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Taking A Look At Medicinal Mushrooms: Chaga and Reishi

Trying to take an honest, objective look at anything that’s within range of the SUPERFOOD!!! radar is a big PITA, let me tell you. There’s 1,000 wide-eyed, hyped “articles” for every one that’s measured and cautious.

…I get emails almost every day from people wanting to send me products to try, in the hope I’ll like them, sign up for their affiliate deal, promote it here, etc. I don’t even respond to 95% of them. You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff people peddle, and the fact they’re even asking me says that their first line—“I’ve been following your blog for a long time”—is a lie. Delete.

Being criticized for having the audacity to actually have this blog reimburse me for some of the time I spend at it (similar to having the audacity to demand your employer reimburse you for your time and efforts) can be irritating on that score alone, but doubly so because I think I do it in a decent way that’s not nearly so annoying as having to sit through 3 minutes of commercials on the TV every 10 minutes.

  1. Every single thing I promote or have promoted to you directly in a post is something I use and like myself.
  2. Every other thing you purchase by going to My Amazon Link is something you have decided to buy anyway, and it doesn’t cost a cent.
  3. The ads to the right are served up by Google and are largely based on your cookies, so a chance it’s something you’re interested in, like Bussian Rrides, for instance.

OK, onward. Here’s what I’m guardedly promoting today.

IMG 2891
Proof that I actually use it

…About a month ago I got an email from Lari Laurikkala, one of the Finns that run Four Sigma Foods, asking if I’d be willing to try a couple of their medicinal mushroom products: Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) and Reishi (Lingzhi mushroom), to be exact. Before I hit the delete button (SUPERFOOD!!! radar) I recall Tim Steele mentioning something about a medicinal ‘shroom he’d used for a long time, so I asked him and sure enough, Chaga is the one.

Alright, I’m in. Having used them for a week or so now I’ve decided to promote them and add them to My Amazon Store.

Four Sigma Foods Instant Chaga, 20 Count. For me, the taste is earthy and slight vanilla. I’ve had it in hot water, hot coffee, a smoothie and cold Tejava.

In terms of medicinal benefits, I really can’t claim anything other than it seems soothing on the tummy, which is fine. There’s some sign that it helps my morning back and leg pain (virtue of my L4-5 herniation) recede sooner for the day. Jury still out but, ibuprofen definitely helps for that and Chaga is supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Of course, there are a million medicinal claims. What’s more relevant to me is that it has stood the centuries test of time in being a folk remedy in certain parts of the world. Anyway, here’s one of the more objective pieces I found on it, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Clinical Summary

Chaga mushroom, found on Birch and other trees in cold climates, has been used in folk medicine in Russia and other North European countries for generations. Chaga draws nutrients from the tree on which it grows and extracts are typically derived from the inner layers of the bark. The active constituents are thought to be a combination of triterpenes, such as betulinic acid, sterols, and polysaccharides. Chaga has demonstrated anticancer, antiviral, anti platelet, (2) anti-inflammatory, analgesic, (3) immune stimulating properties in vitro, and hypoglycemic effects in mice. (4) Chaga extract has inhibitory and proapoptotic effects against colon cancer (5) and hepatoma (1) cells. It also reduced toxicity associated with radiation (6) and inhibited tumor cell growth in animal models. (7) In some studies, Chaga demonstrates selective apoptosis in tumor cells with no effects on healthy cells. (1)

No clinical trials have been conducted to assess chaga’s safety and efficacy for disease prevention or for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.

Constituents of chaga mushroom extract may interact with anticoagulant and antidiabetic drugs. […]

Mechanism of Action

Chaga demonstrated hypoglycemic effects in mice with diabetes mellitus. (4) It’s anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties are thought to be via inhibition of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2). (3) An extract of chaga reduced the oxidative stress in lymphocytes from patients with from inflammatory bowel disease. (8) Chaga also showed anti-mutagenic properties. (9) A hot water extract of chaga exhibited inhibitory and proapoptotic actions against colon cancer cell proliferation via up-regulation of Bax and caspase-3 and down-regulation of Bcl-2. (5) Aqueous extracts of chaga also inhibited growth of human hepatoma cells via arrest of the cell cycle in Go/G1 phase and inducing selective apoptosis. (1) The selectivity may also be a result of activation from a change in the pH of the tumor microenvironment. (11) Betulinic acid, a constituent of chaga, is cytotoxic and triggers apoptosis through a direct effect on the mitochondria of cancer cells. Other apoptosis-inducing factors result in cleavage of caspases and nuclear fragmentation. (7) Like many medicinal mushrooms, chaga is rich in beta glucans which have immunomodulating activities. Beta glucans bind to Complement Receptor 3 (CR3) that allows the immune cells to recognize cancer cells as “non-self.” (10)

Ok, now on to the next one.

