If you know anything about medicinal mushrooms and/or alternative medicine, you’ve probably heard of chaga. Originating from the northernmost reaches of Eurasia and North America and used as a folk remedy by generations of Siberians and Alaskans, chaga is famed for its ability to boost the immune system, combat cancer, reverse aging, and much more. While typically consumed as a tea, chaga can be used to make tinctures and other projects. However, one question is on the mind of some people: is it possible to smoke chaga?
The answer is no. While there is evidence of individuals smoking chaga in the past, there is little nutritional benefit to doing so. Read on to discover why you should not use chaga for smoking.
The primary purpose of smoking certain substances is to feel the effects of them much more quickly. For example, smoking a cigarette or cigar is an efficient means to get nicotine into one’s system. However, this only works for substances that have a demonstrable euphoric or hallucinogenic effect, neither of which chaga has. Chaga is purely a medicinal mushroom that enhances human health and does not cause hallucinations or other drug-like effects.
It is true that certain individuals and cultures have smoked chaga, but this was usually done for religious ceremonies and not by individual people. For example, the Khanty people of Western Siberia, one of the first recorded peoples to begin using chaga. This was done because the Khanty believed that smoking chaga improved lung health. There is no evidence of this. The Khanty also smoked chaga as part of a ritual cleaning process.
Similarly, the Ainu, a tribe indigenous to northern Japan, were known to smoke chaga as part of religious ceremonies. The medicinal benefits of smoking chaga as supposed to eating it or using it to make tea are unknown and are theorized to be nonexistent, with chaga smoking playing a role in Ainu culture beyond that of simple enjoyment.
Other cultures purportedly viewed burning chaga in a fashion similar to sage, using it to ward off evil spirits as well as mosquitos and other insects at night. The Cree, an indigenous group native to Canada and the U.S., used chaga as tinder in order to start bonfires.
One major problem with attempting to smoke chaga is that the smell is extremely unpleasant and off-putting. While the taste of chaga—an earthy flavor—is liked by many chaga users, the smell of burning soil is extremely unappealing. Because chaga doesn’t smell good when smoked, you are unlikely to be able to derive any enjoyment from consuming it in this fashion. The smell of burning chaga is sometimes compared to tinder in its unpleasantness.
Another significant problem with smoking chaga is that the process of burning it not only fails to take advantage of its nutritional content, it destroys what nutrients there are in the chaga. While chaga can be eaten raw, it needs to be boiled in order to unlock its full potential, as there are a large amount of nutrients that need to be released from its chitinous structure by boiling. Burning chaga not only fails to release these nutrients, it actively destroys them through the ignition process.
Realistically, the best way to consume chaga is as a tea. While some indigenous groups have developed rituals around smoking chaga, even these groups prefer to consume it as a tea outside of those rituals. Medical studies on the benefits (or lack thereof) of smoking chaga do not exist, so while it cannot be definitively said that smoking chaga doesn’t provide any benefits, there is little anecdotal evidence to suggest that it does.
In addition to this, keep in mind that smoking anything, including chaga, carries significant health risks. Given the lack of concrete scientific information on smoking chaga, the exact health risks of smoking it are not known, but you should not take risks on something that is unlikely to provide any benefit to you. If you want to consume chaga, you are best off doing it the normal way.
It is understandable that some chaga users would want to smoke chaga. However, there is little reason to do so. There is no evidence to suggest that smoking chaga provides any additional benefits compared to making tea or consuming it in other ways, and in fact it is just as likely to give you no benefits at all or even harm you.
What is clear is that smoking chaga is an extremely inefficient and poor way to use the mushroom. Chaga’s beauty is in its versatility: it can be made into tea, tinctures, muffins, smoothies, and a plethora of other foods. However, it is clear—at least at the moment—that smoking chaga is something you should not bother with at all.
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