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Drink your fungus

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Drink your fungus (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chaga offers surprising health benefits

BANGOR - Next time you're wandering around in the woods, keep an eye out for something ugly. Specifically, something ugly growing on the side of a birch tree. Even more specifically, a seemingly charred, gnarled tree tumor.

Now, you may be wondering why on earth you should be on the lookout for tree tumors; that doesn't exactly sound pleasant. It's a valid point. However, these tumors - better known as chaga - are health powerhouses.

Chaga is a growth. Well, more of a fungus. According to an article by Dr. Edward Group, chaga is a knobby growth on trees infected with a parasitic fungus. Not the most inviting description, but people eat mushrooms all the time and those are cultivated inlet's just say fertilizer. No one bats an eye at that, so maybe don't pass judgment on chaga just yet.

Chaga is a superfood. Not one of those trendy superfoods, though. Chaga has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years. Siberians refer to it as a 'gift from God.' The fungal growth has recently picked up popularity in the West thanks to its antioxidant levels. The ugly little lumps are packed with polysaccharides, beta-d-glucans, phytosterols and more. Chaga has a range of benefits thanks to all these antioxidant properties.

Kimberly Merrifield, an avid hunter, fisherman and overall outdoor enthusiast, has been using chaga for a few years now. She first started consuming the growth when her mother offered her some tea made with powdered chaga from a farmer's market.

Merrifield drinks chaga tea constantly if she feels a cold coming on. 'My mom brews it by the gallon,' said Merrifield. When she doesn't have the pre-brewed version, Merrifield simply steeps sachets of the powdered chaga like any other teabag.

'How many cups is too many?' Merrifield asked. 'Like, how many before I overdose on tea?'

She drinks it often enough to (jokingly) worry about overdosing because, she says, it works. She says the chaga helps with her colds and really gets her body working.

While Merrifield uses chaga to support her immune system, a forester working in northern Maine uses it to keep his job.

A forester's job includes walking miles and miles a day through the woods, looking for trees to cut. This is all well and good, unless you've got bad knees. Our forester in northern Maine thought he was going to have to 'get done' because of the pain in his joints. Then he discovered chaga.

With daily consumption of home-brewed chaga tea, the forester was able to reduce the pain in his knees dramatically. Now traipsing through the woods looking for trees all day doesn't faze him. It also gives him a chance to harvest all the chaga he needs, leaving a little extra cash in his wallet.

Like other specialty foods and herbal remedies, chaga can come with a high price tag. A pound of powdered chaga can go for $30. A 4 ounce bag, or a quarter pound, of chaga chunks can sell for $15.

So, next time you're stomping through the woods, keep an eye out for tree tumors.

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