It was such a natural pleasure to interview Christopher Hobbs this week and pick his brain on some much-debated issues surrounding the chaga mushroom. Author of Medicinal Mushrooms ( an updated edition is in process) Christopher draws on a wealth of knowledge about foraging for and using medicinal mushrooms as a medicinal.
Here are some highlights of our conversation:
When asked about whether the chaga fungus has a parasitic or a symbiotic relationship with it's host birch, Christopher replied:
He went further to explain that all plants have microbiomes, just like people. These microbes are called "endophytes." Culture a leaf of echinacea and you will find live bacteria within the leaf structure. How cool is that?!
We talked about the difference between cultured mycelia versus wild-crafted conks. Hobbs emphasized that "substrate and environment matters." Chaga that grows in it's natural climate on it's favorite trees (birch) will have qualities that differ from chaga that is cultured on rice in a controlled environment. He points out that betulin and betulinic acid are two components of a chaga conk that grows on a birch tree - these chemicals are assimilated from the birch itself and impart potent medicinal benefits otherwise missing from cultivated chaga.
He further claims that antioxidant qualities of this mushroom are over-rated. While it is true that wild chaga boasts melanin, the pigment that makes the outer portion black as lava, and that melanin is indeed an antioxidant, he points out that quercitin, one of the most potent plant-based antioxidants on the planet is ubiquitous, cheap and easily consumed by eating apples and onions. Why would we go to the tremendous expense and possible forestry disruption to consume chaga merely for antioxidants? He also mentions that melanin is neither water nor alcohol soluble and must be consumed whole (rather than taken as tea or tincture) to impart it's value to us.