Chaga in the News

Mushrooms in Medicine


The Chaga Story

Chaga!In Russian folk medicine chaga is used to treat cancers, often stomach and lung cancer, and it is likewise considered effective for other common stomach and intestinal such as gastritis, ulcers, colitis, and general pain. Since 1955 a a refined extract of the chaga fungus has been manufactured and sold in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Japan for the treatment of stomach and intestinal diseases.

Chaga!There is now scientific research to support the claims of the folk medicinal uses. The most recent and definitive analytical work on chaga has been performed by Dr. Kirsti Kahlos, a pharmacognycist at the School of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki, Finland. Kahlos and her colleagues found a wide variety of active triterpenes, which have antitumor properties. Of those, the most active was specified as inotodiol. They also found the compound betulin. The betulin is actually a compound from the birch tree that has anticancer properties. The chaga fungus absorbs and concentrates the betulin from the birch and transforms it into a form that can be ingested orally. Other researchers have found active polysaccharides, a common occurrence in most medicinal mushrooms such as miatake and shitake Those polysaccharides are known to stimulate the immune system. Kahlos and other researches have found significant anti-cancer activity against specific tumor systems and against specific influenza viruses.

Chaga!I know many readers already know the mycological identity of chaga. It is the polypore Innonotus obliquus . It is a northern species that grows on birch, alder, and beech trees; however, only the fruiting bodies growing on birch are considered suitable for medicinal purposes. In its usual form it is hardly recognizable as a mushroom. One of its common names, the “clinker polypore” is good descriptor. It looks liked a tumor with a charred gnarled surface wedged in the trunks of birches. Even though it is a polypore, you will not see any pores as on the underside of shelf-like polypores. The black outer surface is hard, cracked and quite irregular. When you chop it off the tree trunk with your hatchet, you will find a yellow-brown interior that has a cork-like consistency and is marbled with cream-colored veins. If you are lucky you can find your chaga growing within reaching distance on the birch trunks; however, the conks often grow at a height of 10 to 30 feet, which poses a quite challenge for collecting. I’ve heard a rumor that Lee Moellerman uses a shotgun to blast them loose. The Russians go out with ropes and harnesses. Some of those high altitude prizes may weigh over 10 lbs. The ideal chaga fruiting body is 25 years old. Now consider this: according to one chaga product site, only one birch tree in 15,000 bears chaga.

I am hoping our chaga expedition on March yields lots of chaga.

Ron Spinosa

Medicinal Mushrooms

Here is a table listing various mushrooms with their beneficial properties. But note:

“This table has not been evaluated by a Health Professional or Practitioner. It is merely a casual summary . . . and does not constitute claims for any product.

Always consult a health care practitioner before taking any substance or supplement for medicinal purposes.”

Visit for more details:
Mushroom Cordyceps sinensis Lentinula edodes Ganoderma lucidium Grifola frondosa Tremella fuciformis Poria cocos
Medical Uses   Shiitake Reishi Maitake Silver-Ear Hoelen
Immune Enhancer
Blood Pressure  
Lower Cholesterol    
Increase Libido        
Kidney Tonic        
Asthma / Bronchial      
Stress Reduction        
Liver / Hepatitis


The Chaga Story...Part II

Editor’s note: Due to space constraints, part of Ron Spinosa’s “Chaga Story” was edited out of the last newsletter (ref. “Mushrooms in Medicine,” p. 4, Feb. ’05) before the chaga foray. We present the missing part here, followed by Bob Fulgency’s review of the foray.

Very few westerners had heard of “chaga” before Solzhenitzen introduced it in his 1968 novel, The Cancer Ward. In that novel, Sergei Maslennikov, an old country doctor from the Alexandrov district near Moscow, noted that none of his peasant patients had cancer. The doctor, wondering about this, "started looking around... and discovered this: That to save money on tea the muzhiks of that locality brewed not tea, but chaga, otherwise known as the birch-tree mushroom. ... Actually, it's not even a birch-tree mushroom, but a birch-tree cancer ... a sort of ugly growth on old birch trees... It is dome-shaped, black on the outside and dark brown inside." It occurred to doctor Maslennikov, Solzhenitsyn continues, that this tea made from the birch tree mushroom could be the magic remedy that the Russian peasants, without realizing it, had been using to cure themselves of cancer for hundreds of years. Solzhenitsyn’s novel is largely autobiographical. He was a patient himself in a Cancer ward, and he went on to recover from what he was told was a terminal illness. Did Solzhenitsyn use chaga to treat his cancer? It certainly seems likely.

