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Chaga Mushroom

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Background & General Info

Chaga mushroom, or Inonotus obliquus as it is scientifically referred to, is a white-rot fungus belonging to the family Hymenochaetaceae. Growing very slowly, it assumes a parasitic lifestyle on nearly all living birches, alders, and other broad-leaved tree species in the cold latitudes of North America, Europe, and Asia, and interestingly, the consequentially infected trees have a lifespan of many years without symptoms of decline, with the fungal infection penetrating through stem injuries and the exterior sterile conks developing later on. [1] The fungus is sometimes called clinker fungus, cinder conk, and clinker polypore because of its likeness to the slag left after a coal fire. “Chaga” is actually an English adaption of its Russian regional name “tschaga”. [2] Because the fungi feed on the nutrients and compounds present in their hosts as they grow, hence predigesting and concentrating them in more readily accessible forms for humans, chagas essentially serve as a vital chemical factory for valuable substances of importance to health. [3]


On infected stems, chaga mushroom forms an irregularly shaped sterile conk (chaga) resembling burnt charcoal due to a great abundance of melanin. This large coal-black outer conk, which is approximately 30 cm in diameter, is actually a mass of mycelium, not the fruiting body of the fungus. The sterile conk’s dark brown pulp is formed by a pure mycelial mass of fungus. [1] The yellow or yellow-brown interior of the fungus, often with some whitish dots mixed in, is rather firm with a fairly pebbly, corky texture, which contrasts the very hard bark-like outer surface with deeply cracked texture.

Between the fungal growth and the host tree is a yellowish-brown margin that becomes usually obvious when the sterile conk is cut off from the host trunk or log. The fungus starts to penetrate the tree via its wounds, particularly through the branch stubs that are poorly healed, and then decay broadens throughout the heartwood but does not penetrate the sapwood during the infection cycle occurring in living trees, apart from the portion around the sterile conk. The colonization in the sapwood is restricted to some areas only around basidiocarps on dead wood. Decay continues for around 10 to 80 years inside a living host tree, within which sterile cinder conks, 1 to 3 per stem, are produced by the fungus. [1]

History & Traditional Use

The use of mushrooms as medicine encompasses a very captivatingly long tradition, especially in Asian countries, and their demand in Western countries has been slightly increasing since the last decades. [4] The characteristic black sterile conks produced by chaga mushrooms on birches were first named but mistakenly described by Katayebskaya (1928) as a form of Fomes igniarius (Fr.) Gill, another fungal species that produces very large, horse hoof-like, grayish to black polypore fruit bodies. In a 1938 study in England, Findlay (1939) mentioned chaga mushrooms, albeit under the name Poria obliqua (Pers.:Fr.) P. Karst., as an attention-grabbing abnormal fungal growth on birch trees. [1]

Dubbed as the “king of medicinal mushrooms” in traditional Siberian healing system and shamanism, chaga mushrooms are exceedingly prized as nutritional medicine and tonic and are either externally applied on skin in wetted poultice form, or inhaled as “chaga smoke” to facilitate breathing, or ground and added in stews, soups, and daily beverages. The Siberians consider it as a cleaning and disinfecting substance, primarily in the treatment of stomach disorders, and the Khanty indigenous population of West Siberia in Russia believes in chaga’s ability to prevent and treat tuberculosis and ailments of the heart, liver, and stomach. [1] The Siberians also trust that consuming chagas regularly can prevent the onset of degenerative diseases, can boost physical stamina, and can, in general, lengthen life despite their harsh climate. [1]

Ancient cultures in China, Korea, Eastern Europe, Russia, and other countries such as Japan and northern regions of Canada regard chaga mushrooms as a therapeutic medicinal agent—and to some extent, especially in Russia and few parts of Eastern Europe, the solution to cancer. The Ojibwe of northern Canada sort chagas as a cure for tumors; in Korea, it is used to combat stress and regulate energy; in certain areas of Europe, it is said to cure inflammatory skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema, and relieve bronchitis and other lung diseases. [3]

The health-promoting benefits of chagas can be obtained through different means: eating it fresh and raw, or drying and then drinking it as tea, or making extracts and alcoholic tincture out of it. Similar to other medicinal mushrooms, chaga is believed to help reduce the general workload of the immune system. [2]

