Chaga in History
The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) doesn’t look like a regular mushroom. It is a parasitic fungus.
Black, lumpy and charred-like, Chaga is found growing on the trunk of the birch tree in forests of northern Europe, Asia and North America.
Very few westerners had even heard of this strange looking mushroom until Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn introduced us to it in his 1968 semi-autobiographical novel, The Cancer Ward.
In the chapter entitled “The Cancer in the Birch Tree” Solzhenitsyn describes the character Oleg Kostoglotov, a political prisoner, having been released from a prison camp only to find he has developed cancer. Assigned to a clinic to receive high dose radiation, he tells his fellow patients that he wishes he could have been given a more simple “peasant’s” cure.
“He could not imagine any greater joy than to go away into the woods for months on end, to break off this chaga, crumble it, boil it up on a campfire, drink it and get well like an animal.”
~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward (1968)
Chaga, The Peasant’s Tea
Sergey N. Maslennikov, was a Russian doctor born in June 1887, and remembered by his friends and patients as being a kind and gentle man.
During this particular period in history medical literature was increasingly writing about cancer, but Maslennikov noted that he didn’t have any cancer patients among the peasants that he treated.
This lead him to study this phenomena further. He discovered that the peasants would save money on buying tea, instead cutting down and brewing up the birch mushroom. He believed that unknowingly they had been preventing and treating cancer for centuries.
As he began to experiment with Chaga he considered should it be be boiled and at what temperature, how many doses should be given and which tumour’s responded etc.
And so he began to treat his patients with the Chaga mushroom.
He took on the responsibility to administer just this alone without the addition of other more conventional means.
His notebooks record the results of his treatment of cancer with Chaga, many patients making a full recovery.
The Life of Chaga
The Chaga mushroom doesn’t have an easy time. It has an intense struggle for survival in freezing forests in the winter and hot conditions in the summer. Critically they are in constant competition with dangerous bacteria, worms and fungus.
Chaga is rich in biologically active chemicals, arming it to face the environmental threats all around. Most significantly some of these chemicals are biologically active in humans.
Chaga in Health
There is a growing interest in medicinal mushrooms and their effect on numerous health conditions.
Consumed by indigenous Siberians for hundreds of years the health benefits of the Chaga mushroom have been known for a long time.
Dating back to the 16th century ancient Russian texts describe the use of Chaga to treat gastritis, ulcers, cancer and tuberculosis.
The most important components of the mushroom are derived from the bark of the tree on which it grows and chief among these are a substantial number of butulinic acid derivatives and melano-glucan complexes.
“Betulinic acid has been shown to induce mitochondrial apoptosis (cell death) in different cancer cell lines and inhibit the enzyme topoisomerase, which is essential for the unwinding and winding of the DNA strands in cell replication. Additionally it possesses anti-retroviral, anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory properties.” Excerpt: Medicinal Mushrooms, A Clinical Guide by Martin Powell.
Main Health Benefits of Chaga
In Vitro studies on betulinic acid have shown Chaga to be highly effective against a wide variety of cancer cells; leukemia, melanoma, malignant brain tumours, ovarian cancer and malignant head and neck squamous cell cancers.
A 2010 study showed that Chaga could slow the growth of breast, lung and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish.
Anecdotal evidence reports the benefit of Chaga for psoriosis supported by a 1973 Russian study on 50 patients. Thirty-eight of those taking part reported a cure rate, with improvement in 8. Only 4 patients did not respond to treatment. It took 9 – 12 weeks for improvement to become apparent.
This study on mice suggests that Chaga may help regulate the production of cytokines, supporting the immune system by helping cell communication.
Due to Chaga’s role in regulating cytokine production it is worthy of consideration as a treatment for autoimmune conditions and other chronic diseases, considering Inflammation is at the root of many chronic health conditions we face today.
Blood Sugar and Diabetes
A 2006 study on genetically modified rats showed that after eating Chaga for 8 weeks their blood sugar was lower.
The Chaga mushroom is abundant in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and nutrients including:
- Vitamin D
- B vitamins
- Amino acids