Inonotus obliquus, the chaga mushroom, is a parasitic polypore that slowly sucks the life from birch trees. It lives in cold northern climates and takes decades to decimate its victims. Despite chaga’s destructive capabilities, this fungus has been prescribed as a natural remedy for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. In Russia, Poland, the Baltics, and Scandinavia, chaga is revered for its use in folk medicine.
One traditional use of chaga is tea. In response to World War II rationing, Finns in particular embraced the beverage and steeped chaga in Finland came to be known as tikka tea (tikka means woodpecker in Finnish, a reference to chaga’s tree-destroying ways). Some entrepreneurial spirits continue to experiment with chaga-based pick-me-ups. A small roaster in Maine and a Finnish startup now make chaga coffee. The beverages are a combination of actual Arabica coffee beans and chaga mushrooms, and resemble regular coffee in taste and color. The Finnish company, Four Sigmatic, claims the coffee doesn’t cause the crash or jitters that accompany a typical cup of joe.
What’s also unusual about the chaga mushroom is that it’s not really a mushroom. It’s fungal mycelium that grows outside birch trees into a bulbous outpouring that resembles burnt charcoal and can reach the size of a basketball.
Published research on the medicinal properties of chaga is lacking, but its reputation in traditional medicine has given it clout among the holistic healing crowd. Users typically drink it after boiling the fungus for a few hours. It’s safe for consumption (although it does possess blood-thinning properties). Think of it as a coffee additive that might just cure what ails you.
Need to Know
If you live where birch trees grow, you might be able to find and harvest chaga yourself. Otherwise, chaga is widely available online.