What's Chaga Tea & Should You Be Drinking It?
Although we've long touted green tea's reign as a weight-loss and health-improving king, a new tea made from chaga mushrooms is attempting to dethrone it. Chaga is a fungus that grows on birch trees from cold regions such as Serbia, Canada, and some northern parts of the US. These woody fungi live in a symbiotic relationship with the birches—they help heal damaged bark and, in return, they feed on the nutrients and compounds in the tree. So, when we consume it, we're sort of eating a little factory that has converted healthy nutrients into forms more readily available to us.
This superfood has been used for hundreds of years by indigenous Siberians to extend longevity and prevent the onset of degenerative diseases. Chaga acquires some of these medicinal qualities from its parasitic relationship with the birch bark, like triterpene compounds, which have antiviral, antimutagenic, anti-inflammatory and even anti-cancer properties, according to a study in Current Stem Cell Research & Therapy. Similar anti-mutagenic activity is due to chagas' abundance of free-radical-fighting antioxidants. (In fact, chaga contains the highest value ever recorded of antioxidants, beating out acai berries and blueberries.) These 'shrooms are also a great source of beta-glucans: soluble fibers also found in oats that both normalize your immune system and help you lose weight by regulating blood sugar, lowering "bad cholesterol" LDL levels, and keeping you feeling full.
Mushrooms have been used for millennia as some of the most effective medicinal treatments; however, because our bodies lack the enzyme to properly digest them, we can only reap their nutritive benefits through extraction—so noshing on raw chaga won't do much. With chaga, hot water extraction (like when you brew tea) makes its immune-enhancing beta-glucans and free-radical-fighting antioxidants bioavailable, but to reap the tumor-blasing properties of the insoluble triterpene compounds, you'll have to use an alcohol extract.
When it comes to brewing, there are certain things you should watch out for. You can make your own tea with 1-2 teaspoons of chaga powder, or use a tea bag from brands like Buddha Teas. Add hot—but not boiling—water and allow to steep for at least 10-15 minutes, but to release even more bioactive compounds, some sources say you can steep it for two days. But be careful: "Even though you're only getting half the health benefits with powdered chaga tea, that doesn't mean you should double up on your serving," says Kelly Choi, author of The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse. Because chaga's aqueous extract is high in oxalates, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center recommends caution when drinking it, as these compounds may prevent the absorption of some nutrients and can be toxic in high doses. So with careful preparation, in the end, any avid tea drinker will fall for chaga tea's smooth, rich, and earthy flavor. And to blast even more fat—and shrink your belly in just 7 days—click here for Choi's exclusive recipe for The Best Tea to Melt Fat—Fast.