I’m pretty sure this is the most comprehensive and objective source of information about Chaga available on the internet or in print. The goal is to improve consumer awareness about Chaga as a dietary supplement.
The emphasis this time is on ‘objective’ because with few exceptions most web-based Chaga information is characterised by exaggerated marketing stories, hearsay and cherry-picked information. This website is presenting the facts, to counter those unverifiable stories and the deceiving marketing.
There is no commercial motive behind this website. I do not offer any products but instead included an overview of available Chaga supplements so you can compare and decide for yourself what is good, what is better and what is best avoided.
All information is based on the available scientific research, common sense and logic.
A starting point was 'Chaga - The Facts' which included many references. The sources are available as downloads and links here, so all claims and conclusions can be verified if desired.
Some people will be disappointed after reading this site. I was disappointed myself to be honest. I was a believer in Chaga as ‘King of Herbs’ !
The truth turned out to be less glamorous. Chaga is a great medicinal mushroom but not as great as they want you to believe. The scale of the amount of misinformation was actually unbelievable. Chaga is a true hype including all the drawbacks! Don't take my word for it - see and judge for yourself !
If you find any mistakes, just use the contact form and tell me why you think it’s a mistake.
Thanks ! Dave
'Chaga' is a Russian phrase ('чага'). What we call ‘Chaga’ is the dense black mass (usually 25-40 cm large) that can be seen on the outside of trees (almost exclusively birches) infected with the white-rot fungus Inonotus obliquus.
It is not a fruiting body because a fruiting body is meant for spreading spores. A fruiting body is the final stage in the lifecycle of many higher fungi.
The Chaga conk is sterile, a dense mass of mycelia with decayed bits of wood incorporated. When chopped from the tree the interior shows a rusty yellow-brown color, somewhat granular in appearance, and is often mottled with whitish or cream-colored ‘veins’.
The hard, deeply cracked black outside of the Chaga is called the sclerotium.
Chaga sclerotia, bursting from a birch; and after harvesting - note the color and structure
Typically, well-developed Chaga sclerotia are found on trees over 40 years of age, but the actual fungal infection starts earlier. The period from initial infection to tree death varies with the number of infection sites and the tree's resistance, but is typically around 20 years. After about 3 - 5 years the Chaga conk is large enough to be harvested.
After harvesting, the Chaga conk can regrow to harvestable size again in three to ten years. Harvesting the Chaga can be repeated until the tree dies. Chopping off the Chaga does not stop the fungal infection.
The actual fungus is living inside the tree, where it is battling with the tree's defenses until the tree has to give up and inevitabily dies.
During this ‘battle for survival’ interesting bio-active compounds develop in the Chaga conk, many of which were found to have therapeutic potential.
Statistics show that the Chaga fungus seems to prefer low temperatures and develops best in cold climates. It grows in particular on birch trees.
The main areas where it is found are the northern parts of North-America, Europe and Asia, the northern parts of China bordering on Siberia, plus North-Korea and the most northern parts of Japan. All of these regions have a tradition of folk medicine which includes Chaga in some way.
During the past decade health gurus such as Daniel Vitalis, Cass Ingram and David Wolfe have popularized Chaga both online and offline.
They are surfing on the current wave of super foods and nutraceuticals (= foods that are also ‘medicinal’) to promote and sell supplements that carry their name or are endorsed by them.
Chaga is marketed as a cure-all, almost magical product. This is grossly exagerrated
Many websites promoting and selling Chaga start their Chaga introduction with a variation on 'as early as 4600 years ago…'. There is no source for this claim, though. It is based on ignorance and a misinterpretation of facts and rumours. Uncritical copy/pasting of each other's content is next and there you have it - a new 'fact' is born.
The first verifiable mentions of Chaga are from the 16th century and stem from Russia. Chaga was used for the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and gastritis.
Writing was not invented yet back then. It is not impossible Chaga was known and used during those ancient times, but there are no records of it.
Most likely this particular statement is based on the discovery of Ötzi the Iceman, whose frozen, 5300-year old remains were discovered in 1991 in Europe. Among Otzi’s possessions were two types of tree mushrooms. But no Chaga, despite websites that state otherwise. The mushrooms he carried were identified using DNA-analysis.
One of these (the birch fungus – Piptoporus betulinus) is known to have antibacterial properties, and might have been used for medical purposes. The other was a type of tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius), included with what appeared to be a complex fire-starting kit.
The Iceman is being investigated.
© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology; EURAC/Samadelli/Staschitz
Here's another busted myth: unlike e.g. Reishi Chaga is not mentioned in the oldest existing text on medicinal herbs, the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, (written ± 200 BC) despite many websites that claim otherwise. (The Chinese names for Chaga are Hua Jie Kong Jun or Bai Hua Rong). We looked it up, to verify.
‘King of Herbs’ is just a 21st century marketing statement, not a 2200 year old slogan from the Chinese. (And Chaga is of course not a herb, but a fungus.)
The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing is the oldest written text on medicinal herbs
The first verifiable mentions of Chaga are actually from the 16th century and stem from Russia.
Chaga (in combinations with other herbs) was used for the treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and gastritis.
‘Chaga tea’ was used for the treatment of an upset stomach and intestinal pains. Such a decoction was (and still is) especially popular among hunters and foresters, since this drink is said to alleviate hunger, removes tiredness, refreshes, and increases work capacity. Chaga tea is also used as a means of improving the general tone.
