Science is opening a whole new world in terms of health benefits from plants. While corporate inspired regulators, and the medical profession have seemed less then exited about people trying to improve their health with plants, it seems that other corporate elements are in a hurry to cash in from the trend.
“Botanicals, the bioactive components of herbs, spices and other plants in either powdered, extracted or other forms, promise to take advantage of substances that have potential benefits while they do not qualify as nutrients.
Plant chemicals – phytochemicals – garner attention because they are viewed as untapped sources of energy and health benefits. There are only three energy-yielding macronutrients — proteins, fats, and carbohydrates — and only a handful of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, all of which are dietary essentials. But the number of plant-derived chemicals that could yield health benefits is vast and yet to be completely discovered.”
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
My interest in super foods and natural remedies started with chaga (Inonotus obliquus). I took it in very small doses, but I felt a variety of benefits, some immediately.
Chaga is a parasitic mushroom, that mainly grows on birch trees. To be at its best, chaga should have faced temperatures around -40c, it must be wild, over 15y old, and cut from a birch, for it to provide the ingredients listed. No single extraction technique captures all the benefits, so good quality extracts combine multiple extraction methods. Where chaga grows, its historical value is revealed through its names:
‘Gift from God’ (Siberia), ‘King of Plants’ (China), ‘Diamond of the Forest’ (Japan)
Traditionally chaga was believed to help almost any condition imaginable, a legacy that continues in the alternative health movement until today. In many cases science is lending credibility to claims, and slowly contributing towards a more quantifiable understanding of its medicinal properties.
The list of active ingredients below, and the synergy such a cocktail produces, ensure that it will take a while before any comprehensive understanding is formed.
Since the 1950s the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), in conjunction with approximately 1,200 prominent scientists, conducted over 3,000 experiments involving 500,000 people to study the effects of adaptogens. An Adaptogen is a substance which modifies the human body’s response to stress. The results of these studies were a protected Soviet secret for 40 years. The Soviet government commanded athletes, astronauts and other Soviet elite to take adaptogens on a daily basis to improve physical and mental work capacity. One of these adaptogens was chaga. In fact, of all these adaptogens, chaga was found to be the most powerful.
This first post on chaga will simply list and describe the identified active ingredients as a list. This list will remain a work in progress, as i will improve sources, and hopefully get an idea of exactly how much of each ingredient chaga contains. Later articles will address preparation, dosages, contraindications, side effects, medicinal use, research, and links to high quality sources of further information.
The active constituents of Chaga are thought to be a combination of
- amino acids, i.e. proteins
- complex (1>3) and (1>6) Beta-D-glucans, are used for high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Beta glucans are also used to boost the immune system in people whose body defenses have been weakened by conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, or physical and emotional stress; or by treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy. Beta glucans are also used for colds (common cold), flu (influenza), H1N1 (swine) flu, allergies, hepatitis, Lyme disease, asthma, ear infections, aging, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
- betulinic acid, reactivates the mitochondria in cancer cells, causing apoptosis (cellular suicide), also anti HIV-1, antibacterial, anti-malarial, anti-inflammatory, and anthelmintic activities.
- calcium, besides bone strength calcium is involved with blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, regulation of enzyme activity, and cell membrane function. When dietary intake of calcium is too low to maintain normal blood levels of calcium, the body will draw on calcium stores in the bones to maintain normal blood concentrations.
- Chloride helps keep the amount of fluid inside and outside of your cells in balance. It also helps maintain proper blood volume, blood pressure, and pH of your body fluids.
- copper, plays a role in development of the CNS, heart, circulatory systems, gene transcription, in aging it helps maintain the connective tissues in our heart and arteries, and youthfulness of our hair and skin. It is also anti fungal and bacterial
- Dietary Fiber is necessary, and supplementation has been shown to help a myriad of conditions for young and old
- enzymes catalyze and regulate all biochemical reactions that occur within the human body. Their presence and strength can be determined by improved blood and immune system functions.
- Flavonoids, more then 4000 types have been identified with differing properties. The volume means is will take a while for us to figure them out. Flavonoids have been reported to have negative correlation with incidence of coronary heart disease. Furthermore, flavonoids have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-tumor, anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, and vasodilatory effect. They also inhibit platelet aggregation.
- Germanium is reported to improve the immune system, boost the body’s oxygen supply, make a person feel more energetic, and destroy damaging free radicals. Germanium also protects against radiation, and degenerative conditions like cancer and aids
- Inotodiols show various biological activities, including anti-tumour, anti-viral, hypoglycaemic, anti-oxidant and cyto-protective.
- iron, essential mineral used to produce red blood cells, myoglobin (for muscle synthesis), hemoglobin and enzymes. Necessary for efficient use of b-vitamins. Dependent on the presence of copper and calcium. Deficiency common for women, athletes, and vegetarians.
