Word seems to be getting out about Chaga as a natural remedy.
Chaga (pronounced ‘SHA-gah’) is a wild mushroom that can be found anywhere there are birch trees, and it's gaining popularity in Hay River, N.W.T.
“What it looks like is kind of a large, black, wart-like growth, usually on the trunk of the tree and sometimes on the branches,” says Bruce Green, who collects Chaga near Hay River, then chops and grinds and strains it to make tea.
Green says a piece of Chaga about the size of a golf ball will make about a coffee pot full of tea, and you can re-use the grounds that settle at the bottom.
"A surprising number of people know about it and use it but I think only in recent years, it's become known,” Green says.
There are no scientific studies that prove whether or not Chaga can prevent disease, but advocates for the wild mushroom say it can be a "traditional remedy" for everything from cancer to the common cold.
Green recently gave a talk at the Hay River library about the mushroom’s properties.
"If I'm exposed to anyone that's got a cold or if I feel a cold coming on, I'll make a batch of tea right away,” Green says.
Shannon Patterson, another Chaga enthusiast, works as a logger and drinks Chaga tea every day.
"I take vitamins and that so I figure I might as well try this," he says.
Patterson collects it when he’s harvesting wood, and even sells a bit on the side, for about $25 a pound.
Patterson says many people seek out the mushroom.
"Some people looking to fight cancer, prevent cancer, some people looking for an elixir for their health."
In 2011, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York said Chaga has demonstrated some anti-cancer properties in mice. However, it warned against using the mushroom, especially in combination with other drugs, because “no clinical trials have been conducted to assess Chaga's safety and efficacy for disease prevention or for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.”
Both Green and Patterson are quick to say they’re not making a medical recommendation, but they’re still hopeful Chaga is doing them some good.
Green says there’s another side effect of Chaga tea: it’s quite pleasant to drink.