General Herbal Uses

In Russia, Poland, and most Baltic countries, chaga mushroom is traditionally used as a cleansing and disinfecting agent and is incorporated in decoctions for stomach maladies, intestinal worms, and liver and heart ailments. [5] Since the 16th or 17th century, the fruiting bodies of chaga mushrooms have been valued in Eastern Europe as a traditional curative medicine for cancer and stomach diseases. [1] In folk and botanical medicine, it is considered as an efficacious remedy for cancer, gastritis, ulcers, and bone tuberculosis [6] and therapeutic benefits were detected in populations using water cushions from this fungus. [1]

Constituents/Active Components

Previous studies have reported a variety of bioactive compounds in chaga mushrooms such as polysaccharides and polyphenols, which include triterpenoids, ergosterol peroxides, steroids, inotodial, and a lignin-like substance named 3β-hydroxy-lanosta-8,24-dien-21-al. [7] Chemical composition analysis by Glamočlija et al. (2015) designated oxalic acid as the main organic acid in aqueous and ethanolic extracts of chaga mushrooms from Finland, Russia, and Thailand, with the highest amount being found in the Russian aqueous extract. Gallic, protocatechuic, and p-hydroxybenzoic acids were identified as well in all samples tested. [8]

Several hydrocarbons, alcohols, phenols, and carbonyl compounds in analyzed fractions have been detected and quantified from the aqueous extract of chaga mushrooms hydrolyzed in dilute hydrochloric acid, which are summarized below with their corresponding content percentages. Here, analysis of eluted fractions was through GC–MS. [9]

Chaga Mushroom Compounds

Medicinal/Scientific Research

A number of scientific reports have been published that provide evidence as to the therapeutic claims of chaga mushrooms, including antibacterial, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, and antioxidant activities. [5] Several editions of scientific journals and reviews concerning medicinal mushrooms and their biologically active compounds confirm these, and indubitably, chaga mushroom is one of the most intensively researched fungal species because of its reputed potential as a source of pharmaceuticals and its biotechnological utility.


Several studies have promoted the use of chaga mushrooms as a natural therapeutic option against different types of cancer. The Norwegian name for chaga mushrooms, “kreftkjuke,” translates to “cancer polypore,” which signifies its conventional use as an anticancer remedy. A very early study evaluating the cytotoxic effects of two aqueous extracts of chaga mushrooms on human cervical uterine cancer cells (HeLa S3) in vitro demonstrated the growth arrest of cancer cells attributed to chaga mushroom extract given at a concentration of 10 μg/mL to 2000 μg/mL. Cultures treated with the aqueous extracts exhibited a decrease in cell proteins and mitotic index. Furthermore, aqueous extracts of chaga mushrooms increased the number of mitotic cells in metaphase, disturbing mitoses and 8/G phase of the cell cycle. [10]

Youn et al. (2008) explored the antiproliferative and apoptotic effects of chaga mushroom water extract on human hepatoma cell lines (HepG2 and Hep3B cells), with 3-[4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl]-2, 5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay being the study’s means of cytotoxicity screening. Chaga mushroom water extract appeared to dose-dependently suppress the cancer cells’ growth and trigger G0/G1 phase arrest and apoptotic cell death. The said G0/G1 arrest in the cell cycle was closely associated with downregulation of p53; pRb; p27; cyclins D1, D2, and E; cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) 2; Cdk4; and Cdk6 expression, and HepG2 cells seemed to be more sensitive to chaga extract treatment than Hep3B cells, as evidenced by noticeably reduced cell viability. [11]

A 2011 Polish study presented evidence on the potential of fraction IO4 isolated from chaga mushrooms as an anticancer agent with little or no toxicity in tested normal cells. This fraction, which was prepared from dried fruiting bodies of chaga mushrooms, was evaluated for its anticancer activity against human lung carcinoma (A549), colon adenocarcinoma (HT-29), and rat glioma (C6) cell cultures. Human skin fibroblasts (HSF), bovine aorta endothelial cells (BAEC), rat oligodendrocyte models (OLN-93), hepatocytes (Fao), rat astroglia, and mouse neurons (P19) were applied to examine toxicity in normal cells, and MTT and BrdU assays, LDH assay, wound assay, May-Grünwald–Giemsa staining, and ELISA were conducted to test tumor cell proliferation, cytotoxicity, tumor cell motility, tumor cell morphology, and death detection, respectively. The result from this study pointed out anticancer effects related to chaga fraction administration, specifically decreased tumor cell proliferation, motility, and morphological change induction. [5] Aqueous and ethanolic chaga mushroom extracts in the work of Glamočlija et al. (2015) expressed cytotoxic effect on four tumor cell lines (MCF-7, NCI-H460, HeLa, and HepG2), but not on primary porcine liver cells PLP2. [8]