Patients were and still are frequently recommended to use chaga extracts when it was necessary to reduce the arterial or venous blood pressure. Chaga infusions were (and still are) also used for the treatment of periodontitis, eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Inhalations of chaga with other herbs are until today being used to reduce inflammations in the nasopharynx and to facilitate breathing.
Chaga was also used in agriculture, in particular in animal breeding: adding chaga to the ration of pigs stimulates the growth of piglets and accelerates the weight gain of fatteners. Chaga has also been used as a plant growth stimulator, like fertilizer.
An example of the first users are the Khanty (formerly called the Ostyak), one of the peoples inhabiting West Siberia. Due to fatalism caused by their animist-shamanist world outlook, their folk medicine was developed poorly, though.
Illnesses arising without evident external reasons were thought to have been caused by supernatural beings and doctors were regarded incapable of curing such diseases. Nevertheless, they did use some fungi to support their health, one of which was Chaga. (The name ‘Chaga’ is actually derived from the Khanty language).
Khanty men - 1898
Chaga was and is still used by the Khanty for general well-being, internal cleaning (we would call it ‘detoxing’) and curing and preventing health problems in general, but in particular for liver problems, heart problems, tuberculosis and to get rid of parasitic worms. It was prepared as a tea. (Method of preparation: cut up dried Chaga, put it into boiling water, boil for several minutes.) Three cm3 were used for 2.5 l of tea, and the tea was drunk until the ailment was cured.
The Khanty also used Chaga to make ‘soap water‘. To make ‘soap water‘ the fungus was first put into the fire. When it turned red (like smoldering charcoal) it was put into a bucket of hot water and then stirred until it broke into small pieces. The black water thus obtained was considered to have a strong cleaning and disinfecting ability.
This ‘soap water‘ was used to wash the genitals of women during menstruation and after birth; sometimes new-born babies were also washed. One Khanty compared it to the effect of a KMnO4 solution (potassium permanganate; a disinfectant used in Russia to wash new-borns the first three months after their birth) and stated that women who washed themselves with such water, never took ill. In older times it had been used instead of soap to wash the hands, feet and sometimes also the whole body.
Chaga was also burned and the smoke was inhaled; its purpose was ritual cleaning.
A group of Ainu - 1902
The Ainu people, an ethnic group indigenous to Hokkaido, the Kuri islands and Sahkhalin used to drink Chaga tea to treat stomach pain and inflammations. Another use was filling a pipe with powdered Chaga, lit and smoke it during religious ceremonies. The leader of the ceremony inhaled the smoke and then passed the pipe to his neighbor. The pipe continued circulating until all the participants had smoked it. This ritual was described as ‘consuming the smoke‘.
Although the medicinal effects of the smoke are unknown (and probably nonexistent), this tradition shows that Chaga was highly regarded.
Wisakechak threw a scab, which he had mistaken for dried meat and tried to eat, against a birch tree where it has stayed to this day to benefit mankind
Several native tribes in North-America/Canada (the Woodland Cree, the Gitksan, the Wet’suwet’en and the Tenaina, e.g.) knew and used the Chaga fungus. Each tribe had several names for the fungus. It is obvious none of these people called it ‘Chaga’ or ‘Tsi-aga’ as some internet sites proclaim – they are not Khanty! But don't let the facts get in the way of a good story...
The Woodland Cree e.g. called it ‘Pos kan’ or ‘Wisakechak omik h‘, and this name was derived from the following legend: “Wisakechak (a mythological figure) threw a scab (= ‘Omik h’), which he had mistaken for dried meat and tried to eat, against a birch tree where it has stayed to this day to benefit mankind.”
The Cree used the soft yellow-brown inside of Chaga as tinder or touchwood for the building of campfires. One fire-starting method commonly used by the Cree was the striking of steel against a piece of flint to make sparks. The sparks ignited a piece of dry ‘Pos kan‘ which catches easily and remains smoldering, then the ‘Pos kan‘ ignites thin pieces of birch bark and small dry twigs in turn.
In Russia this method was also used, and even today survivalists are hunting Chaga for this reason. Here is a website with background information.
it is not Chaga in itself but specific ingredients found inside the Chaga that make it interesting as a health product. These compounds are called ‘bioactives’
The first thing to realize is that it is not so much ’Chaga’ in itself but specific ingredients found inside the Chaga that make it interesting as a health product and define its therapeutic potential. These compounds are called ‘bioactives’ and are reliable quality markers.
The main bioactives in Chaga are beta-glucans, polyphenols, triterpenes and sterols - more about this you can find in the dedicated article.
The presence or absence of these bioactives can be easily determined nowadays, using standardized common laboratory procedures such as Megazyme®, spectrography and HPLC.
Where the Chaga is from is therefore irrelevant - lab-validated percentages of the bio-active ingredients are the only reliable indication of quality and therapeutic potential. Look for the percentages of e.g. beta-glucan, polyphenols and triterpenes on the supplement facts label.
The often seen 'xxx % polysaccharides' specification seen on many products can be considered outdated since 2016. It is too broad a term - although beta-glucans (the actual bioactives) are polysaccharides, not all polysaccharides are beta-glucans*.
Forget the hype - the therapeutic potential of a Chaga supplement is not defined by marketing slogans, but by scientific facts. And although every Chaga seller can choose his own business approach, he cannot choose his own facts.
If you, as a consumer, want to know which Chaga product is the best to buy, you can compare the specifications as displayed in the ’Supplement Facts’ panel on the bottle.
It is obvious that only the combination of high quality raw materials and state-of-the-art extraction technology will result in a premium quality Chaga supplement.
