From Ancient Siberian Folklore to Worldwide Reputation as a Medicinal Mushroom
Dubbed by many the “King of Medicinal Mushrooms,” chaga has been around for centuries. Ancient folk healers and medical practitioners have relied on chaga mushrooms to support a healthy life-energy balance, support immune function, and promote longevity. People living in the Siberian Mountains region ingested chaga mushroom in powder form, smoked it, and rubbed it on their skin. They also brewed chaga to make tea. Once word spread about chaga’s medicinal properties, the unknown mushroom’s popularity exploded around the world.
Even the name “chaga” is ancient. The mushroom’s present name probably originated from the old Slavonic word “gaga,” which means “lip”. Today, the word “chaga” is synonymous with good health, a robust immune system, and longevity.
Ancient History of the Chaga Mushroom
It’s hard to tell exactly when people first realized the medicinal powers of this dietary supplement, but most experts agree that chaga has been around for a very long time. The use of medicinal mushrooms could date back to ancient times. Researchers are looking into whether 5,300-year-old Otzi the Iceman, the oldest intact member of the human family, carried chaga in his leather pouch. If so, this could make the chaga mushroom one of the oldest dietary supplements known to humankind.
Other researchers point to the first mention of chaga in a book that was written several centuries later. Printed in about 100 B.C., Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing is the first body of collected knowledge about herbs as they pertain to traditional medicine. Some interpretations of the book include the mention of chaga, suggesting it earned its nicknames of “Gift from God” and “King of Herbs” even in those earliest days of herbal medicine.
Russians then enjoyed a long tradition of using chaga mushroom before the rest of the world discovered its therapeutic properties. The Khanty people, who have lived along the Ob River in Western Siberia since at least the 11th century, drank chaga tea to improve digestion and detoxification, used it as a soap to cleanse skin sores, and smoked chaga mushroom to support lung health. Some manuscripts mention that in the 12th century, physicians treated Tsar Vladimir Monamah with chaga, some say to help with the Russian ruler’s lip cancer.
In the mountain region of Siberia, people drank chaga as an everyday beverage, just as modern people drink coffee or lattes. The health benefits of traditional Siberian tea could not be kept secret for long. Use ofchaga mushroom tea began to spread across Siberia and to the rest of Russia, then to the Ural Mountains, into the Baltic regions of Eastern Europe, and beyond. Ainu, the indigenous people that live on Hokkaido in Northern Japan, consumed chaga to improve their health.
Many consumed the tea to promote calming of upset stomach or to detoxify the body. Others, especially hunters and foresters, drank chaga mushroom tea because of its capacity to regulate hunger, promote clarity of thinking, and stimulate increased work capacity. Early users also embraced chaga for its ability to stimulate the body’s general endurance. Others heralded the use of Siberian Chaga to support the immune system and maintain the health of body tissues.
The Russian Medical Academy of Science approved the use of chaga to support a healthy immune system in 1955. The Western world first became aware of Siberian chaga after reading Russian novelist Alexandr Solzenitsyn’s 1968 Nobel Prize winning novel, The Cancer Ward. In that book, the author discusses the benefits of drinking tea made from this birch tree mushroom.
Modern History of the Chaga Mushroom
Interestingly, in Russia, only the villagers know about chaga and the majority of the population have either never heard of chaga or have heard about it, but don’t know what it’s for and how to eat this mushroom.
Modern medical science often disregards evidence of traditional folk medicine if it is not backed by research with scientific measurements and controls. In the past 25 years, scientific investigation of chaga has validated many of the traditional beliefs about its health-enhancing properties.
Scientists are still researching chaga and discovering new therapeutic potential for the medicinal mushroom. Even after more than four decades of research and the publication of hundreds of scientific studies, researchers are only just beginning to understand the full scope of the life- and health-enhancing properties of the chaga mushroom.
Currently in Asia, chaga usage is widespread. More and more people from countries like China, Korea, and Japan are learning about chaga mushroom and want to add it to their diet. People take it to support immunity and promote skin elasticity. Research by Japanese scientists has shown that topical application of chaga can help promote skin health and vitality, and in modern-day Japan, it is often included in skin creams for wrinkles. Chaga has been praised for its strong positive impact on overall health, immunity, and metabolism.
Knowledge about chaga mushroom has already started to spread in the U.S. Since we started our company in 2007, we’ve noticed a big spike in interest in the last couple of years, as more and more people discover the health benefits of this unique mushroom and continue to add chaga to their daily diet.
If you have questions about the history of chaga or its health benefits, call or e-mail us, and we’d be glad to help.