In the study of Lee, Kim, and Kim (2015), which cultured HT-29 human colon cancer cells in 2.5–10 µg/mL of ethanol extract of chaga mushrooms to investigate its action on the cell cycle progression and molecular mechanism in colon cancer cells, treatment of 10 µg/mL chaga mushroom ethanol extract led to a dose-dependent decrease in numbers of viable HT-29 cancer cell numbers within 72 hours and significant decrease in DNA synthesis in HT-29 cancer cells. In the presence of the extract, a dose-dependent increase in the percentage of cells in G1 phase, along with a corresponding decrease in the percentages of cells in S and G2/M phases, was observed, and extract-treated cells displayed decreased protein expression of CDK2, CDK4, and cyclin D1; elevated expression of p21, p27, and p53; and suppressed phosphorylation of Rb and E2F1 expression. [7]


Chaga mushroom has been found to exhibit antioxidant activity also, likely by protecting cell components against free radicals. The data from the work of Bisko, Mitropolskaya, and Ikonnikova (2002) confirmed the high antioxidant and genoprotective effects of the melanin complex produced by chaga mushrooms in submerged conditions. [12] Park et al. (2004) investigated the protective potential of aqueous extracts from chaga mushrooms against endogenous oxidative damage to DNA in human lymphocytes. This study pretreated cells with 10, 50, 100, and 500 μg/mL of the said extract for an hour at 37°C. The cells then were additionally treated with 100 μM of H2O2 for 5 minutes as an oxidative stress. More than 40% reduction in DNA fragmentation was observed in cells pretreated with the aqueous extract of chaga mushroom, as compared with the positive control (100 μmol H2O2 treatment). [13]

Najafzadeh et al. (2007) also used hydrogen peroxide in their study to stimulate oxidative stress in vitro in peripheral lymphocytes and to screen the protective antioxidant activity of an ethanolic extract of chaga mushroom against induced DNA damage. In this study, the tested lymphocytes were acquired from 20 patients suffering from inflammatory bowel disease and 20 healthy volunteers, and 50 μg/mL of hydrogen peroxide along with variable doses of chaga extract (10–500 μg/mL) acted as treatment. The findings indicated that chaga mushroom supplementation reduced the hydrogen peroxide-induced DNA damage by 54.9% (p < 0.001) in the experimental patient group and by 34.9% (p < 0.001) in the control group, with lymphocytes from patients with Crohn’s disease having greater basic DNA damage than those from patients with ulcerative colitis (p < 0.001). These results led the researchers to conclude that chaga extract decreases the oxidative stress in lymphocytes from both healthy individuals and patients with inflammatory bowel disease and that this extract serves a probable supplement to inhibit oxidative stress overall. [14]


High antioxidant and antimicrobial activities were observed from the aqueous and ethanolic extracts of I. obliquus in the study of Glamočlija et al. (2015). These extracts, which were tested at sub-MIC concentrations for antiquorum sensing (AQS) activity in Pseudomonas aeruginosa, displayed definite AQS activity. [8]


A 2013 Chinese study verified the antiviral ability of an aqueous extract from chaga mushrooms to markedly reduce herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection, with a 50% inhibitory concentration of 3.82 μg/mL in the plaque reduction assay and of 12.29 μg/mL in the HSV-1/blue assay. This antiviral activity came with considerable safety in Vero cells, as indicated by a 50% cellular cytotoxicity of >1 mg/mL and a selection index of >80. Furthermore, as found through time course assay, effective stage analysis, and fusion inhibition assay, the anti-HSV activity of chaga mushroom aqueous extract can be explained by its preventive action on HSV-1 entry by acting on viral glycoproteins, resulting in the inhibition of viral-induced membrane fusion at the early stage of viral infection. [15]


