Warning! do not consume chaga with penicillin or intravenous injections of glucose.
Chaga cell walls contain chitin, so they are indigestible without preparation. Traditionally three main approaches were used in preparing chaga, each has its benefits: Hot water extraction, tincture, and fermentation. No single method catches all benefits, so combinations were often used.
I will present the traditional approaches in detail, but skip the fermentation which is beyond my understanding. Then I’ll present some tips, and soon update presenting techniques used to make modern extracts.
Overview of technique benefits from wikipedia (Preparation)
- Hot water extraction is the most common and the cheapest method. It can be compared to the traditional tea-making process. All water-soluble components will be present in the resulting extract. Water-insoluble components, such as phytosterols, betulinic acid and betulin, will be absent. Several extraction rounds combined with modern pharmaceutical techniques can result in high levels of polysaccharides, up to almost 60%. The ß-D-glucans, the bio-active part of these polysaccharides, might add up to ±20 %.Polyphenolic components are water-solubles and will also be present.
- Ethanol or methanol extraction isolates the water-insoluble components, betulinic acid, betulin and the phytosterols. This extraction process is in general used as a second step after hot-water extraction, since ethanol alone will not break down chitin effectively – heat is essential.
- Fermentation is the most time-consuming, so is the most expensive; this method is not used very often. Because fermentation methods are not standardized (many types of bacteria and fungi can be used in the process), the outcome is also not standardized.
Here are some traditional approaches to preparation. Three techniques for hot water extraction, and one for tincture.
- Hot water Extraction (delicate)
Hot water extraction is traditionally called boiling, though both Siberians and the Chinese caution against too much heat. The Chinese believe that a clay pot on small heat is ideal for delicate preparations. The Siberians had a few traditional approaches, sometimes emphasizing gentle heat, sometimes calling for a violent boil. In the tips section we will go through the science of these different techniques.
The following technique is used in Russia for medical treatment, quantities used are extremely high, compared to preventive care, for which 2g per day is believed to suffice:
The shredded inner part of the chaga conk is soaked in cold (but previously boiled) water for four hours. Once done, the water is kept, and the chaga is filtered out. Then an infusion is prepared by pouring previously boiled water that has been cooled to 50c (122f) over the chaga, and leaving it in room temperature for 24h. Finally the chaga is filtered out again, and the two waters are combined. The final combined product can be used for four days. For this recipe they propose a ratio of 1:5 of soaked chaga/ water. Three cups are consumed daily, about 30min before eating. Four kilos a month are consumed for 4-7 months.
- Hot Water Extraction (boiling)
Historically many Russians believed that to get the anti cancer properties from chaga, it must be boiled. Research has demonstrated that boiled extracts were more effective in fighting cancer, though it destroyed some other components. The following recipe uses smaller quantities and a short preparation period.
One tablespoon of ground chaga is mixed with 2-3l of water and boiled for a few minutes. Three cups a day, half an hour before eating.
- Hot Water Extraction (combo)
This is the method I used before, it was also proposed by the website collecting these recipies: http://www.mushroomhunter.net/chaga_recipes.htm
I mixed the chaga with water (quantities vary, 1-2 tablespoon per litre is normal for me), soak depending on time available, heat to a gently rolling boil for 1-3h and leave it to stand for 24h.
For the last couple of months I just heated the chaga and water by using a coffee machines standby function, for a more gentle extraction. My first tincture is brewing, so soon I will be combining the two.
- Preparing Chaga Tincture
Mix three tablespoons of chaga for 0.5l (half a quart) of vodka (or other spirits). Leave it in a dark cool space for at least two weeks, shaking occasionally. Filter, and squeeze the liquid from the chaga which can be kept for another extraction, personally I will keep it for future hot water extraction. Take 3 tablespoons 3-6 times a day. This technique does not break the chitin walls, so further processing is needed for that.
Research on chaga has provided some interesting tips, and though understanding is still superficial, these are good pointers for further research and personal experimentation.
- As noted earlier, chaga cell walls contain chitin, which is indigestible, so many of its components cannot be reached without heat, or the enzyme chitinese. For the sake of perspective its worth mentioning that alcohol extraction does not break the chitin either, and still manages to obtain some properties.
- Heat breaks the chitin, and releases its contents, heat however destroys enzymes, amino acids, and some other delicacte properties.
- Russian research demonstrated that the quantity of betulinic acid was significantly increased by adding birch bark into the preparation. Chaga converts the non bio-available betulinic acid in birch, to a form the human body can absorb.
- Research demonstrated that keeping chaga in a box made from birch wood increased its potency over time.
- Factors proven to affect the power of chaga include the age of the host birch, the age of the mushroom (15 y or older), the minimum temperature that the mushroom has been exposed to (-40 or colder). Wild chaga is superior to cultivated.
- Substances synergistic to chaga include birch, cholesterol, wild oregano oil and astragalus