Four Sigma Foods Instant Reishi, 20 Count. For me, the taste is pretty big anise (licorice). I’ve had it in hot water, hot coffee, a smoothie and cold Tejava.

In terms of the medicinal claims, let’s see what the Life Extension Foundation has to say:

Over the past several decades, scientific research has intensified and focused on analyzing the hundreds of unique bio-active compounds found in the medicinal Reishi Mushroom. Just this year alone, three new compounds were discovered. With each new finding, intriguing medical applications for Reishi have emerged.

There is now a wealth of impressive data that demonstrates Reishi’s life extending properties [1, 2]  but also its significant ability to stimulate brain neurons, [3] search and destroy cancer cells [4] and prevent the development of new fat cells in obese individuals. [5]  As an example of growing science supporting Reishi, researchers using laboratory mice have detailed life span extension of 9% to more than 20% —the equivalent of 7 to nearly 16 years in human terms. [2, 6, 7]

As if these targeted benefits were not sufficient, Reishi’s numerous compounds show a therapeutic effect on asthma, [8] allergies, [9] autoimmune diseases, [10-15] Alzheimer’s [16] and Parkinson’s diseases, [17-21] diabetes, [22-26] liver disease, [27-36] and more.

Given Reishi’s complex composition of bioactive compounds, there is still more to discover. In this report, we will bring you up to date on how Reishi successfully targets a broad spectrum of deleterious factors of aging.

[See page 2 of the article for the references and fire up your Google Scholar.]

I’ve also combined the two of them in hot and cold ways, the latest discovery of that motivating me to actually promote it. Yesterday, I mixed the Chaga in a glass of Tejava, and though it flavors it, lots sinks to the bottom and ends up as kind of a gummy paste. So, I scraped with a spoon and swallowed it. There was still gummy sediment, so I just put a little water in the glass for soaking. Sure enough, in about 2 hours it was completely dissolved. So, this morning I took a fresh 1 Lt. bottle of Tejava and a funnel, and added 2 packets each of the Chaga and Reishi. Two hours later is was completely dissolved and wow do I have a smashing, dark, deep delicious tea.

In other words, the medicinal claims are what they are but ultimately, you should want to enjoy drinking it. That very much satisfied, I can recommend it to you with pride and in terms of medicinal benefit, that’s just a bonus.

In terms of cost, soon after getting the boxes I checked on pricing and found they were about $25-30 per box, depending on where you source them. My first impression was that’s expensive, but then I thought well, with 20 packets, it’s $1.25 – $1.50 per serving—nowhere near Starbuck’s profit margins (or bottled water companies, for that matter).

So, it shall remain an enjoyable deal for me. Give it a try. If you have, let us know what you think and by all means, if you have specific knowings of the medicinal aspects, those are welcome too.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

22 Comments

  1. tatertot on January 2, 2015 at 16:54

    Yeah, that seems to be the real stuff! I have never talked much about Chaga because it is such an unsustainable product. It has to be wild-picked, and takes 10-15 years to grow to harvestable size. I’m afraid if I get people hooked on it, they’ll start picking all the wild chaga where they live.

    Unfortunately, some local guy discovered chaga here and had a big article in the paper about how wonderful it is…he bragged that he has 10,000 pounds of it picked. Now, every farmers market has 2-3 stands of chaga sellers. Oh, well. I tried. Soon I will probably be buying from your supplier as well, lol.

    Reishi grows much faster, and therefore regrows faster.

    Both have a long history of being used as medicinal mushrooms. I mix chaga with my coffee grounds and brew together in a drip-filter type coffee pot.

  2. wildcucumber on January 2, 2015 at 17:12

    I’m with tatertot, Chaga is being ripped out of our forests here in Quebec as well. I’m a wildcrafter and I’d be the first to tell you what comes out of the forest is better than what comes out of a lab, but until we can be assured Chaga hunters have some sense of responsibility, I don’t think it’s a great idea to encourage its use. I think Paul Stamets may be doing something about growing Chaga sustainably, that might be worth looking into.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 2, 2015 at 17:35

      Sorry to bust bubbles, guys. Best way to enjoy White Rinausaurus Steaks in perpetuity? Make a market for eating them.



    • wildcucumber on January 2, 2015 at 17:54

      Gee whiz, that didn’t even make sense Richard. As Tim says, this stuff just doesn’t grow at a rate it can be replaced with the way it is being “harvested” (ahem) now. If it can be farmed, the way ginseng has to be now, fine. But most likely before that can even happen it will be gone, along with the forests it grows in, thanks to folks marketing it as a “superfood”. I ain’t no bleedin’ heart, I just know what I’m seeing out here in Chaga country.