An early 1999 study recognized the hypoglycemic activities of polysaccharides from the sclerotia and mycelia of chaga mushrooms, which lasted for 3–48 hour after injection. The enzyme-inhibitory activity and hypoglycemic effects in normal mice were observed in both water-soluble and water-insoluble protein-containing polysaccharides, with β-glucan, heteroglucan, and their protein complexes being the active principles. [16] Joo, Kim, and Yun (2010) found that the hot water extract of chaga mushrooms strongly triggers adipogenesis of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes, even in the absence of adipogenic stimuli by insulin, and dose-dependently improves 3T3-L1 preadipocyte differentiation, increasing the accumulation of triacylglycerol, which is vital for adipocyte phenotype acquisition. The extract also induced the gene expression of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein α (C/EBPα) and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors γ (PPARγ) during adipocyte differentiation and stimulated the expression of PPARγ target genes such as adipocyte protein 2, lipoprotein lipase, and CD36 (fatty acid translocase). It is interesting to note that the ability to augment PPARγ transcriptional activities may appear to be therapeutic targets for dyslipidemia and type 2 diabetes. [17]

Anti-Inflammatory And Pain Relief

In a few Asian countries, medicinal mushrooms including chagas are accepted adjuvants for cancer or inflammation therapy. A 2005 South Korean study illustrated the anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects of the methanol extract acquired from chaga mushrooms in vivo and in vitro, which may be due to the inhibition of nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression via the downregulation of nuclear factor-kappaB binding activity. Orally administered at a dose of 100 or 200 mg/kg daily, chaga mushroom methanol extract lessened the acute carrageenan-induced paw edema in rats, and acetic acid-induced abdominal constriction test and hot plate test in mice indicated analgesic activity. Furthermore, the nitric oxide (NO), prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) production in lipopolysaccharide-stimulated RAW 264.7 macrophages and the protein and mRNA expressions of iNOS and COX-2 were remarkably suppressed by chaga mushroom methanol extract. In addition, experimental findings demonstrated that this methanol extract inhibited the lipopolysaccharide-induced DNA binding activity of nuclear factor-kappaB, which was linked to the deterrence of inhibitor kappaB degradation and a decrease in nuclear p65 protein levels. [18]

The results of the animal study of Choi et al. (2010) in 28 male BALB/c mice demonstrated a decrease in the expression of TNF-alpha and of signal transducers and activators of transcription 1 (STAT 1) in the groups administered with chaga mushrooms and with chaga mushrooms + induced colitis by dextran sodium sulfate (DSS), with the expressions of IL-4 and STAT6 being additionally reduced in chaga mushrooms + induced colitis by DSS group. [19]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

No severe allergic reactions have been documented for this fungus. Since the sixteenth century when it was identified as a traditional remedy, no scientifically proven claims of toxicity and side effects in the treatment of cancers and digestive system diseases have been raised. [19] However, patients under blood-thinning medications such as warfarin and diabetic medications are to be cautious in taking; chaga can lower blood sugar, resulting in additional effects.

A 2010 material safety data sheet from Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc., for chaga powder declares no health hazards for its ingestion but warns of the possibility of bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, irritation, blepharitis, and dermatitis in very sensitive or allergic individuals. [20]

A case of oxalate nephropathy connected to chaga mushroom ingestion was reported in a 72-year-old Japanese female diagnosed with liver cancer. In the report, consumption of 4 to 5 teaspoons of chaga mushroom powder on a daily basis for the past 6 months allegedly led to diffuse tubular atrophy and interstitial fibrosis, according to renal biopsy specimens, and deposition of oxalate crystals in the tubular lumina and urinary sediment. [6]


[1] M.-W. Lee, H. Hur, K.-C. Chang, T.-S. Lee, K.-H. Ka and L. Jankovsky, "Introduction to distribution and ecology of sterile conks of Inonotus obliquus," Mycobiology, vol. 36, no. 4, p. 199–202, 2008.

[2] D. Wolfe, Chaga: King of the Medicinal Mushrooms, Berkeley, North Carolina: North Atlantic Books, 2012.

[3] N. Faass, "The healing powers of wild chaga: An interview with Cass Ingram, MD,"Price-Pottenger Journal of Health and Healing, vol. 35, no. 4, p. 6–11, 2011–2012.

[4] U. Lindequist, T. H. Niedermeyer and W.-D. Jülich, "The pharmacological potential of mushrooms," Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2, no. 3, p. 285–299, 2005.

