Northwood's Gold: Student Seminar Presentation on Chaga
Emily Hayne, Wilderness Teaching Fellow

CS15 student, Patrick from NJ, became fascinated with Chaga, a rare and health promoting fungus found exclusively in far North climates, during his semester at Conserve School. He prepared a relaxing and informative seminar on the growth and research of chaga as well as how to sustainably harvest this fungus. On Saturday October 14, over 20 students gathered in the Lowenstine Recreation Center (LRC) to sip on tea and eat cake made with chaga as Patrick began the seminar.

Chaga, Inonotus obliquus, is a fungus that grows in cooler climates such as Russia, Eastern and Northern Europe, and the Northern United States, including Wisconsin. Chaga typically grows on birch trees but has also has been found on beech and oak trees. This fungus can be found in the forests of Lowenwood, with the black charcoal-like mounds growing on the white birch trees.

First, Patrick shared how the fungus grows on tree wounds, infecting the tree and causing decay of its host for 10 to 80 years. The mycelial mass of the fungus will only grow as long as the tree is alive. To harvest chaga, it must be removed from a live tree. It's recommended, for sustainable growth of the fungus, to leave behind 15-20 percent of the chaga. Even though chaga is a parasite of birch trees, the tree can continue living for decades after becoming a host. The strength of this fungus not only lies in its ability to thrive in cold climates but in its cell structure. The cell walls of chaga are made of chitin, a hard material also constructing the exoskeletons of arthropods including insects, spiders and crustaceans.

As far as the fungus itself, Patrick shared that chaga is rich in minerals including rubidium, potassium, cesium and germanium to help the body stay alkaline when consumed. Research has been conducted on the health benefits of chaga and it has even been used in medicinal practice to stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, and shrink some types of cancerous tumors. Research continues to be conducted on the medicinal benefits of chaga and its potential to reduce the spread and remove cancerous cells. These presumed health benefits and the fascinating growth of chaga are what make this fungus such a special part of our Lowenwood landscape.

The more students learn about the landscape, their curiosity and excitement for nature grows. Conserve School fosters students' growth and care for the environment and we're happy to support students taking on leadership roles and educating their peers about the fascinating world of fungus.

Check out all of Patrick's hard work and research while watching the slideshow from his seminar presentation, including some recipes too!



References:

Glamočlija, Jasmina, et al. "Chemical characterization and biological activity of Chaga (Inonotus obliquus), a medicinal "mushroom"." Journal of ethnopharmacology 162 (2015): 323-332.

Lee, Sung Hak, Hee Sun Hwang, and Jong Won Yun. "Antitumor activity of water extract of a mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, against HT‐29 human colon cancer cells." Phytotherapy Research 23.12 (2009): 1784-1789.

Ning, Xianbin, et al. "Inhibitory Effects of a Polysaccharide Extract from the Chaga Medicinal Mushroom, Inonotus obliquus (Higher Basidiomycetes), on the Proliferation of Human Neurogliocytoma Cells." International journal of medicinal mushrooms 16.1 (2014).

Youn, Myung-Ja, et al. "Potential anticancer properties of the water extract of Inontus obliquus by induction of apoptosis in melanoma B16-F10 cells." Journal of ethnopharmacology 121.2 (2009): 221-228.
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