What is Chaga?
Chaga is unique, in that the fruitbody is not the part that is used medicinally. In fact, the fruitbody is rarely even seen in the wild. The part that is used for medicine is a hardened mass of mycelium, known as a sclerotium, that grows on the outside of the living host tree, usually birch.
Extracts of chaga were approved as an anticancer drug (befungin) in Russia as early as 1955, and has been reported to be successful in treating breast, lung, cervical, and stomach cancers (Hobbs 1995).
Chaga concentrates betulin from the bark of birch trees, which has shown promise in treating malignant melanoma, completely inhibiting tumors implanted in mice and causing apoptosis of cancerous cells. Chaga extracts also show antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory activity, and is known to be a liver tonic and an immune enhancer (Stamets 2005).
Chaga has recently shown to be a powerful antioxidant. This site from Chaga International, which sells chaga products from Siberia, is informative. It compares the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score of chaga with other foods, and claims that chaga has the highest antioxidant capacity score of any food or oil substance ever recorded.
I found an abtract from a Japanese study here. An excerpt:
"Inonotus obliquus (persoon) Pilat (Chaga, in Russia, kabanoanatake in
Japan) is a fungus having been used as a folk medicine in Russia and
said to have many health beneficial functions such as immune modulating
and anti-cancer activities. In the present study, the antioxidant
activity of hot water extract (decoction) of Chaga was precisely
compared with those of other medicinal fungi (Agaricus blazei Mycelia,
Ganoderma lucidum and Phellinus linteus) showing Chaga had the
strongest antioxidant activity among fungi examined in terms of both
super-oxide and hydroxyl radicals scavenging activities."
Another site from Russia has some interesting information although it is not referenced very well. Check it out here.
I have also noticed that wikipedia has a nicely updated chaga page here.
Chaga extracts concentrated into maple syrup are definitely the most delightful way to take this medicinal mushroom. It's almost like molasses, or even dark chocolate syrup. It is great on ice cream, as a coffee substitute, or right in your coffee. Of all my extracts, this is my favorite to consume.