[5] M. Lemieszek, E. Langner, J. Kaczor, M. Kandefer-Szerszeń, B. Sanecka, W. Mazurkiewicz and W. Rzeski, "Anticancer effects of fraction isolated from fruiting bodies of Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Pers.:Fr.) Pilát (Aphyllophoromycetideae): in vitro studies," International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 131–143, 2011.

[6] Y. Kikuchi, et al., "Chaga mushroom-induced oxalate nephropathy," Clinical Nephrology, vol. 81, no. 6, p. 440–444, 2014.

[7] H. Lee, E. Kim and S. Kim, "Ethanol extract of Innotus obliquus (Chaga mushroom) induces G1 cell cycle arrest in HT-29 human colon cancer cells," Nutrition Research and Practice, vol. 9, no. 2, p. 111–116, 2015.

[8] J. Glamočlija, et al., "Chemical characterization and biological activity of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a medicinal "mushroom"," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 162, p. 323–332, 2015.

[9] W. Mazurkiewicz, K. Rydel, D. Pogocki, M. Lemieszek, W. Langner and W. Rzeski, "Separation of an aqueous extract Inonotus obliquus (chaga). A novel look at the efficiency of its influence on proliferation of a549 human lung carcinoma cells," Acta Poloniae Pharmaceutica – Drug Research, vol. 67, no. 4, p. 397–406, 2010.

[10] J. Burczyk, A. Gawron, M. Slotwinska, B. Smietana and K. Terminska, "Antimitotic activity of aqueous extracts of Inonotus obliquus," Bollettino Chimico Farmaceutico, vol. 135, no. 5, p. 306–309, 1996.

[11] M.-J. Youn, J.-K. Kim, S.-Y. Park, et al., "Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) induces G0/G1 arrest and apoptosis in human hepatoma HepG2 cells," World Journal of Gastroenterology, vol. 14, no. 4, p. 511–517, 2008.

[12] N. Bisko, N. Mitropolskaya and N. Ikonnikova, "Melanin complex from medicinal mushroom Inonotus obliquus (Pers.: Fr.) Pilat (Chaga) (Aphyllophoromycetideae)," International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 8, 2002.

[13] Y. Park, H. Lee, E. Jeon, H. Jung and M. Kang, "Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in human lymphocytes as assessed by comet assay," BioFactors, vol. 21, no. 1–4, p. 109–112, 2004.

[14] M. Najafzade, P. Reynolds, A. Baumgartner, D. Jerwood and D. Anderson, "Chaga mushroom extract inhibits oxidative DNA damage in lymphocytes of patients with inflammatory bowel disease," BioFactors, vol. 31, no. 3–4, p. 191–200, 2007.

[15] H. Pan, X. Yu, T. Li, et al., "Aqueous extract from a Chaga medicinal mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (higher Basidiomycetes), prevents herpes simplex virus entry through inhibition of viral-induced membrane fusion," International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, vol. 15, no. 1, p. 29–38, 2013.

[16] T. Mizuno, C. Zhuang, K. Abe, H. Okamoto, T. Kiho, S. Ukai, S. Leclerc and L. Meijer, "Antitumor and hypoglycemic activities of polysaccharides from the sclerotia and mycelia of Inonotus obliquus (Pers.: Fr.) Pil. (Aphyllophoromycetideae)," International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, vol. 1, no. 4, p. 301–316, 1999.,541026cc01c467e3,3b27577f0e4e1ae1.html

[17] J. Joo, D. Kim and J. Yun, "Extract of Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) stimulates 3T3-L1 adipocyte differentiation," Phytotherapy Research, vol. 24, no. 11, p. 1592–1599, 2010.

[18] Y. Park, J. Won, Y. Kim, J. Choi, H. Park and K. Lee, "In vivo and in vitro anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects of the methanol extract of Inonotus obliquus," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 101, no. 1–3, p. 120–128, 2005.

[19] S. Choi, S. Hur, C. An, et al., "Anti-inflammatory effects of Inonotus obliquus in colitis induced by dextran sodium sulfate," Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, vol. 2010, p. 5, 2010.

[20] I. Gourmet Mushrooms, "MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEET: Inonotus obliquus Mycelial Biomass Powder," 21 April 2010.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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