Chaga mushrooms are a parasitic fungus which is well known around the world for being a popular ingredient in folk medicine and herbal remedies. Chaga mushrooms have been used in a variety of different folk medicines for centuries, particularly in the European areas where chaga is often found. The most typical way chaga is administered as a folk remedy is through chaga tea, which is a tea-like drink made with processed chaga and hot water; in the past, chaga tea was typically only found in the areas where chaga naturally grows, but with the rise of the modern folk remedy industry, chaga teas can be found or shipped just about anywhere in the world.
Chaga mushrooms are naturally found only in certain types of environments: namely cold climates, especially in Europe, Eastern Europe, Russia, certain areas of Korea, certain areas of the United States, and Canada. They are most commonly found on birch trees, which act as hosts to the parasitic chaga fungus. They can also be found on other tree species, though this is not as common.
In addition to their use in folk medicine, the most distinct feature of the chaga mushroom is its appearance. Ordinarily, mushrooms are smooth and just about uniform in size; they have bulbous, round, smooth caps which may contain one or more colors. Chaga mushrooms, on the other hand, look nothing like a typical mushroom fungus. Chaga mushrooms do not have a uniform shape, are black in color, have a gritty and porous texture, and very closely resemble a piece of burnt charcoal rather than a standard mushroom fungus. In fact, the chaga “mushroom” that is used in folk remedies is not the flowering fruit of the mushroom at all, but the sterile cork. The reason that the cork has such a dark appearance may be due to the presence of melanin in the trees that host the chaga mushroom, although this is not known for sure.
The distinct and unusual appearance of the chaga mushroom means that it is very easy to recognize them in the wild. When chaga mushrooms are cultivated for consumption, they are almost always retrieved from nature rather than artificial greenhouses—this is due to the difficulty of growing chaga in a controlled environment. Typically, the way that chaga is utilized is through grinding. First, the cultivated chaga mushrooms is grated over and over until it resembles a fine, powder-like substance. The texture of the powder may be more fine or more gritty depending on the state of the chaga or even the company processing the mushroom; processed chaga is usually lighter brown in color than the initial dark conk.
After the chaga is processed, it can be either sold on its own or combined with other ingredients to make a more distinct herbal, natural tea. Common ingredients combined with processed chaga include ingredients for additional health benefits, such as green tea and other herbs, as well as ingredients for flavor, such as dried fruits.