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Chaga Mushroom

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

Inonotus obliquus, commonly known as chaga mushroom (a Latinisation of the Russian word чага), is a fungus in the family Hymenochaetaceae. It is parasitic on birch and other trees. The sterile conk is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. It is not the fruiting body of the fungus, but a sclerotium or mass of mycelium, mostly black because of the presence of massive amounts of melanin.

I. obliquus is found most commonly in the circumboreal region of the Northern Hemisphere where it is distributed in birch forests.

I. obliquus causes a white heart rot to develop in the host tree. The chaga spores enter the tree through wounds, particularly poorly healed branch stubs. The white rot decay will spread throughout theheartwood of the host. During the infection cycle, penetration of the sapwood occurs only around the sterile exterior mycelium mass. The chaga fungus will continue to cause decay within the living tree for 10-80+ years. While the tree is alive, only sterile mycelial masses are produced (the black exterior conk). The sexual stage begins after the tree, or some portion of the tree, is killed by the infection. I. obliquus will begin to produce fertile fruiting bodies underneath the bark. These bodies begin as a whitish mass that turn to brown with time. Since the sexual stage occurs almost entirely under the bark, the fruiting body is rarely seen. These fruiting bodies produce basidiospores which will spread the infection to other vulnerable trees.

Alternative names

The name chaga (/ˈtʃɑːɡə/ ) comes from the Russian name of the mushroom (transliterated from чага), which in turn is purportedly derived from the word for the fungus in Komi-Permyak, the language of the indigenous peoples in the Kama River Basin, west of the Ural Mountains. It is also known as the clinker polypore (from its resemblance to the slag left after a coal fire, known commonly as a "clinker" when coal fires were common), cinder conk, black mass and birch canker polypore. In England and officially in Canada, it is known as the sterile conk trunk rot of birch. In North America, it is commonly referred to by its Russian name, chaga. In France, it is called the carie blanche spongieuse de bouleau (spongy white birch tree rot), and in Germany it is known as Schiefer Schillerporling (oblique Inonotus). The Dutch name is berkenweerschijnzwam (birch glow mushroom). In Norwegian, the name is kreftkjuke which literally translates as "cancer polypore", referring to the fungus' appearance or to its alleged medicinal properties. In Finnish, the name is pakurikääpä.

Distribution and cultivation

Generally found growing on Birch (Betula spp.) trees, it has also been found on Alder (Alnus spp.), Beech (Fagus spp.), Oak (Quercus spp.) and Poplar (Populus spp.). In species other than birch, the fungus often appears as buried stem cancer, instead of the charcoal like mass found on birch trees.

Attempts at cultivating this fungus on potato dextrose agar and other simulated mediums resulted in a reduced and markedly different production of metabolites. Cultivated chaga developed a reduced number of phytosterols, particularly lanosterol, an intermediate in the synthesis of ergosterol and lanostane-type triterpenes.