We cannot emphasize this enough: 'XXX Chaga is the best !!' is just a marketing slogan, unless it’s backed up by indisputable and verifiable facts like a Certificate of Analysis (CoA), issued by an independant third party lab. You can request such a CoA from the seller.
Comparing products should be simple and straightforward, but it is not, unfortunately. The reason is that many sellers are selling mediocre or even useless products and rely on marketing only. They do not specify active ingredients at all.
Such sellers have nothing to gain by being transparant - if their product contains e.g. only 2 % beta-glucan in a market where 10 % is pretty standard that would mean anti-advertising. So they don't specify anything on the label, but choose slogans like 'All-American Chaga !!!', 'anti-oxidant boost !!!', '215 phyto-nutrients !!' or something similar. Great slogans maybe, but they do not reveal the actual quality of a product.
Logic tells us that if a seller has a quality product with good specs he won't be secretive about it. He'll put the specs on the label. Although this is not compulsory in the case of a herbal supplement (just mentioning the herb or mushroom would be enough to comply with the official regulations in this case), business-wise it would be foolish to leave such a unique selling point out. And for a consumer it is of course common sense to choose a Chaga supplement with good and verifiable specifications.
if a seller has a quality product with good specs he won't be secretive about it
*In 2016 the AOAC validated the Megazyme® method as a reliable way to determine beta-glucan percentages, which makes more accurate and reliable specifications possible. Great news for the sellers with high quality products, but bad news for the others...
The best Chaga supplement will be able to accomplish a significant therapeutic effect and -from the consumers point of view- offer good value for money. To accomplish a significant therapeutic effect it should always be extracted, never raw.
The therapeutic effect is due to the presence of specific bioactive ingredients such as beta-glucan, polyphenols and triterpenes.
In the best case scenario these bioactives are specified on the supplement facts label (this is supervised by the authorities - no marketing / exagerration is allowed on that label). This will also make it possible to determine the value for money (by comparing it with other products and their price / specifications).
If a website selling Chaga products is referring to bioactive ingredients such as beta-glucans, melanin or SOD but does not list any on the supplement facts label of their products you still have no guarantee that the product actually contains bioavailable bioactives and has noteworthy therapeutic potential.
If you are looking for a Chaga supplement to help you battle a health condition, it's probably best to look elsewhere.
Click here for details and background...
Although almost every website about Chaga will tell you the opposite, where the Chaga was harvested is actually not that relevant.
Chaga's therapeutic potential is defined by combining good quality raw materials with the best possible processing.When evaluating the quality of a Chaga product the same rules apply as when evaluating a mushroom supplement in general: check the specifications on the official supplement facts label, or, if possible, the Analysis certificate (CoA) on which that label is based. Trustworthy sellers will send you this certificate on request.*
This will result in high levels of the acknowledged bioactives: beta-glucan, triterpenes, etc.
Russians use only hot water extraction, a limitation rooted in their -severely outdated- Pharmacopeia.
This means that even with the best quality raw materials the natural synergy that is only found in a full-spectrum product will be missing. None of the important triterpenes or sterols will be bioavailable, because these are non-soluble in water.
Russian producers are also forced by their State Pharmacopeia (entry 63,38) to use the ‘Chromogenic complex’ as the benchmark for all Chaga products (extracts, tinctures, ointments etc.).
This ‘Chromogenic complex’ concept stems from the 1950s and was mainly used for identification purposes back then when there were no other options available. It is based on color and mass and reveals nothing about Chaga’s chemical composition or bioactives. It is an outdated concept by every standard and Russian producers are well aware of this.
the Chromogenic complex is described as ‘a vague concept with no definition of its chemical composition’Consider this, the opening paragraph of this Russian journal – (Translated from Khimiko-Farmatsevticheskii Zhurnal, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 35 – 37, March, 2010) where the ‘Chromogenic complex’ is described as ‘ a vague concept with no definition of its chemical composition’ and products and protocols based on that (meaning: all Russian-produced Chaga extracts) are described as ‘severely out of date’ and ‘not respond(ing) to current requirements ‘.
The Chinese on the other side have a free hand. They have a 1000-year history in the cultivation and processing of mushrooms, and the government has been funding innovative biotechnology in the past decades with millions of dollars. Most research in this field is also from SE-Asia.
The Chinese are the biggest exporters of mushroom extracts in the world, currently. They will produce whatever their customers want. They have both the equipment and the knowledge to produce top quality extracts.
Unfortunately, most of their customers (many of which are Western companies) are unaware of the details as explained on this blog. They are in the core ignorant. Like most consumers they prefer the cheapest products, not the best products. This becomes very clear when you check our product comparison overview - despite the potential of the manufacturers the general level of product quality is still mediocre at best.
Many Chinese producers are actually specialised in herbs, not mushrooms. This results often in mediocre products with unclear therapeutic potentialOne reason is that many Chinese producers are actually specialised in herbs and herbal extraction (rooted in the highly valued Traditional Chinese Medicine - TCM). Not mushrooms. When medicinal mushrooms became very popular as an export product during the past 20 years they decided to add these products to their existing catalogue, but lacked the specialised knowledge needed for mushroom extraction. Mushrooms are not herbs and require different and more expensive processing procedures.
better products require more and also more expensive processingAnother reason for the massive amount of mediocre quality products available is an educated guess only: sellers know that low-priced products sell much higher quantities. Because processing is expensive and better products require more and also more expensive processing they probably decide to stick with low or medium quality extracts and compensate the lack of quality with exagerrated marketing.
