Chaga tea has gotten loads of attention on social media channels like TikTok recently as a trendy wellness drink, and for good reason. People have turned to the earthy brew for centuries as a health tonic for myriad ailments. Now, modern research suggests they were onto something. If you’re wondering how to make chaga tea at home, good news: It’s a cinch. Read on to find out how this medicinal mushroom can improve your health, and discover the best way to brew a flavorful cup.
What is chaga tea?
Chaga is a type of mushroom that grows on the bark of birch trees. It’s typically found in cold climates like Russia and Eastern Europe. There, it’s been used since the 12th century as a folk remedy for digestive disorders, heart and liver problems, and even cancer.
“This could be because it may generally boost the immune system and reduce inflammation, which is common to many illnesses,” explains Steven Vasilev, MD, medical director of Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and Professor of Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California.
“Chaga mushrooms were traditionally steeped in hot water for hours and drunk as a tea,” adds Menka Gupta, MD, a functional medicine practitioner and founder of NutraNourish. The mushrooms “are not commonly consumed on its own due to their bitter nature.” Today, chaga mushrooms are often dried and ground into a powder, which only takes a couple of minutes to steep into a healing tea.
Health benefits of chaga tea
Wondering what chaga tea can do for you? Though the mushrooms have a long history as a health booster, researchers are only beginning to uncover the properties that make chaga so potent. Here’s what we know: Chaga brims with powerful antioxidants such as polyphenols, Dr. Gupta points out. In fact, State University of New York research reveals that chaga’s antioxidant content is on par with superfoods like green tea.
It’s also rich in polysaccharides, a type of beneficial carbohydrate, and bioactive compounds like inotodiol. What’s more, the mushrooms are infused with betulinic acid, a powerful anti-cancer compound found in the bark of the birch tree. “As the chaga is growing, it takes the acid from the tree bark and concentrates it,” explains Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson.
While human studies on chaga are limited, it’s thought that these antioxidants and beneficial compounds work together to make the mushroom (and teas brewed from it) so good for you, explains Dr. Gupta. Here’s what it can do:
1. It lowers inflammation
Like colorful fruits, vegetables and green tea, chaga’s antioxidant content makes it a potent inflammation fighter, reveals research in the journal Molecules. “It may help regulate the production of cytokines,” or small proteins that can ramp up inflammation, Dr. Gupta explains.
Over time, that can help lower your risk of serious long-term health problems. “Reducing inflammation is beneficial because chronic inflammation is linked to various diseases, including heart disease and arthritis,” Dr. Vasilev points out.
“Chaga is something I recommend to patients for sure,” Dr. Alschuler adds. “It has anti-inflammatory actions and is a bit of an antioxidant, so that means it’s good for people with chronic inflammatory conditions.” (Click through to learn how onion peel tea lowers inflammation, too.)
The mushroom’s anti-inflammatory action might even give your brain a boost, Dr. Alschuler points out. In an animal study, mice who were given chaga daily scored higher on cognitive tests after just 7 days, found a Food & Function study. Check out the video below to learn more about how chaga may boost your health.
2. It balances blood sugar
Keeping your blood sugar steady is a must for preventing (and managing) type 2 diabetes, plus warding off sugary cravings. And that’s where chaga tea shines. An animal study in the journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy suggests chaga has a blood-sugar lowering effect.
Researchers suspect the benefit comes from chaga’s polysaccharides, which help make you more sensitive to the blood sugar hormone insulin. Chaga also serves up beta-glucans, a special type of fiber “that can slow down the absorption of sugar, promoting more stable glucose levels,” Dr. Gupta adds. (Click through to learn how olive oil balances blood sugar and speeds weight loss, too.)
3. It improves cholesterol
If your cholesterol numbers have been creeping up lately, chaga may be able to help. An animal study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggests that the mushroom lowers “bad” LDL and raises “good” HDL cholesterol. That may have to do with its anti-inflammatory properties, though there haven’t yet been human studies to confirm this. “Since chaga helps significantly lower inflammation, and chronic inflammation can cause high cholesterol, this is a mechanism by which it may be beneficial,” Dr. Gupta explains. (Click through for more natural drinks to lower cholesterol.)
4. It fends off colds
Help yourself to a cup of tea the next time you feel a cough or the sniffles coming on. Chaga’s polysaccharides enhance your immune response, giving your body more oomph to fight off invading germs, suggests research in the journal Heliyon. “I recommend mushrooms for their generalized immune-boosting potential,” Dr. Vasilev confirms.
5. It may reduce cancer risk
Research suggests that chaga might be a potent anti-cancer ally, particularly when it comes to liver cancer. In fact, one animal study in Heliyon found that chaga supplements reduced the size of tumors up to 60%.
“A lot of plants and mushrooms contain bioactive substances that can influence mutagenesis and cancer,” Dr. Vasilev notes. “Chaga contains a fair share of these, and there is laboratory and animal study evidence that these can affect cancer development,” though human studies haven’t yet been conducted.
What to look for when buying chaga
Ready to give chaga tea a try? You’ll get a faster brew with ground, powdered chaga or chaga tea bags (which are ready in minutes) compared to the whole dried mushrooms that can take hours to steep, according to Dr. Gupta.
You can find chaga as a standalone powder or tea, but it’s also sometimes blended with herbs to cut the bitter taste. One isn’t better than the other — it just depends on your preference. “It’s best to use whatever form you can stick with since it’s something you’ll want to take for an extended period of time,” (think weeks or months) in order get the benefits, Dr. Alschuler says.
She recommends using an organic chaga powder or tea that’s sustainably harvested. Two to try: Numami Organics Organic Chaga Mushroom Powder (Buy from Amazon, $16.90) or Teeccino Chaga Ashwagandha Tea (Buy from Amazon, $16.99).
How to make chaga tea
Chaga’s earthy, bitter flavor can take some getting used to. “You might have to experiment with combining it with another flavor to mellow it out,” Dr. Alschuler says. She recommends a pinch of ground cinnamon or cardamom, or a spoonful of cocoa powder to taste. To make your own cuppa, here’s what Dr. Alschuler suggests:
How to make chaga tea using powdered chaga
Add 1 tsp. chaga powder to 8 oz. of hot water. Stir to dissolve the chaga powder, season with spices or cocoa powder if desired, then enjoy.
How to make chaga tea using tea bags
Brew 1 chaga teabag in 8 oz. of hot water. Steep for 15 minutes (you can rewarm the steeped tea if it’s gotten too cool), season with spices or cocoa powder if desired, then enjoy.
Who should avoid chaga?
Chaga is generally safe to try, thought there have been a handful of reports showing that the mushroom or tea could potentially cause kidney damage, Dr. Vasilev says. It also has the potential to interact with blood-thinning medications or blood-sugar lowering medications. “It is prudent to consult with your doctor before starting any new supplement,” he adds.
For more health-boosting (and tasty!) teas:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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