The hard-core mycological types among you may be interested to know that Inonotus obliquus it is a white rot fungus in the family hymenochaetaceae. It is monomitic, having only generative hyphae and with no clamp connections. If you want to know what all that means, there is no better resource than Tom Volk’s Polypore Primer, which you can visit at:

But wait! We have not come to the end of the Chaga story. Another common name for Inonotus obliquus is “the true tinder polypore”. While researching chaga on the internet, I found that chaga is well known in the “primitive skills community’. They are folks who enjoy the challenge of starting fires without matches, using methods employed by humans millennia before modern times. One method is the striking together of flint and steel or iron pyrite to generate a spark, which then falls upon on and ignite a tinder. Masters of this method swear by chaga and have found it to be the best of all tinders. The dried inner portion of the chaga is the part used. Another polypore, Fomes fomentarius, has the common name of “tinder polypore”, and this was the species I was familiar with for use as a tinder. F. fomentarius, however, is a much harder fungus and requires considerable preparation before use. Chaga is superior because it requires no preparation and, and it “takes a spark” better. Primitive skills folks have found a method that further enhances the virtues of chaga as a tinder…”repeated applications of urine (letting it dry in between) makes it much better at taking a spark”.

Ron Spinosa

The Great Cross Country Ski/Winter Chaga Foray

For the first time in its history the MMS sponsored an event that joined together two fine outdoor activities, the sport of cross country skiing with foraying for mushrooms, in this case the famous medicinal mushroom Innonotus obliquus (“chaga”). The site foray leader Lee Moellerman chose for this adventure was Savanna Portage State Park located in north central Minnesota about 170 miles directly north of the Twin Cities.

On this Saturday, March 5, 2005, neither the weather nor the snow conditions could have been better. There was a good two feet of clean, bright white snow on the ground and the temperature was a balmy 32 degrees. The directions to the foray site given in the newsletter were slightly off, but not enough to cause more than a few minutes delay in reaching it. As it turned out there were only three of us, Lee Moellerman, Ron Spinosa and yours truly, Bob Fulgency, that made the visit to Savanna. The small attendance was probably the result of the fact that the newsletter containing the announcement of the chaga foray came out only a few days before the event.

Ron drove to Duluth and spent the night there the evening before the foray. Lee came early Saturday morning to check out the area prior to Ron’s and my arrival. As we prepared to start on the ski trail under the watchful eyes of two high flying bald eagles, Ron discovered that he had not brought his ski poles so a pair was quickly created out of a couple of properly sized tree limbs found near the parking area.
“Your Honor, the jury finds the defendant guilty.”

Ron (with stick poles) and Lee on the Chaga Trail
Savanna Portage State Park, 2005

Although his equipment was a bit novel, Ron adapted to his substitute poles quickly and they served him well and did not slow him down. Luckily for Ron there were no fastidious skiing aficionados around to issue him a fashion citation. About fifty yards down the trail Lee had earlier spotted a fairly good sized chaga on a birch tree; unfortunately it was about twelve feet off the ground making it beyond our reach. The early discovery of this chaga was encouraging so we continued on our way with high spirits and expectations. After about an hour without spotting any more chaga bearing trees we were beginning to believe that maybe there is in fact only one chaga for every 10,000 trees as one authority on the subject has claimed. At that point we decided to get off the trail and onto the frozen surface of nearby Lake Savanna. About this time the sun came out and the nice day we were enjoying suddenly became perfect. From the lake we had a good view of the birch trees along the shore and after a few minutes of using this technique for locating promising trees we discovered a couple of them bearing chaga.
“Your Honor, the jury finds the defendant guilty.”

Lee and Ron Harvesting a Chaga
Savanna Portage State Park, 2005

The first tree we visited had a fair sized chaga on it which we proceeded to cut off carefully so as not to harm the tree. The chaga that we could see on the second tree was smaller, but when we examined that tree more closely we found a large chaga on the back of it. All told we probably had over 25 pounds of chaga to place into our back packs.
“Your Honor, the jury finds the defendant guilty.”

Bob and Ron Collecting a Chaga
Savanna Portage State Park, 2005

We continued around the lake and saw several more birch bearing chaga, but the mushrooms were too high up on the trees to get down without climbing a ladder. After another hour we decided to call it a day as we had accomplished our main goal and besides our chaga was starting to become more of a burden than we cared to continue to lug around.
“Your Honor, the jury finds the defendant guilty.”

Bob, Ron and Chagas at Trail’s End
Savanna Portage State Park, 2005

We had a terrific time looking for and finding the chaga and now considered the daunting prospect of pulverizing the chaga into the consistency of ground coffee beans. Once that is accomplished the chaga can be percolated just like coffee and the health enhancing chaga tea will be ready for drinking. In closing I encourage you too to make it a point to participate in the chaga foray being planned for next winter as it is a wonderful way to get out and enjoy the winter splendor of northern Minnesota.

Bob Fulgency