*A reliable CoA is issued by an independant laboratory, not by the seller. Don't mix up a CoA and a spec sheet! A CoA should show the contact details of the lab plus the benchmarks and the assays used to test for the various elements. It should be signed by a lab technician.
Logic tells us the therapeutic potential of Chaga is entirely based on the presence, quantity and bioavailability of well-known bioactive ingredients such as beta-glucan, polyphenols and triterpenes. It is known that due to harsh environmental conditions these bioactives develop better. This is probably the basis of the 'Siberian Chaga is better' claim.
It is actually quite easy to validate such a claim - just test the Chaga for these bioactive compounds using the globally accepted scientific standards.
As it turns out this wide-spread 'fact' is just a marketing slogan. There is no data backing up this claim of superior quality. Siberian Chaga is great but not better than Chaga from other regions with similar environmental conditions. The proof lies in the facts, not marketing.
For a Chaga supplement the processing of the raw product is actually more important than having a Siberian heritage.
Proper processing (extraction) will optimize the bioavailability of the bioactive ingredients. It also makes it possible to specify and guarantee the presence of those active ingredients on the supplement facts label. The information on that label is supervised by the authorities - no marketing / exagerration is allowed. It is reliable and the best guideline to base a purchasing decision on. And don't be fooled by statements such as '10:1 extract' - this phrase is meaningless in the case of mushroom supplements.
If a product states 'Siberian Chaga !' but nothing more you still have no guarantee that it has therapeutic potential and is worth buying.
You buy a story.
Click here for details and background...
Chaga's bioactive compounds are locked in the cell-walls of the fungus. They include water-soluble (beta-glucans, polyphenols) and non-soluble (lipid) compounds (triterpenes, including sterols). To benefit from them they have to be released by an extraction process (see the dedicated entry on this blog for details).
The most important and most prominent bioactives are the (1>3)(1>6)Beta-D-Glucans. These are so-called natural Biological Response Modifiers (BRM), triggering processes in the body not by 'chemical' means but natural.
One benefit of this is that such processes are limited by the body's natural thresholds - overstimulation is not possible and there are usually no side effects.
Binding of Beta-Glucan to specific receptors (either CR3 or Dectin-1) activates macrophages. Furthermore, binding triggers intracellular processes, characterized by the respiratory burst after phagocytosis of invading cells (formation of reactive oxygen species and free radicals), the increase of content and activity of hydrolytic enzymes, and signaling processes leading to activation of other cells and the secretion of cytokines.
Cytokines are small, soluble proteins that act as intracellular mediators in an immune response. Some cytokines such as Interleukin-2 (IL-2) are known to modulate the immune system; they work two ways. They boost the immune reaction when it is declining/slow (e.g. due to aging or other factors) and suppress it when it is over-active (causing e.g. allergies and a wide spectrum of other auto-immune problems).
Beta-Glucans also help to normalize cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels but without the side-effects reported using synthetic statins and other pharmaceutical drugs.
The lipid (non-water soluble) fraction also contains potent therapeutic components, some of which are unique to Chaga.
Phytosterols are powerful triterpenes; of the phytosterols present in Chaga 45% is lanosterol, 25% inotodiol and the remaining 30% consists of ergosterol, fecosterol and several others. In vivo and in vitro research showed promising anti-cancer effects of both lanosterol and inotodiol. Lanosterol also has an anti-viral effect.
A major problem of betulin and betulinic acid is their poor bioavailabilityBetulin and betulinic acid are two components unique to the Chaga fungus – research has shown great therapeutic potential.
Chaga is also a source of polyphenols, known for their anti-oxidant properties. The main source is the black crust on the outside of the Chaga conk; it is rich in melanin.
Melanin is a polyphenol derivative. A lab report (analyzing dried raw Finnish Chaga) found 11% polyphenols in their sample. That is a significant number! However, also see the 'Chaga Myths' section for some additional details. Extracts have different properties. The only Chaga extract specifying polyphenols claims > 3%.
The level of vitamins in Chaga (vitamin A, B-complex and C) is mentioned often in marketing, but cannot be considered significant. See the 'Chaga Myths' section of this website.
Only ± 10% of the Chaga conk is actual fungal material - the rest is mainly decaying/fermented wood
In the best case scenario mushroom extracts are standardized for one or more well-researched bioactives. In the case of Chaga that means:
Chaga's therapeutic potential is defined by the presence, quantity and purity of the bioactive compounds present.
Many Chaga producers are using ORAC-values and/or SOD-values when promoting their Chaga products. The numbers given should be indicative of Chaga’s potential to neutralize oxidative stress, to fix and prevent DNA damage caused by free radicals, to provide geno-protective qualities and to protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation (like in sunlight) and gamma radiation.
Almost none of the Chaga producers ever spent money on researching their product’s properties.It was not difficult to find out that the ORAC- and SOD-levels quoted online are in almost all cases made up or were copy/pasted from some unverifiable source. These numbers usually have no relation to the specific supplement being advertised and are never mentioned on the supplement facts label. Question: if it is so great, why not put it on the label ?
SOD refers to a group of enzymes called SuperOxide Dismutases. These enzymes are present in human cells and play an important role in protecting our body against the destructive effects of uncontrolled oxidation and free radicals. The level of SOD in our body decreases with aging.
SOD are also present in Chaga, where they play an essential role in cell survival, in particular when the fungus is battling with its host, the infected tree.
