In the western herbal world, there is a class of plants that we call adaptogens. Among anti-inflammatories, emmenagogues, nervines, and so on, this class is quite mysterious and defying to the typical reductionist approach to treating plants by their scientifically studied constituents or biochemicals. The very nature of these medicines lies in their ‘inexplicable’ ability to help us be whole and effectively functioning. Some explain this as “they help us adapt to stress,” and truly of course many of them are great immune support, nervous system tonics, and the like.
But what I love about these medicines is that they simply turn our (western) forgetful issue of mechanistic understanding–treating everyone and everything as though we are machines with programming bumping into one another–on its head. These plants seem to beautifully and in a complex manner support our vitality. Help us be who we are more cleanly. Help lower the constant drain on our deep essence that so many aspects of our lifestyle ask from us.
Chaga is one being that fits into this realm, who will fill that deepest well. I wanted to take a moment to speak to the spirit of this medicine today. The results may be called anti-cancer, might be called immunomodulating, any one of these. All of the medicinal mushrooms live and work in this beautiful way, but today I wanted to just focus a bit on chaga, since it is such a beloved and beautiful ally to my people and has been for a long time.
The chaga mushroom grows on the birch tree, and so it is said that when we receive the medicine of chaga, she is also bringing a gorgeously alchemized form of the birch’s medicine along with her own. What we use as medicine is where she is bursting, like a burning ember, from the side of the tree. We use the wood matter of the tree with the chaga living in it.
Chaga has many applications, and as one of these adaptogens she will likely see right where you are and meet you with what you need (so many plants do this, but the mushrooms do it in a particular way, so eloquently and with lasting force behind their support).
Mushrooms like chaga support our essence, that deepest well, in Chinese medicine our kidneys, blood, brain, nervous tissue, and bones, which are all of the same energetic frequency and which are the most important part of us to be resourced. This is our base energy, our basic vitality that allows us to be incarnated. Our basic inheritance from our ancestors.
Chaga comes to that well and in the steady way that a woody mushroom grows, she boosts from underneath, in a way that can’t be swept away by tides of change and life troubles.
Like all mushrooms, chaga is best decocted, or simmered for some time (at least an hour, if you are following old country standards), and it makes sense, since it takes so much energy to make this medicine, that we use every bit of it. I am one who will double decoct my chaga and get a second round out of it, as well.
A wonderful way to make winter decoctions is in the crock pot.
Chaga truly remembers our blueprint for wholness, and walks us slowly toward it. She is one of our ancient medicines, and one of the most revered.
If you welcome some of her medicine this season, pray to her with heartfelt thanks for what she carries through the many centuries, to this worried present, what she remembers for us.