Have you got the winter blahs? Do you feel like you need a boost? One solution might be found in the forests of faraway frigid Siberia, or as near as northern Manitoba.
What is it?
The chaga mushroom, a parasitic fungus that grows best on living birch trees in very cold climates. It doesn’t sound pretty and it doesn’t look pretty, but this organism contains a remarkable amount of nutrients necessary for health.
Chaga has been used for centuries in Russia, Finland, and Korea. Aboriginal peoples see it as a gift from the creator and treat it with great respect. Other groups refer to it as a "Gift of God" or "King of the Forest." One Chinese emperor even outlawed chaga in order to gain exclusive use of its youth-enhancing qualities.
Chaga currently tops the list for highest antioxidant levels on the planet, surpassing açai many times over. It has anti-cancer, anti-HIV, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal properties. Chaga contains numerous vitamins and minerals and enhances the body’s immune system and its ability to cope with stress. It may sound too good to be true, but more specifics can be found by researching online, including the website of its Winnipeg-based distributor, www.chagatea.ca
The mushroom, which is wood-like in consistency, is available in tea bags, coarse powder, chunks, and tincture. Its tea is similar in colour to coffee, with an earthy flavour, and can be taken with sweetener or without. A comforting drink for the middle of winter, it can be brewed with mint leaves or cinnamon bark, or combined with lemon or other kinds of tea.
Maria Epp, a Point Douglas resident who has been learning to grow her own herbs, started drinking chaga tea this past year.
"I enjoy the tea", she says. "It gives such good energy and grounding".
Chaga tea grounds can be used many times before they lose potency, brewing 60 cups of tea easily before being composted. They are currently available in Winnipeg at the Forks Market but they may be available in the North End soon. Iain Brynjolson of Neechi Commons has been investigating the viability of chaga for Neechi’s specialty foods section and would welcome feedback regarding interest in the product. You can visit Neechi Commons at Main Street and Euclid Avenue or drop me a line.
We need all the help we can get this winter to stay healthy, positive, and energetic. Chaga tea may be just what we need.
Sonya Braun is a community correspondent for the North End. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org