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Chaga: King of the Mushrooms

BLOG 21: I find the traditional and current knowledge surrounding daily tonics and adaptogens to be extremely interesting and important for all. Everyone should know what an adaptogen tonic is capable of with respect to health and happiness. They have been around for thousands of years in both Eastern and Western medicine. Tonics with apoptogens are beneficial daily teas that are stress busters and work to bring the overall body into balance, thereby fostering good health physically and mentally. They have the side-benefit of increasing longevity. Adaptogens can be a medicinal plant or mushroom that combats stress and increases your mood, intelligence and immune functionality. More importantly they nourish one’s adrenals and increase stamina and energy! Adaptogens are 100% non-toxic and are therefore safe to take every day. They truly are a good example of ‘first do no harm’ treatment. Let me explain, while you consume a daily tonic with your favorite adaptogen, know that it is working hard and intelligently to control the stressors affecting your physiological functions. Scientifically but simply stated by herbalist Ron Teeguarden, adaptogens contain saponins that are long two headed (nodes) chemicals where one node can attach to water and the other end can attach to an oil. Thereby it can regulate any way the wind blows and therefore ADAPTS its healing properties to your specific needs at any given time or state to restore your functional balance to bring you to optimal health or ‘homeostasis’.

It is important to stress that not all herbs and mushrooms are adaptogens as every health ad would want you to believe… Adaptogens are limited in number on Earth and every country has at least one ‘superstar’ adaptogen tea they consume daily for de-stressing their bodies. I was first introduced to adaptogens when I read Radiant Health in 1998 by Herbalist Ron Teeguarden. Unfortunately, I can’t find my copy now to quote some wonderful and insightful text that enlightened me years ago. Teeguarden explains in this book the top Chinese adaptogens of the time and how they interacted biologically in the body to balance it and make it radiant. It fascinated me and cemented my commitment to choose the natural highway on my journey with health. I wanted to be a ‘radiant’ human being. Don’t you? Adaptogen tonics will help you achieve this happy and healthy state.

Commonly known adaptogens are ginseng and astragalus roots, for example, and the queen of all mushrooms, Reishi is a powerful and revered adaptogen. Those who drink apoptogenic tonics daily get healthier and healthier over time. The more you take an adaptogen and stick with it the better it performs for you. Did you know Rhodiola is a favorite adaptogen used by Russian astronauts to combat their stress of being stuck in confined space for 6 months? Just imagine that for one minute. Okay, if you are claustrophobic then imagine being confined in a space capsule for 3 seconds. Phew. Breathe. The incredible side-benefit of Rhodiola is mental sharpness. Seriously one gets smarter and sharper and remains calm by the minute.

Did I mention that to make the ‘adaptogen list’ the plant or mushroom must be entirely safe, non-toxic, have a non-specific effect to normalize bodily systems and to maintain the perfect state of homeostasis? No? I just did. But what the heck is a ‘non-specific effect’ all about, right?  A non-specific effect on the body means the adaptogen must be able to help in a variety of ways for a variety of stressors like physical, chemical or biological stressors. Many pharmaceuticals have ‘specific’ effects and target a certain stressor, and this sometimes is the reason why some side-effects occur. There is no flexibility in its path so to speak. Ouch. Both modalities work in their own way and pharmaceuticals are a heck of a lot faster but like a snowplow. I like knowing that adaptogens are gentle with no ‘side-effects’ but many ‘side-benefits’.

