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Monday, March 30, 2015

Do you Chaga?

Today*, when I visited the Center (Farmers') Market of Alaska-grown products in our Sears Mall, I didn't intend to spend a penny. Actually, I was only at the mall to pick up a few grocery items from Carrs-Safeway... Yeah, well. Send me near a mall and watch what happens, right?

I'm glad I got detoured and took a look at what the vendors had to offer. I discovered something interesting. This:

These are both nectars made from the Chaga mushroom/fungus. Apparently, this is something that grows all over Alaska (and other places, of course) on birch trees. 

I've been in Alaska almost as long as I have been living. Why did I not know about this?

Chaga is something that many indigenous people use as part of their diet and natural medicinal needs. Native Alaska peoples are very aware of the Chaga mushroom and its benefits. Okay. I not only have lived here most of my life, some of my family is Native Alaskan.

Once again, why did I not know about the Chaga mushroom? Well, probably because I didn't pay attention to everything that this dear woman tried to teach me while she was still here on earth:

In her 60's, she would walk for miles like she was 15 years old!

That's Marie. She's the grandmother to some of my nieces and nephews. I should have listened to her That woman could go for walks from one end of town to the other, just because she could. She could outwalk a teenager! Anyway, Marie, I am paying attention. Finally.

So, about the Chaga mushroom, tea, nectar, etc. There are many benefits. Here are some links for more information:

I haven't looked through all this information myself, but I did get an overview of the benefits from a couple of the vendors at the Farmers Market. I didn't get any of the tea because I wanted to start with the nectar. The vendors explained that I can add the nectar to my tea, coffee and cereals. That's an easy way to get started with something I wanted to ease into using.

Since am fighting immune problems, I decided to invest in a jar of the nectar from the first place I stopped at. Then I ended up getting upset with myself for not checking a stall further down. Different shaped jar, but same amount (just around 5oz) of the nectar for half the price. What I realized a few days later is that the more expensive nectar was also much thicker in texture and had a richer taste. I suspect it had more Chaga than the cheaper brand...

Now, about this Ch-ch-chaga. (You knew I had to do it. And I'm silly from being sleep-deprived. Forgive me.) As with anything, we have to be careful to check with our doctors to make sure that something we ingest doesn't interact badly or interfere with any prescribed medicines or medical conditions. That said, I'm not thrilled with the last doctor I saw and I am looking for a new G.P., so I've gone ahead and used the nectar. I haven't had any negative reactions that I can tell and I've had a couple of labs done since then to check my blood and urine.

Before I get to the various pieces of info I did check out online, let me give you my take on the taste of the 2 nectars I purchased. 

The $10 nectar is plain and sweetened (I can`t remember with what, but here is their Facebook page, if you want to ask). It`s pretty yummy. When I taste-tested it on a spoon before I bought it, I expected it to taste like a flavored honey. At room temp, it looks just like honey but with heavier caramel color. It has the texture of honey. I was surprised that it tasted so much nicer than honey. To me, the taste was sweeter and richer. Like the difference between whole milk and cream. When the vendor was suggesting different ways to use it (in coffee and tea and on my oatmeal or cereal), I remember thinking that I could just keep licking it right off of a spoon. (And I have done this a couple of times since I got the nectar.)

The $5 nectar is with honey and ginger.  It has the same room-temp constency (maybe a little thinner than the other nectar) and it`s lighter in color. You can taste a hint of the ginger and lemon flavor, but they are not overwhelming. (I actually accidentally used it in my coffee and, surprisingly, it was fine.) I have also eaten this one right off a spoon. I`ll get to that whole "off the spoon thing" later.

When I commented before about the differences in pricing, I hadn`t had a chance to notice the nectars after they had been refrigerated. The more expensive nectar was thickened 5-fold. The less expensive one was about the same consistency it had been at room temp. It was a tiny bit thicker, but not nearly as much. I don`t know why this is, but I am going to do more research. I mean, is it because there is more Chaga in the $10 item? Or is it because the other item has ginger and lemon added? Curious, right? (By the way, my nephew - who is half Alaska native - told me that this is because there was more Chaga extract in the thicker nectar. Get what you pay for, yes?)

I have learned a bit from digging around online and talking to a person I trust.
The person I spoke  with (I will call her "May") is a Native Alaskan who respects her heritage and has been practicing the use of natural resources from the land. She told me that her people have been using Chaga since forever. They appreciate the antioxidant powers and healing aspects of the Chaga Mushroom. It still amazes me that this nectar was made using a mushroom that I have grown up seeing yet never paid mind to. I have family members who are natives of this land and this is the one thing none of them ever brought up. I realize now that I probably was just not paying attention.
May explained that the Chaga she uses grows on the sides of Birch trees. She said that they are odd-looking and easy to recognize (hard to mistake, as with some other fungi, berries and plants). 

She described them as looking a little like they have a beard. This is when they are ready for picking. And, weirdly, the mushrooms are hard like wood when they are picked and stored. When you hear "mushroom", you`re probably thinking soft and spongy. (When I saw one of the mushrooms displayed by a vendor, I did think it was just a strange-looking piece of wood. That`s what it looked and felt like. If I had been more coherent, I would have noticed that the item was one of the mushrooms the nectar had been made from.)

I forget the rest of what May told me, but she did advise that I could pick my own Chaga Mushrooms and make my own teas. (I will be talking with her later so I can take notes and update this post.) I also am going to speak with a good friend who will probably be able to help me with making nectar from the mushroom.

From searching around online, I have learned that Chaga is not any kind of a mystery to any culture who does pay attention to nature and its benefits to health and wellness. Note some of the info in the links I provided earlier.

I have learned that you can ingest Chaga as a tea or a powder (to add to food and drink); you can add the nectar to almost anything that you want to sweeten. Now that I know I like it in general, I'm going to give the tea a try. By the way, I saw the Chaga items flavored in many ways: root beer, lemon, ginger, peppermint, etc. (I will stick with my lemon-ginger and the plain sweetened flavor for now.)

What I can tell you now that I have been using this for a couple of months, this stuff did increase my energy. I was having one of the roughest weeks of my life and was just ragged out with fatigue. Coffee only works until you get all jittery and sick of it. The nectar was something that I could eat right off a spoon or add to some tart juice (think Cranberry) and it gave me energy that felt more like a second wind than a caffeine hurricane. It didn't give me the shakes, irrita-bitchies or make my heart raise. I just felt like I could get through the next few hours. Of course, I had to crash at some point, but I really appreciated the little boost when I needed it.

NOTE: I first started this post way back in, I think, October. I had to update some of it so forgive me if the post is disjointed. Also, I have since gotten some of the tea in a concentrated form. I add a couple teaspoons of it to my green teas, coffee, or I just make a hot Chaga tea and add some of the nectar to sweeten it. Right after Mike's passing, I wasn't eating for several days at a time and I think drinking the green tea and Chaga kept me from just dropping on my face.