If I'm trying to cut back on caffeine, this is one of my "go tos" to cure that coffee craving or chai craving. Interestingly enough, chaga can be prepared in a way that tastes similar to coffee or chai. Strange right? Shall I tell you more? Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) is actually a mushroom that is dried and typically sold in granules you boil to make tea. I know what you must be thinking. A mushroom?! In a tea? Yes, and I promise it is packed with tons of good-for-you-ness and deliciousness. Chaga grows on primarily birch trees as a parasite taking nutrients from the tree for itself. It kind of looks like a burned stump when you see it on the tree, you first reaction is definitely not, "hey, I wanna drink that!" The parasite enters the tree through a wound and the fungus will mature in about 5-7 (sometimes up to 20!) years and fall off, sometimes killing the tree in the process.
You can purchase chaga online (I get mine from Mountain Rose Herbs) and you really should, it is such a great tea filled with good sources of riboflavin, niacin, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, melanin, and immune supporting properties. It also contains a dense source of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD) which basically halts oxidation. This means that it fights free radicals, those things that lead to aging, damage tissues, and free radicals can cause tumors/cancer. Another benefit is that chaga is a great adaptogen. I will talk about adaptogens here soon in more detail and why you should add them into your daily diet. Adaptogens basically help your body adapt to stress via your adrenals. Stress is one of the largest health problems we face and taking adaptogens regularly gives your body the ability to prevent the harm that stress will cause. The Chinese gave this fungus the well deserved title as "The King of the Herbs." I promise you won't regret making this following recipe. Chaga also can be prepared as more of a coffee by just boiling the Chaga in water about 10 minutes, until it is the deep color of coffee.
*As it happens, I sat down last night to look over a spring journal from United Plant Savers that I get in the mail. The organization is a non-profit that is dedicated to preserving native medicinal plants. There happened to be an article inside written on chaga about considering the commercial future of chaga. The author had received some chaga chai from someone.. and I was like what, what?! I learned about chaga when a classmate brought some chaga to my herbalism class. Later I bought some and after drinking it plain a few times, I thought it would make a great chai. Turns out other people have come to the same conclusion.
Since chaga takes a considerable time to mature, wild chaga can quickly be over-harvested and will become endangered or extinct. Of course chaga is in not in danger now, there is plenty, and the market for sustainably cultivated chaga looks good in the future. Chaga could easily become one of the crazes where everyone wants it and it could become over-harvested and marketed into capsules, powders, and other products for its anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-viral qualities and even could be marketed in beauty products. I do think if you are interested and want to have something healthy around to replace those times when you want caffeine but don't need it, chaga is a great solution because you get all those extra health benefits. Also, I recommend it if you are more curious about the herbal world and tea-drinking, there are great medicinal mushrooms to explore in that realm. Just be knowledgable about the resources you are using in the future to get your medicinal plants. You want to be aware of the availability of the plant and always buy from responsible, ethical, sustainable, preferably organic sources.
Recipe for the Chaga Chai! (Makes a good cup)
Chaga - Heaped 1TB
Cardamom pods - 5-6pod slightly crushed
Fresh ginger - 1-2tsp minced
Cloves - 4, tops crushed into the pot
Cinnamon stick - 1 whole stick or 1/2 (depends on your likeness of cinnamon)
Peppercorn - 5 kernels
Optional - a few fennel seeds and rose petals
Dairy or not - I use almond milk but used anything, milk, soy, hemp, rice, etc.
Honey or agave - I use a scant 2tsp honey but adjust depending on taste.
Directions: Fill up your favorite mug halfway with water. Add this water into a small saucepan and turn onto medium heat. Add in all your spices (except the milk and honey). Bring the pot to a boil and once boiling, keep it at a low boil for at least 5 minutes, ideally 7-10minutes. Turn off the heat and after 2 minutes stir in the honey until it is dissolved. Fill up your mug half-way again with the milk and then pour it into the pot. Turn the heat back on until the drink is warmed back up and just about to simmer. Watch VERY carefully because milk and non-milk boils very easily. Once warm, pour drink through a strainer into your mug. Enjoy. This drink is amazing. You are welcome.
Additional sources taken from united plant savers & chagaknowledge.