When it is infected with an aggressive pathogenic fungus like Chaga the birch tree -as can be expected- is using its own defense mechanisms to fight its attacker. Chaga is using SOD as part of its continuos struggle to survive and to expand, ultimately resulting in the host tree’s death, after which the fungus can finally develop its fruiting body, spread its spores and then will also die. (The health gurus that proclaim that Chaga is either a part of the tree’s immune system (Cass Ingram) or has a symbiotic relation with the tree (David Wolfe) could not be more wrong).
The Tufts University is said to have tested Chaga for its anti-oxidant power, comparing it against other foods. This seems unlikely: Tufts is one of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centers and investigating everyday food and its properties. Chaga is not an everyday food, it is not even considered an edible mushroom.
Taking SOD orally is completely useless, unless it is taken in a timed-release capsule or linked with gliadin as a carrier, forming Glisodin®Apart from this, nobody has been able to find a source for these often seen statements, nor for the accompanying SOD-numbers. After contacting the Tufts University it became clear they’ve indeed never tested Chaga, only other foods as part of their USDA support function. The figures mentioned are apparently made up and completely false.
A very important point that is always left out by supplement sellers: taking SOD orally is completely useless, unless it is taken in a timed-release capsule or linked with gliadin (a component of gluten) as a carrier, forming Glisodin®.
Many online Chaga sellers are not well-informed and don't bother doing their due diligence. They want to sell and try to make their product look appealing
SOD is usually emphasized in Chaga marketing as being an important bioactive ingredient. However, the high numbers mentioned -'Tufts University'- were found to be fabrications. There are no facts confirming these numbers; on what they are based is unclear.
One fact is not mentioned: unless the Chaga extract is encapsulated in a timed-release capsule whatever SOD is present will be destroyed in the stomach. Taking SOD orally (either as a stand-alone product or as an active ingredient in a product such as Chaga) can be considered a waste of money, generally speaking. And this is a scientific fact, not an opinion.
Another aspect that is usually overlooked: if the Chaga supplement advertised is containing a high SOD level, how come there is not a single Chaga supplement on the market specifying or guaranteeing SOD ? After all, it is not expensive to test for SOD. If the impressive numbers would be confirmed by a lab a seller would have an unbeatable and unique selling point.
If a website selling Chaga products is referring to SOD (or whatever other bioactive ingredient) but does not list it on the supplement facts label of their products you still have no guarantee that the product actually contains SOD and has therapeutic potential. If you are looking for a supplement to help you battle a health condition, look elsewhere.
Look for levels of Zinc, Copper, Iron and Manganese; these minerals stimulate the production of SOD in the body.
Click here for details and background...
Extracted Chaga can have a wide range of therapeutic effects. These effects depend on the level of extraction (Chaga tea being the most basic/lowest level), the quality of the raw material, how it has been processed and of course the dosage.
Research has also shown significant differences in therapeutic effects between wild-harvested Chaga and cultivated Inonotus obliquus mycelia, in particular in sterol and polyphenolic composition*.
Cultivated Chaga mycelia in a petri-dish - notice the small fruiting bodies (image courtesy shroomery.org)
Chaga is a parasitic fungus affecting birch trees in particular. The bark of the birch tree contains a lot of betulin and betulinic acid.
These organic acids have attracted a lot of attention in recent years because of research* revealing its anti-cancer activity (especially for melanoma and skin cancer cells), its anti-inflammatory and anti-malarial effects, its effect on high LDL-cholesterol levels and in particular its anti-HIV-1 activity. These observations resulted in the incorporation of betulinic acid in the Rapid Access to Intervention Development (RAID) program of the U.S. National Institute of Health.
Raw Chaga also contains both betulinic acid and betulin, because the Chaga conk has fragments of birch embedded. Chaga extracts should be dual extracted to contain betulinic acid; it is alcohol-soluble only and will not be present in hot water extracts.
As can be expected Chaga sellers and health gurus are emphasizing the therapeutic potential of Chaga’s betulinic acid.
Focused as they are on selling their products and not bothering to do their due diligence they ignore the following important facts:
Buying Chaga only because of its betulinic acid content is entirely useless
Currently research is focusing in particular on finding methods that can solve the bioavailability problem.
Mushrooms are notorious for absorbing and accumulating heavy metals and radionuclides. This is something to keep in mind when collecting wild mushrooms, in particular in urban areas and close to highways. Chaga is a very slow growing fungus, which can accumulate significant amounts of heavy metals over the years from its natural environment. Testing wild-harvested Chaga before use is therefore essential.
Chaga can accumulate significant amounts of heavy metals over the years from its natural environment. Testing wild-harvested Chaga before use is therefore essential.Since the Fukushima disaster (March 11th, 2011) some American supplement sellers spread the rumour that Siberian and Chinese Chaga could no longer be trusted; it’s ‘soaked with radioactivity‘. In Germany the Chernobyl disaster (1986) is still considered a valid reason to avoid Siberian Chaga in particular.
First, the Chernobyl blast.
It took place in 1986, over 30 years ago. Trees that were infected with Chaga at that time died about 10 to 20 years ago, keeping in mind that “the period from initial infection to tree death varies with the number of infection sites and tree resistance, but is typically around 20 years“. It is highly unlikely contaminated Chaga from that time is in circulation. Another fact to keep in mind is the general rule to test exported Chaga for radionuclides like Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 in Russia. (NB - using a Geiger-counter is useless - it is unsuitable to detect this type of radio-active contamination.)
Second, the Fukushima disaster.
