Updated: Oct 11, 2019
As an ancient folk remedy, Chaga was used by the Siberians to preserve youth, maintain life-force and boost the immune system. Chaga was ingested, inhaled and applied topically to the skin. The indigenous people from that area have been documented to live beyond 100 years of age. In TCM, Chaga is related to the spleen, stomach and liver and used according to disorders of the functional circuits of these organs. TCM views Chaga as a strong tonic, and a fungi that builds Qi and calms the heart and mind. As an adaptogen, Chaga is rich in a class of polysaccharides known as Beta-D-Glucans. These help restore balance to the body’s immune system response by up-regulating or down-regulating it as needed for optimal function. Several scientific studies suggest Chaga initiates cancer cell apoptosis, is anti-proliferative and has chemo-protective benefits. A diverse antioxidant profile indicates Chaga has the highest Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score of any known superfood meaning its antioxidant potency is sky high. In the human body, this translates into decreased inflammation. Long term inflammation is implicated in damage to your arteries, organs and joints. Over time, it can contribute to chronic diseases, such as heart disease, blood vessel disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease amongst others. Decreasing inflammation in individuals already managing these conditions can increase quality of life and slow progression of disease.
The Chaga fungus (Inonotus obliquus) is found in very cold habitats growing predominantly on birches. Specifically, Chaga grows in the forests of Russia, Korea, Eastern and Northern Europe, and the northern areas of the United States and Canada.
Chaga is often referred to as a parasite, but it can actually form a symbiotic relationship with its host. When a birch tree is wounded or dying (think broken branches, storm damage or other impacts) the sterile conk or mycelium takes residence and grows out of these sustained wounds. This acts as a protective covering that inhibits the entry of other invading micro-organisms. The host tree and Chaga can co-exist and sustain one another in this way over the course of its 20 year life-span and the mushroom can be harvested up to three times.
Making a Double Extraction
Chaga (and other fungi) contain both alcohol-soluble medicinal constituents and water-soluble medicinal constituents. Here lies the beauty in a double extraction where you get ALL of the medicinal magick from this powerful ally.
The double extraction can be simplified into three basic steps. It's actually not as hard as you may think.
Step 1: Tincture
Depending on how raw your initial starting material is, remove any stray bits of tree bark from your Chaga. Break the Chaga into small pieces. I break mine down with a knife into small pieces then ground down further in a coffee grinder for a tiny grain and ultimate extraction. You could probably get away with pieces the size of a pea or a large cherry tomato at its biggest. Fill a jar halfway with the pieces, then cover with 80 to 100 proof alcohol. (It's hard to get 100 proof in most places so I use 80 proof vodka). Line a jar lid with with waxed paper to prevent corrosion and label with date and contents. Place out of direct sunlight for 1 to 3 months, shaking gently whenever you think of it at least a few times a week. After 1-3 months, strain through a cheesecloth-lined colander and bottle the liquid in a jar. Leave the Chaga in the strainer for step 2.
Step 2: Decoction
Transfer the Chaga from the strainer mushrooms to a medium-sized stainless steel cooking pot. Place DOUBLE the amount of water in the pot as there is of the tincture you infused. You should be able to visually estimate this, or if you're a perfectionist measure the tincture first then double the amount for the water component. Simmer (do NOT boil) this for 1 hour minimum (up to two or more is great if you have the time). Keep adding water as necessary, you don't want the water to evaporate out. Towards the end let the water reduce so it has halved and equals the alcoholic tincture. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.
Strain and compost the residual Chaga using the cheesecloth-strained colander and keep the Chaga-infused water - this is called a decoction.
Step 3: Combine and bottle
Combine your tincture and decoction. Add the tincture to the decoction and whisk. Doing it this way means that the alcohol is introduced at lower amounts to the decoction which reduced the amount of concentrated alcohol the water-based constituents have to endure. Once mixed, transfer into a bottle and label. You have just made a double-extraction!