- lanosterol exhibits strong cytotoxicity towards carcinoma cells. It’s also an anti-bacterial, lowers cholesterol and reduces candida.
- Manganese (particularly valuable in its +2 valence state as part of the enzyme called superoxide dismutase [SOD]). Manganese is essential for proper digestion and the metabolization of proteins. Manganese also plays an important role in digestion and utilization of food, reproduction, normal bone structure, and normal functioning of the central nervous system. It also activates enzymes needed for vitamins b1 and c, and is a building block for thyroxine, the main hormone of the thyroid gland.
- superoxide dismutase [SOD] Chaga has the highest level of (SOD) detected in any food or herb in the world. (SOD) is an enzyme that repairs cells and reduces the damage done to them by superoxide, the most common free radical in the body. SOD is antioxidant and antiinflamatory, reduces signs of aging in the skin, and inhibits precancerous cell changes. Superoxide Dismutase helps the body use zinc, copper, and manganese. There are two types of SOD: copper/zinc (Cu/Zn) SOD and manganese (Mn) SOD. Each type of SOD plays a different role in keeping cells healthy. Cu/Zn SOD protects the cells’ cytoplasm, and Mn SOD protects their mitochondria from free radical damage. SOD has been used to treat arthritis, prostate problems, corneal ulcers, burn injuries, inflammatory diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, and long-term damage from exposure to smoke and radiation, and to prevent side effects of cancer drugs. In its topical form, it may help to reduce facial wrinkles, scar tissue, heal wounds and burns, lighten dark or hyperpigmentation, and protect against harmful UV rays.
- magnesium is mostly stored in the bones, though the body keeps a stable supply in the blood. health benefits of magnesium include solving or preventing osteoporosis, heart attacks, hypertension, constipation, migraines, leg cramps, kidney stones, gallstones and more.
- Melanin, Increased melanin protects from short-term damage from the sun, as well as the long-term signs of aging, such as age spots, deep wrinkles and rough texture. Free radicals have been implicated as the cause of widespread damage to human cells. Melanin plays a role in free scavenging radicals and preventing skin damage they can cause. It affects the delicately designed lipids that hold moisture in the stratum corneum. This is the outermost layer of the epidermis. If the skin loses its moisture, it becomes rigid and cracks.
- natural phenols, The antioxidant and antibacterial properties of phenols benefit a wide variety of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s Disease. Phenols are thought to be the primary health benefit of olive oil consumption, with benefits seen for breast cell health, bone health, and cholesterol health.
- Phosphorus is involved in virtually all physiological chemical reactions in the body, and calcium and Vitamin D are essential to proper functioning of the phosphorus. This mineral protects and strengthens cell membranes, assists other nutrients, hormones, and chemicals in their bodily processes, and is necessary for normal bone and tooth structure. Phosphorus is needed for healthy nerve impulses, normal kidney functioning, and the utilization of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and for energy production. Phosphorus is a component of DNA and RNA and serves in the preparation of glucose for energy formation.
- Phytonutrients are plant derived chemical substances. Although their caloric value is insignificant, inclusion in our diet in adequate levels is imperative since the potential benefits in terms of direct contribution to health promotion and disease prevention are enormous. Studies have found that certain chemicals other than nutritional principles in them have anti-mutagenic, free radical scavenging and immunity boosting functions.
- polysaccharides help to regulate immune function with T and B lymphocyte activation. They promote Interferon, a white cell medium and tumor necrosis (death). Polysaccharides are important in the prevention of degenerative type diseases. Polysaccharides can also act as an anticoagulant. It reduces the stickiness of platelets making it harder for them to build up in artery walls. Polysaccharides have anti-thrombotic effects and blood lipids are reduced. HDL cholesterol may be raised while LDL levels are decreased. They lower blood pressure and increase coronary artery capacity. Blood sugar levels are reduced which is a benefit in treating Diabetics. There is improved Beta cell function in the pancreas, as well as anti-diabetic properties. Anti-radiation effects may be noted, and free radicals can be all but eliminated. There is anti-viral activity, and it improves blood reproduction and maintenance.
- potassium, This mineral is required for keeping heart, brain, kidney, muscle tissues and other important organs of human body in good condition. It works in association with sodium to perform a number of critical body tasks. Some areas of benefit include stroke, blood pressure, anxiety and stress, muscular strength, metabolism, heart and kidney disorders, water balance, electrolytic functions, nervous system
- Saponins are used as adjuvants in vaccines, and oral intakes of saponins have been used to help treat retroviral infection. They stimulate antibody production, inhibit viruses, and induce the response by lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that fight infection. Saponins prevent absorption of cholesterol by the small intestine, lowering cholesterol levels in the blood and liver. They also reduce risk of cancer.