The American and Canadian supplement sellers that are spreading the rumours about Fukushima contamination are basing this on the concept that China and Siberia are ‘close’ to Japan. This is not relevant, though, as the picture below shows clearly. This picture shows the ground deposition of radioactive Caesium-137, less than one month after the Fukushima disaster took place. It speaks for itself: the Asian continent has almost no contamination with the exception of Russia’s Far East (and Japan of course), but the N-American continent is a different story.
The reason for this is that the major jet streams on Earth are westerly winds (flowing west to east). Radioactive fallout was carried away from the Asian continent by these jet streams towards the American continent, at a speed of > 100 miles/hour (160 km/hour).
Summarising, collecting and consuming wild Japanese, Canadian or American Chaga (or other mushrooms) is probably not a good idea in the affected areas, unless it has been tested for radio-active contamination. Chinese and Siberian Chaga is perfectly safe, though.
Check this link for a movie dynamically showing the spread of Fukushima fallout.
Many sellers and buyers of Chaga products appear to be unaware of a very important fact: Chaga is not a herb. Mushrooms are not plants, they have their own unique properties. One of the main differences is that most people are unable to properly digest unprocessed, powdered dried mushrooms.
The reason is, simply put, that mushroom cells are not cellulose-based (like green herbs and plants) but chitin-based, structurally speaking. Chitin is one of the hardest natural materials on earth; the exo-skeletons of insects and shell-fish are also chitin-based.
Bioavailability: The degree to which a drug or other substance is absorbed or reaches a target site in the body; esp. the proportion of a dose of a drug taken orally which reaches the bloodstream.
-- Oxford English Dictionary
Unless their ancestors had a history of eating dried insects or shell-fish regularly most people usually either completely lack the enzymes needed to break down chitin in the stomach (so-called chitinases) or these enzymes are not very active.
The bioactive ingredients that make Chaga a ’medicinal’ mushroom are unfortunately locked in those chitin cell-walls. We won’t benefit from from those bioactives unless the mushroom has been processed in some way, making those bioactives bioavailable. This process is called ‘extraction’.
The most simple way is making tea or soup from the dried and powdered raw mushroom: this is a basic form of ‘hot water extraction’. The heat will ‘melt’ the chitin bonds and set the water-soluble bioactives free so they can be absorbed in the gut. Traditional folk medicine was always using a form of hot water extraction.
(NB - Forget about tinctures - this is something typical for herbs. Mushroom tinctures are useless if actual therapeutic effects are the goal - see the dedicated article on this website for details).
The HongKong Consumer Council put the traditional method to the test (Choice magazine #286, August 15, 2000). They compared a home-made mushroom tea (Reishi) with a professionally produced extract.
The study team used 15 grams of sliced red Reishi and boiled this in 300 cc of water for an hour. Their lab analysis showed that the amount of crude polysaccharides extracted was about 0.076 grams ( ± 0.5%). A basic hot water Reishi extract can easily contain up to 30% polysaccharides, so the study concluded that the traditional method is not only labor intensive, but also much more expensive and clearly less effective.
One reason for the low percentage of polysaccharides in the tea is this: polysaccharides are large strings of molecules, which will disintegrate under continuous high temperatures, thus losing their bioactivity.
Modern science came up with very sophisticated forms of extraction during their quest for new anti-cancer drugs; this resulted in products with a much higher purity and significantly better therapeutic effects. They discovered that when performing the boiling of the dried mushroom under pressure this disintegration does not take place and a much higher yield of bioactive polysaccharides is achieved.
After this several follow-up steps can be applied to filter out compounds known to be useless, thus creating a very pure product, optimized for a high level of specific bioactives.
Unfortunately most supplements available are quite crude, because in particular the purification procedures are expensive. Despite that, even a run-of-the-mill hot water extract is already significantly more powerful than a home-made decoction - the test results made that clear.
Quite a few people do not like taking capsules for a variety of reasons. They prefer liquid products. The sellers of such products tend to emphasize the ease of use and also often claim the product is absorbed better because you only have to take a few drops under the tongue. This is called ’sublingual’ administration.
Unfortunately this is entirely wrong - sublingual administration is not effective in the case of mushroom products, because the main bioactive ingredients (beta-glucans) are very large molecules; much to large for sublingual administration.
Beta-glucans are very large molecules that cannot be absorbed through the skin or through sublingual administration
Don't overlook the fact that a Chaga tincture / liquid 'extract' is not 'liquid Chaga', it is a bit of Chaga dissolved in a liquid. These liquid products contain 85 - 90% liquid (a carrier without any therapeutic potential, such as water and/or alcohol) and maybe 10 - 15 % Chaga at best. The more transparant the product, the more liquid.
In general the Chaga in these products is unprocessed powdered ’raw’ Chaga, added to the liquid with the idea that the ‘extraction’ of Chaga’s bioactive ingredients will happen over time in the bottle. This concept stems from herbal practise and is known as ‘cold extraction’. It does not work well with mushrooms, though. Mushrooms are not herbs.
Herbs are ‘constructed’ of cellulose, structurally speaking, and the cellulose wil disintegrate over time in the liquid, releasing the soluble bioactives. Mushrooms however are chitin-based, and chitin does not disintegrate at all in liquid.
Only a minimal amount of directly ’exposed’ bioactive molecules can dissolve in the water / alcohol. For effective extraction heat (or fermentation) is required - to ‘melt’ the chitin bonds that keep the bioactive molecules locked in the cell-walls.
So, cold extraction does not work, but even when adding previously extracted powder to the liquid you will still have very little bioactive ingredients in the bottle.
