Mushrooms are having a moment, for sure. Their versatility only adds to their appeal: You can cook them, incorporate them into your skincare routine, or drink them as a coffee alternative. While you hear a lot about reishi or shiitake mushrooms, there’s another variety of fungi that’s beginning to steal the spotlight: chaga. In particular, people are talking about chaga tea benefits. Here’s the, ahem, tea on the buzzy beverage.
Chaga—also known as Inonotus obliquus—is a mushroom that grows on birch trees in cold climate areas such as Northern Europe, Russia, and Asia. It’s then dried and ground up into a powder, which you steep in hot water to make tea, says Melanie Keller, a naturopathic doctor.
Curious about chaga? Keep reading to learn more about chaga tea benefits, potential side effects, how to choose the best chaga tea, and how to make it.
With chaga tea, you can sip happily knowing one cup of the hot drink is full of antioxidants that do your body good. “Chaga mushrooms are packed with adaptogenic properties, antioxidants, and nutrients that can improve your overall wellness and increase longevity,” says Jenelle Kim, DACM, LAc, a certified herbalist, doctor of Chinese Medicine, and founder and lead formulator for JBK Wellness Labs.
In many cultures, it’s believed that chaga can help prevent and aid in cancer treatment. “In Norway, chaga mushrooms are even called ‘kreftkjuke’ which translates to ‘cancer fungus,’” Dr. Kim says. Although more research is needed to confirm this benefit, initial studies do seem promising.
“There have been a number of studies on the aqueous extract of chaga that demonstrate its potent anti-tumor and anti-cancer activities in several countries,” Keller says. “Chaga has also demonstrated an ability to suppress the progression of cancer. One study found a 60-percent tumor reduction was observed in tumor-bearing mice, while in metastatic mice, the number of nodules decreased by 25 percent compared to the control group. However, the actual effect and underlying mechanisms are still unclear.”
“Several in-vitro studies have also shown the extracts from chaga mushroom can help regulate the immune system and the body’s ability to fight off illness and allergies,” says Uma Naidoo, MD, a nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author of the bestselling book This Is Your Brain on Food. “Animal studies on these claims confirmed that mice who consumed chaga extracts before exposure to food allergens had less of a reaction than those that did not consume the extract, suggesting that chaga mushroom may be used as an anti-allergic functional food.”
If you deal with painful sores that develop on the inside lining of your stomach, consider adding chaga tea to your rotation—after checking with your primary care doctor, of course. “Chaga has shown an effective, antiulcer activity in stomach ulcers,” Keller says.
There’s been buzz around functional mushrooms such as chaga and how they can potentially support your immune system. And Keller points out that some initial reports have revealed insights into chaga’s antiviral effects in relation to Covid-19, which seem promising. But again, more research is needed to confirm, and you should be consulting with a doctor regarding any treatment protocol.
“Many studies have also shown that metabolites from chaga mushroom extract interact with cells to suppress their inflammatory responses in both in vitro and mouse studies,” says Dr. Naidoo; however, she notes that these studies use a highly concentrated chaga mushroom extract—not chaga tea in particular, and these claims haven’t yet been tested on humans.
According to Dr. Kim, most people don’t experience any adverse side effects when drinking chaga tea. But people with the conditions listed below are advised to avoid it.
Whether you have pre-existing conditions or not, Dr. Naidoo recommends consulting with your doctor before drinking chaga tea, especially if you take regular medication, to avoid any complications or unwanted side effects. Once you get the green light from your MD, Dr. Kim suggests incorporating chaga tea into your diet slowly with a small cup everyday or every other day to avoid adverse reactions from consuming too much too quickly.
As Keller points out, like most supplements, chaga tea is not regulated in the United States, so there are no tests to ensure product purity or standardization dose. Adhere to the pro tips below to make sure you’re buying the best quality chaga tea.
Dr. Kim’s top tip when shopping for chaga tea is to read the ingredient label. “Do not take anything that has added synthetic ingredients or preservatives,” she says, as they affect the tea’s purity and can reduce potential benefits. Keller adds that the label should also include the chaga’s species name: Inonotus obliquus. And, if you’re willing to take your detective skills up a notch, Dr. Naidoo also recommends checking where the mushrooms were harvested. “Because mushrooms are porous, they suck in the air of their surroundings,” she says. “Chaga mushrooms harvested near cities, where the air pollution is higher, absorb and hold on to such pollutants, producing a product with higher impurities.”
In addition to studying chaga tea labels, experts also advise doing some digging on the brand itself. “Chaga is a natural product, and there is always a risk it could contain impurities or contaminants, so smart consumers will check to make sure the product comes from a reputable source,” Dr. Li says. Dr. Kim adds to be wary of companies that promise fast, instant results. Furthermore, Keller also suggests asking the company if they submit their chaga tea to independent certifying bodies such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.
Chaga tea is available in different forms: chunks, powder, and tea bags. Dr. Li advises sticking to the latter form when buying chaga tea. “Getting the tea bag form will likely give the most uniform amount each time, so that would be the best way to go,” he says.
The easiest way to make chaga tea is to purchase it pre-ground. Keller recommends looking for one that comes in a non-toxic tea bag. Alternatively, Dr. Kim says, you can buy dried chaga mushrooms and grind them yourself into a coffee-like powder.
Just like regular teas, steep your chaga tea bag in hot water for at least five minutes, Keller says. If you’re using chaga powder for your tea, she suggests using a fine tea strainer once it’s done brewing. It’s also important to note the temperature of the water. Ideally, it should be no hotter than 180ºF. “Chaga contains polysaccharides, proteins, sterols, and enzymes that are damaged or destroyed by temperatures above 180ºF,” Keller says.