Okay so here is the ticker. The bomb. The torpedo. Call it what you like, um, the term adaptogen is not recognized in the N.A. allopathic world. The term ‘adaptogen’ was first coined in 1947 by a Russian scientist named Lazarev and hasn’t been accepted by our N.A. pharmaceutical giants and supporters yet. Nature is not patentable so why sink money into research as the old argument goes today. Please know there are a ton of clinical efficacy studies conducted by scientists in other countries to help us Highlanders get on the adaptogen tonic bandwagon. The Russians have studies on Rhodiola, the Chinese on Reishi and Ginseng, the Peruvians on Maca, and so on. The first peoples indigenous to Canada have traditionally used adaptogens like Chaga and Eleuthero (aka N.A. Ginseng). I love Eleuthero, but it is an endangered species and cannot be collected by hikers. I’d like to share with you my experience with Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). Whilst China’s Reishi is called the queen of mushrooms, Chaga is the king! Really. It even has the nickname ‘The Mushroom of Immortality’. The secrets out. Now you know why I hunt this clinker and drink it daily. Wild Chaga (pronounced shawga) tea chunks and powder is readily sold across Canada in many outlets and very popular amongst the health food industry customers. I hunt for my own in the highlands and have been drinking it daily for over a year. My first clinker came from Calabogie and I believe I squealed with glee when I saw it. There was a witness. I’m sure it was amusing. Chaga grows abundantly in the highlands and you can harvest some too. It grows mainly on birches and less commonly on beech, elm and hornbeam trees. I usually find it on yellow birch in both Ontario and Quebec but have seen it on elms and paper birches in Gatineau. Thank goodness Chaga mushroom grows in mixed boreal forests around the world (N.A., Europe, Siberia and Korea) and consequently has many studies out there proving Chaga is an important apoptogenic tonic mushroom. Its oldest documented use dates to the 11-12th century when a Russian Czar used it.

The proven side-benefits of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) are plentiful:

1)    Adaptogen

2)    Powerful antioxidant with a super high ORAC reading

3)    Immune system modulator

4)    Anti-cancer, anti-tumor (BTW: book about this study written in 1955 won a Nobel prize in 1970)

5)    Increased energy and stamina

6)    Antiaggregant 

7)    Boosts Brain and liver function

8)    Can heal psoriasis! (1951 study with 50 people, 38 completely cured, 8 improved, 4 remained unaffected)

Health Canada has stated the following caution on Chaga products: ‘those who are pregnant, breast feeding, those on blood thinners or prepping for surgery, diabetics and those with auto-immune diseases need to consult with their practitioner or doctor before taking Chaga.’ Please remember that adaptogens are non-toxic when taken alone but pharmaceuticals may interact negatively with its efficacy.

How do you find this incredible mushroom? If you are hiking or camping in a mixed boreal forest look on living birch trees for the clinkers. Chaga looks like a big blackened and burnt knot or knarl obliquely jutting from a birch. The blackened skin is cracked all over and not uniform. A real knarl is solid wood with a bark covering. A knarl is hard to remove. Chaga is easy to remove with a knife and is soft and rusty or golden brown inside the clinker. It smells lightly of mushroom and your finger nail can easily go into it. Be mindful that Chaga is a parasite on a live tree and one should respectfully leave at least 15% of the mushroom on the tree. The Chaga will grow back to a good size in about three years so GPS your location for future harvests. Yippee! The blackened exterior of the mushroom has the highest concentration of its active medicinal ingredients so be careful to keep the skin intact as you harvest. If you cannot chop up your Chaga as soon as you get home, you can bag and place it in the freezer till you can cut it. If it dries before you chop it, you will need an axe to chop it later. Be forewarned. Chop your Chaga into 2-inch chunks and dry on racks for several days or dehydrate. Store the dried chunks in mason jars in your pantry or cool and dark location. Write a three-year expiry date on it. To make tea, toss 3-5 chunks in 2 litres of freshly boiled water. Simmer on low for 1.5 to 2 

hours. Stir often while making sure the water doesn’t boil. The tea will be the colour of coffee. Store fresh tea for up to a week in the fridge. Do not discard the used chunks but store in the freezer and reuse again and again (up to 5 times) until the resultant tea is no longer dark or becomes tasteless. The tea is very mild and sweet to taste and will get lighter with each batch. I discard the chunks when the tea is very light and looks more like diluted apple juice. Chunks can also be finely ground in a coffee grinder and added by teaspoon to your coffee, chai or hot chocolate. (The powder method depletes your stock much quicker). Drink the tea daily to let the adaptogen tonic do its magic. Don’t forget that adaptogens work better the longer you use it. It is a commitment. They are gentle long-term healers and of course free in the highlands. Please share this knowledge with a child or teen. You may need these monkeys to climb the tree and retrieve the Chaga King for you.


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