Here's an easy-to-follow calculation: a 50 ml glass bottle can hold ± 19 grams of dry powder, but if you want to add the liquid (as said, 85 - 90% liquid is pretty standard) that means there ’s only room for ± 2 grams of powder (= 10 - 15 %). That is very little, taking into account that a recommended daily dosage is 1 - 2 grams of properly extracted Chaga extract powder (recommendation based on the amount of bioactive beta-glucan needed for noteworthy therapeutic effects)*
Probably in order to stay competitive it is not surprising that there are virtually ZERO sellers that test their liquid product and put the test results on the bottle. Every consumer looking at the bottle and comparing the specs with a powdered extract would notice the pathetic value-for-money and lack of therapeutic potential.
We managed to find only one Japanese product with specifications. This particular product is a fermented mixed-mushroom blend, but the message is clear.
As you can see on the image this product contained per 100ml bottle 180mg beta-glucan. That is similar to what would be present in 3 - 6 capsules Chaga extract (depending on the brand). One bottle of this particular liquid extract costs ± $ 35 - the potency equivalent in capsules would cost you ± $ 1.00 max.
Dry powdered extracts contain ± 95 % Chaga and 5 % moisture, liquid extracts contain ± 10 % Chaga and 90 % moisture. Powdered extracts are actually liquid-extracts-without-the-liquid, since they're all based on solvent extraction (hot water and/or alcohol) followed by drying. The residue after drying is the powdered extract.
A liquid extract/tincture is easily 20 to 30 times more expensive than a good quality powdered extract of similar therapeutic potency. Apart from that, there are virtually no liquid extracts/tinctures that specify any of the well-known bioactive ingredients, such as beta-glucan or triterpenes. To keep it simple: you have no clue what you buy. The therapeutic potential is always minimal, if any.
In our opinion liquid based Chaga products are unsuitable if you need therapeutic effects (like: when battling a health condition).
*Deng, G., et al. – A phase I/II trial of a polysaccharide extract from Grifola frondosa (Maitake mushroom) in breast cancer patients: Immunological effects. J. Canc. Res. Clin. Oncol., 135: 1215-1221.
In this overview only Chaga extracts were included. That means no tinctures or 'liquid extracts' and no 'Chaga tea'.
Until recently the most common specification was the polysaccharide percentage, which served as a quality indicator: more = better. Unfortunately polysaccharides are not a reliable quality-marker. Starch and fillers such as dextrin or maltitol are also polysaccharides, but therapeutically useless. Unscrupulous sellers can easily spike their products.
The only polysaccharides with proven bioactivity are the beta-glucan fractions. Several years ago the Irish Megazyme company put the finishing touches on a test method for adequate determination of fungal beta-glucan. This test was was validated by the AOAC in 2016.
Because of that mushroom supplement sellers can now put more relevant information on their labels, thus underlining the potency of their products. But only very few actually do that - there's Oriveda (since 2012) and the private label products supplied by Nammex (since 2015) and that's about it...
It's an educated guess only but a reason for that might be that 'keeping it vague' is much better for business if you sell a run-of-the-mill product. Another reason is that many sellers are enthusiastic but ignorant - assuming that polysaccharides and beta-glucan are different names for the same thing is quite common.
The dynamic table below shows the available supplement data of over 50 Chaga supplements, most of which are available online on Amazon. The table is unsorted - click a header to sort either ascending or descending.
As you can see the outcome is depressing. The majority of supplements do not specify anything. All sellers in this list claim to sell extracts, yet the majority fails to provide any backup for their claims of quality.
Unsorted table - click a header to sort.
Clicking a product name will take you to that product's page on Amazon or their webshop.
|Name||Wild-Harvested Y/N||Dual extract||Polysaccharides||Beta-Glucan||Triterpenes||Polyphenols||CoA||Price p/gram||Fakespot Rating|
|Host Defense - Chaga Capsules||N||N||?||?||?||?||?||$ 0.80||C|
|Vimergy Chaga Extract Powder||Y||Y||?||?||?||?||?||$ 0.42||A|
|King Siberian Chaga extract||Y||?||?||?||?||?||?||$ 0.50||D|
|Sayan Siberian Wild Forest Chaga Extract Powder||Y||N||?||?||?||?||?||$ 0.39||A|
|Activa Naturals Chaga Supplement||N||?||?||?||?||?||?||$ 0.48||B|
|Sayan Siberian Chaga Extract Capsules||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.63||A|
|Real Mushrooms Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||10%||?||?||N||$ 0.47||B|
|Primal Herb Chaga Extract Powder||Y||Y||40%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.37||A|
|Vitajing Chaga Extract Powder||N||?||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.30||C|
|Mushroom Science Chaga||Y||N||15%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.63||A|
|Oriveda Chaga extract||Y||Y||?||30%||3.5%||5.0%||Y||$ 0.89||A|
|ABSORB HEALTH Chaga Extract||Y||?||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.33||C|
|Wild Foods Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.17||B|
|Natures Elements Chaga Extract||N||N||30%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.60||A|
|Mushroom Wisdom Super Chaga||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 1.09||A|
|Swanson Full Spectrum Chaga||N||N||?||?||?||?||?||$ 0.32||A|
|Mushroom Harvest Chaga||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.73||Z|
|Hyperion Herbs Chaga Powder Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||Y||$ 0.39||D|
|Luz Chaga Extract||Y||?||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.62||Z|
|Vitality Chaga Extract||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.60||Z|
|Baikal Herbs Chaga||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.40||Z|
|YUNDAO CHAGA EXTRACT||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.65||Z|
|REJUVA CHAGA EXTRACT||Y||N||?||10%||?||?||N||$ 0.99||C|
