days, the remnants of the chaga mushrooms are discarded and the resultant tea is combined with the stored essence to create a potent drink that can be taken (and believed to be effective) within four days. The tea is quite bitter, is slightly astringent, has a coffee-like flavor, but has no aftertaste.
While chaga mushroom tea is chiefly believed to be effective in fighting tumors, strengthening the immune system and promoting cellular health, it has likewise been used in folk medicine as treatment for pains, stomach problems, hypertension, viral infections, and diabetes. It has also grabbed some attention as a potential treatment for HIV.
While it is often described as free of side effects, it is best that patients with cancer and other ailments should always discuss the use of chaga mushroom with their physician so that it is used in a complementary method with their existing treatments.
Clearly, the world is yet to fully discover and realize the maximum potentials of the chaga mushroom tea in preventing, treating and even curing many of today’s most pervasive ailments and diseases. But it is worthwhile to note that many eons ago, the Chinese herbalist and monk Shen Nong has already declared and described chaga as a ‘precious gift of nature’ and ‘king of herbs’. He even classified chaga mushroom as a ‘superior herb’.
There seems to be a wellspring of evidence that the chaga mushroom indeed imparts valuable health benefits, particularly to those who suffer from cancer. The world may just need to study and evaluate the evidences thoroughly to truly unlock the health properties so that generations may fully realize the benefits of ‘nature’s precious gift’.
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