    • Richard Nikoley on January 2, 2015 at 20:31

      Wild cucumber

      Hopefully this will make sense then: if you want to protect it from knowledge, the buy it all up.

      Otherwise, I have no complaint about you or Tim’s circumspection. I just see that as a bit ostrich, but that’s just me and I know hearts in right places.



    • tatertot on January 2, 2015 at 21:05

      When I first learned what Chaga was and that it grows all around me, my first reaction was, “I’m gonna pick this stuff and get rich!” After getting enough for just myself, I realized that if I was to get enough to sell, I would need to cover lots of ground, so I kind of lost interest. The next time I went looking, all I could find were the scars of what I had picked the previous year. I learned quickly that you can just harvest half of the chaga conk and it will slowly grow back. Still, 5 years later, I still see big holes in trees where I chopped the first Chaga out, but I have picked some off the same ‘half-cut’ chaga several years in a row.

      I think it’s just human nature to want to rape natural resources. I’ve read that in Russia Chaga can not be found anywhere near the roads. I wonder if they harvest carefully and sustainably or hire people to go get all they can?

      Scientists are trying hard to grow Chaga in a lab. I sent several samples of Chaga to UW-Madison and to a university in China to researchers. One of the studies resulting from this can be seen here: Chaga Grown on Corn Cobs

      The scientists see both the amazing benefits of Chaga, but also that it is a quickly disappearing resource. There is also lots of talk that wild Chaga can absorb radiation, so the source is of concern for researchers.

      As a Chaga is found at the rate of 1 in 30,000 birch trees in its range, you can see why commercial operations would upset me. I’m working with the State and Forest Service to develop a pamphlet on sustainable harvesting and hoping they take my advice to prohibit commercial picking. As it stands, Chaga receives the same protection as the mushrooms that grow and get picked annually.

      I was actually a bit happy when I saw the supplier Richard has, it looks like a good product at a reasonable price. Maybe if it’s more available, people won’t go out and try to sell it on Craigslist and farmers markets.

      I always laugh when I see it at a farmers market. Raw Chaga looks like a big black lump of coal…unless you know what it is, you’d never guess it was good for you.

      Here’s a paper that talks about Reishi’s anti-cancer and other properties. Reishi can easily be grown by seeding (plugging) it into suitable wood.

      Reishi Anti-Cancer

      If anyone is able, and wants to give wild mushrooms a try, learn to pick sustainably in your local woods. But if that’s impossible, it looks like there are some good places to buy.



    • Bernard Lyons on March 19, 2017 at 04:21

      Chaga hunters are doing nothing compared to big forestry companies who just destroy it with no human benefits. Here in New Brunswick tons of it is ground into the earth with there longing. I do not discourage the commoner at all to go find it in the forest. It is great exercise because it is rare and oh the benefits.



  3. Harriet on January 2, 2015 at 18:33

    One of the underlying ideas underpinning this article is something I’ve been thinking of for a while. Those natural products which have been shown in scientific studies to be anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-fungal can be reasonably be thought of as being pro-gut health as I hypothesize that the anti-inflammatory effects are mediated through the gut. If that is the case those of us who have been/are struggling with various health issues despite diligently going down various “tried and true” “this will fix you” approaches for decades, could reasonably try them. Weeding, feeding and seeding over the long term might be needed for some of us and we still know so little we can’t be sure of anything as definite. So I like the idea of knowing of other possible natural approaches which just might be a missing link for some of us. Thanks Richard and Tim for your work.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 2, 2015 at 20:48

      Yea, Harriet. Lots of stuff.

      I detected your reference. Thanks. And, sad. 🙂



  4. Elias on January 2, 2015 at 20:00

    Great posts here!
    My 2 cents worth:
    If one has the time and interest, the benefits of chaga can be greatly increased by making it into a tincture. The value of the tincture is that both water and alcohol soluble nutrients are made bio-available. Chaga tea, on the other hand, will consist primarily of water soluble nutrients. The tincture is what I prefer to use myself. Making the tincture was fun and a learning experience for me. Regarding dosage, I read somewhere that some Russians use age as a guide. Example: 1 drop per year. So if you are 30 years old, use 30 drops of the tincture. Of course, you can combine tincture and tea for variety.
    Using the tincture has gone a long way for me. I’m still using the batch from September 2013! To make it, I used 1/2 pound [250 grams] of wildcrafted chaga powder, which I bought for $30 for 1 pound. The tincture should last for several years if the alcohol content is 25% or greater. For the alcohol portion of the extract, I used Absinthe [70% ABV]. Vodka 40-50% can also be used. When both alcohol and water extracts are combined, the resulting tincture can be formulated to have the minimum 25% alcohol by volume.