- Selenium, Major benefits of selenium have been found to improve the immune system against bacterial and viral infections, against cancer cells and herpes virus, cold sores, and shingles. One of the major nutritional benefits of selenium is increasing the HDL cholesterol to LDL cholesterol for a healthy heart. Selenium aids in many of the metabolic pathways and may help treat prostate cancer; ongoing research is exploring the relationship between low selenium levels and coronary heart disease. Has also shown to help skin burns and dandruff in topical applications.
- Sodium, The body uses sodium to regulate blood pressure and blood volume. Sodium is also critical for the functioning of muscles and nerves.
- sterols, work by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine. This lowers the low density cholesterol known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL ) by 6-15%, without lowering the good cholesterol known as the high density cholesterol ( HDL). Clinical research trials have documented safety and effectiveness for use by the entire family. Plant stanols/sterols do not interfere with cholesterol lowering medications.
- Trametenolic Acid shows various biological activities, including anti-tumour, anti-viral, hypoglycaemic, anti-oxidant and cyto-protective.
- tripeptide, The main function of tripeptides is cell communication. They also contribute to body functions such as blood pressure regulation and thyroid function. As tripeptides age, however, communication signals may start to deteriorate, which can cause signs of aging and other health issues. Tripeptides are a common ingredient in expensive antiaging cosmetics.
- Triterpenes regulate inflamatory response. Triterpenes are believed to be the source of the adaptogenic action of many herbs including ginseng
- Triterpenoids modulate inflamatory response, anti-cancer
- Vanillic Acid, manages immune and inflamation response, and is hepatoprotective.
- beta-carotene (which the body can synthesize into Vitamin A (retinol),
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), is required for generating energy from carbohydrates, it is used for used for digestive problems including poor appetite, ulcerative colitis, ongoing diarrhea, AIDS and boosting the immune system, diabetic pain, heart disease, alcoholism, aging, a type of brain damage called cerebellar syndrome, canker sores, vision problems such as cataracts and glaucoma, motion sickness, and improving athletic performance. Other uses include preventing cervical cancer and progression of kidney disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. Some people use thiamine for maintaining a positive mental attitude; enhancing learning abilities; increasing energy; fighting stress; and preventing memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), is required by the body to use oxygen and the metabolism of amino acids, fatty acids, and carbohydrates. Riboflavin is further needed to activate vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), helps to create niacin and assists the adrenal gland. It may be used for red blood cell formation, antibody production, cell respiration, and growth. Riboflavin is used for preventing low levels of riboflavin (riboflavin deficiency), cervical cancer, and migraineheadaches. It is also used for treating riboflavin deficiency, acne, muscle cramps, burning feet syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and blood disorders such as congenital methemoglobinemia and red blood cell aplasia. Some people use riboflavin for eye conditions including eye fatigue, cataracts, and glaucoma. Other uses include increasing energy levels; boosting immune system function; maintaining healthy hair, skin, mucous membranes, and nails; slowing aging; boosting athletic performance; promoting healthy reproductive function; canker sores; memory loss, including Alzheimer’s disease; ulcers; burns; alcoholism; liver disease; sickle cellanemia; and treating lactic acidosis brought on by treatment with a class of AIDS medications called NRTI drugs.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) is required for cell respiration, helps in the release of energy and metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, proper circulation and healthy skin, functioning of the nervous system, and normal secretion of bile and stomach fluids. It is used in the synthesis of sex hormones, treating schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, and a memory-enhancer.
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) performs wide variety of functions in our body, starting from production of neurotransmitter in brain to fabrication of steroids to extraction of fats, proteins and other vital nutrients. It also helps conditions like asthma, hair loss, allergies, stress and anxiety, respiratory disorders and heart problems. Also, it helps to improve immunity, osteoarthritis, ageing signs, resistance to various types of infections, physical growth, and diabetes and skin disorders.
- (ergosterol) is a biological precursor (a provitamin) to vitamin D2.
- Vitamin K allows normal blood clotting, prevents bone fracture, prevents post menopausal bone loss, prevents calcification of arteries, possible protection against liver and prostate cancer
- zinc is necessary for hormone regulation, forming enzymes, and a myriad of other functions. Zinc is also used for boosting the immune system, treating the common cold and recurrent ear infections, and preventing lower respiratory infections. It is also used for malaria and other diseases caused by parasites. Zinc is also used for an eye disease called macular degeneration, for night blindness, and for cataracts. It is also used for asthma; diabetes; high blood pressure; acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS); and skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne. Other uses include treating attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), blunted sense of taste (hypogeusia), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), severe head injuries, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, Hansen’s disease, ulcerative colitis, peptic ulcers and promoting weight gain in people with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa. Some people use zinc for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), male infertility, erectile dysfunction (ED), weak bones (osteoporosis), rheumatoid arthritis, and muscle cramps associated with liver disease. It is also used for sickle cell disease and inherited disorders such as acrodermatitis enteropathica, thalassemia, and Wilson’s disease.