|Shaman Shack Herbs Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 1.13||Z|
|NUTRIDOM Chaga 20X Powder||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.32||Z|
|BioPure Czaga - Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.58||Z|
|Lost Empire Herbs Chaga extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 1.27||Z|
|Health Ranger Select Chaga Mushroom||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.53||Z|
|North American Herb Spice ChagaMax||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.83||Z|
|Planetary Herbals Chaga||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.18||B|
|Dragon Herbs Chaga||Y||N||32%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.58||A|
|King Siberian Chaga extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.30||F|
|Solaray Chaga||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.52||Z|
|Four Sigmatic Chaga||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.78||Z|
|Vidadivina's Popular CHAGA||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 1.33||Z|
|Iaso Chaga||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 4.00||Z|
|VitaWorld Chaga Extract Chagapilz||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.31||Z|
|Chaga Earth Natural Capsules||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.76||Z|
|Mushroom Defenders Chaga Extract||Y||N||40%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.70||Z|
|Mushrooms 4 Life Organic Chaga||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 2.07||Z|
|Artlife Russian Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$16.00||Z|
|Myconutri Chaga||Y||N||30%||?||3%||?||N||$ 0.71||Z|
|Indigo Nutrition Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.39||Z|
|Root of Life Royal Chaga||Y||N||30%||?||?||?||N||$ 2.00||Z|
|Fairvital - Chaga Extract||Y||N||10%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.71||Z|
|Root & Bones - Chaga||Y||N||30%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.44||Z|
|Medicinal Foods Chaga||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.40||Z|
|Aloha Medicinals Chaga Gold||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.53||Z|
|Wild Remedies Premium Instant Chaga Tea||Y||N||50%||33%||?||?||N||$ 1.53||Z|
|Nootropics Depot CHAGA EXTRACT||Y||N||?||10%||?||?||N||$ 0.50||Z|
|Harmonic Arts Dual Extract Powder||Y||Y||30%||?||2%||?||Y||$ 0.49||Z|
|Hybrid Herbs Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.57||Z|
|Superfoods Australia Siberian Chaga Extract||Y||Y||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.31||Z|
|Mushroom Shen Wild Chaga extract||Y||N||30%||?||?||?||N||$ 0.21||Z|
|Customised Health Essentials Chaga Extract||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.25||Z|
|Ganesha Herbs Chaga Mushroom||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.34||Z|
|ADN ChagaPlus||N||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 1.19||Z|
|Jing Herbs Chaga extract powder||Y||N||?||?||?||?||N||$ 0.36||Z|
Chaga's chemical composition was studied for the first time in Russia’s St. Petersburg (1864), by J.G.N. Dragendorff (1836-1898). Nothing useful was reported, though. At the beginning of the 20th century some Russian researchers (Yakimov, Shivrina, and others) carried out a more thorough analysis of Chaga and compared its chemical composition with other polypore fungi. This can be considered as the actual beginning of research on Chaga.
Many researchers are mixing up the fruiting body and the sterile Chaga sclerotia. This is very confusing.These researchers reported that Chaga’s composition is very different from other polypore tree mushrooms. This seems to indicate Chaga is highly special, but a reason for that difference might be the fact (at least in part) that they were comparing fruiting bodies (product of the reproductive stage of a mushrooms’ life) to the sterile conk of mycelia/sclerotia that we call Chaga.
Chaga fruiting body, close-up.
Notice the spores and the 'obligue' tubes that gave it its Latin name: Inonotus obliquus
Chaga’s fruiting body has never been investigated well, if at all, because it is rarely seen. It develops under the bark of the tree after the tree dies and when it finally appears (sometimes 3 to 4 years after the host tree is dead) it does not last long – bugs and aggressive molds destroy it quickly.
So these researchers might have been comparing apples and pears, so to speak. Even nowadays many researchers are mixing up the fruiting body and the sterile Chaga sclerotia when introducing their projects. This leads to confusion.
After WWII Chaga research really took off in Russia, fueled by the reputation Chaga had built in folk medicine during the past centuries. This resulted in an official entry in the USSR State Pharmacopeia (entry 63,68).
Several standardised products were prepared at the Leningrad Botanical Institute, the most note-worthy being Befungin and Binczaga (introduced in the 50′s).
Befungin (a mixture of Chaga extract and cobalt salts) was and is still used, mainly as a prophylactic, to treat ulcers and gastritis, as a treatment during the early stages of cancer and to battle the side effects of standard anti-cancer treatments.
Research agreed that the fungal extracts had a favorable effect on the central nervous system and metabolic processes, and improved the resistance to infections.
Hot water extracts were found to greatly alleviate the suffering in cancer patients, relieve pain and improve appetite; but it is not a radical drug in malignant cancer cases, although it might inhibit the development of tumors if used at its initial stages.
Below are several noteworthy research articles. Click for a brief description of the article and a downloadlink.
In the 1990's Maitake was the most popular medicinal mushroom, for the last decade it has been Chaga. This was fueled by internet-based marketing in particular.
The internet is great but has one drawback: it is difficult to seperate the marketing-lies and the half-truths from the facts. And what was left out ? Chaga is a great example of this - people all over the internet are copy/pasting each others writeups without thinking or verifying the information. This has led to an enormous amount of misinformation and blatant lying.
See the picture below for the most popular myths. Below the picture we'll discuss those claims - and more !