  5. Simas on January 3, 2015 at 03:56

    I have used Chaga in the past myself, but it made me very constipated. so I had to discontinue. As I found out later, it was simply feeding SIBO(and producing more methane gas) that I have, so we can at least assume that it is a very good prebiotic. That said, I have done quite a lot of research on it, and I would only buy it from this company http://www.oriveda.com/
    They also have lots of great info here: http://oriveda.wordpress.com/chaga-the-facts/
    I have no interest in promoting them and these are only my thoughts.

  6. Hegemon on January 4, 2015 at 09:10

    Richard – will you be putting these on your Amazon site? Wanting to try them, and support the site too while I’m at it. Thanks.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 4, 2015 at 13:52

      Yea, already in the store, food section I believe.



    • Hegemon on January 6, 2015 at 21:09

      I see them now. Thanks



  7. micheal on January 4, 2015 at 10:34

    How can you capture how animals will react if you will just use computer generated images?

  8. Ulfric Douglas on January 4, 2015 at 11:20

    This stuff grows on trees!
    Literally.
    Our woods are completely full of the stuff. Sustainable?
    Erm yes.
    I could cut out every single one I find and next year there would be a forest full of ’em.
    They were used for firelighting in *cough* ancient times (imfused with saltpeter) … buggered if I’m gonna eat the damn things!

  9. Ulfric Douglas on January 4, 2015 at 11:27

    Oops, my mistake. The Chaga is that nasty cabbage-smelling BLACK variant I had in my car for months, not the commoner brown bracket fungus or variations.
    I shall go and collect some more Chaga … who wants it??

  10. Pauline on January 5, 2015 at 00:47

    I read this comment on earth clinic recently on allergies, after reading your article:
    “I have had severe seasonal allergies for years. But they are completely gone after eating reishi and cordiceps mushrooms for a 30 day course last year. They worked, and I am convinced this had to do with a number of factors. The vitamins & minerals in them were in a form my body could use. Also, I would leave mushrooms in the sun for 5 to 10 minutes befor eating them. I read a study where this increases the D3 amount substantially.”

    I wanted to mention to you that I have had marked improvement in pain management for muscle aches from use of MSM supplementation 2000mg x 3 times a day. It works better than any anti-inflammatory and has lots of other benefits too. Within an hour of taking muscle pain gone, on the first day I tried it after reading books on MSM and its deficiency in our diets. Works wonders for me. Very good for hair, skin, muscle, lungs, etc improves oxidation of blood and circulation. Also has anaesthetic properties, hence pain reduction. No side effects apart from if you take too late in the day has an ability to wake you up/energise. I take with meal or drink and not later than suppertime.

  11. Pauline on January 5, 2015 at 05:30

    Just an added note on MSM, it works best and synergistically with Vitamin C and B Complex, especially Pantothenic Acid (B5) , so worth taking together. There is a very good book called The Miracle of MSM the Natural Solution to Pain by Stanley Jacob. I notice that it is very dose dependent on whether it works for you and this varies according to body weight and level of deficiency. Maintenance dose is 3000 mg per day, but intake can vary from 1000 mg to 10,000mg and more. 6000 mg is the sweet spot for me, anything less and it is not enough. So its trial and error working out what is the best dose. Some people may be sensitive to MSM and feel some reaction that wears off over time but I found it fine as long as I don’t take it late at night, as it can make you feel wide awake as though its the middle of the day.

  12. Ronald David  on June 23, 2015 at 01:46

    Great Article! Thank you for sharing this medical chaga mushroom . Chaga mushroom is consumed mostly in the form of Chaga Extract or chaga tea. Herbalists tend to think that a liquid herbal extract contains more of its medicinal properties than capsule or tablet supplements offer to its consumers. I am using this mushroom as tincture with help of buytincture. its chaga tincture really beneficial.

  13. Marcin Zelazny on June 14, 2016 at 08:30

    please tell me are chagas and reishi mushrooms safe when battling intestinal candida and Sibo. I have elevated asca antibodies and so this is my concern.

  14. Marcin Zelazny on June 14, 2016 at 08:46

    please tell me are chagas and reishi mushrooms safe when battling intestinal candida and Sibo. I have elevated asca antibodies and so this is my concern. I don’t have crohns or any such diesease but a lot of issues that start in my gut and stomach. Chronic fatigue as well.

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