Let’s be honest; mushrooms aren’t the most sightly food to have on your dinner table. However, some mushrooms have a surprisingly high percentage of nutrients, probably higher than any other foods. Today, I’ll review two of the most sought-after mushrooms: reishi vs. chaga. I’ll discuss things like health benefits, taste, and recipe options. I’ll also highlight any negatives that might be concerning.
Reishi vs. Chaga: General Overviews
Before highlighting the intricate differences, let’s start by taking a quick look at both mushrooms.
Reishi grows next to trees in the warm, humid climates of several eastern nations. Ancient civilizations grew attached to the fascinating woody red exterior of this mushroom.
The fact that it looks like a kidney has earned it the nicknames “the spirit plant” and “the mushroom of immortality.”
Chaga is probably the most unsightly fungus you’ll ever see. The spores start growing underneath the bark of birch trees, especially in cold climates. This mode of growth gives it a hardened look that some people mistake for tree bark
Thankfully, our ancestors didn’t care about the looks — the non-appetizing look of this mushroom didn’t prevent the historic tribes from devouring it in large quantities.
After discovering its unparalleled benefits, ancient tribes called it “the king of all mushrooms.” Historians believe that Tsar Vladimir Monomakh, Russia’s ruler in the 12th century, successfully cured his lip cancer with this mushroom.
Reishi vs. Chaga: Health Benefits
What does science have to say about these mushrooms? Do they actually help your body? Or are they nothing but placebos? That’s what I’ll discuss in this section.
Reishi Health Benefits
With a whooping content of polysaccharides, fiber, vitamins, and essential amino acids, reishi does live up to being called “the mushroom of immortality”. Let’s see how those compounds can help your body.
Reishi Improves Immunity
Researchers believe that reishi can directly improve the efficacy of our white blood cells (WBCs), the main part of our immune systems. Among all WBCs, reishi seems to care the most about the “natural killer cells”, which serve as the first defense line against cancers and various infections.
Other studies found that reishi can also induce the production of lymphocytes — the cells responsible for fighting chronic infections.
Reishi Combats Cancer
In addition to improving the performance of cancer-killing cells, reishi directly partakes in this process through its high content of antioxidants and other bioactive compounds.
There are dozens of papers approving the potency of reishi in treating breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. However, scientists don’t think that reishi is strong enough to replace traditional cancer treatment until today.
Reishi Prevents Fatigue and Depression
In addition to its physical effects, cancer often leaves patients with chronic depression and inexplicable fatigue.
In a study that tracked the recovery of breast cancer patients, reishi managed to prevent anxiety and depression, which improved the patients’ quality of life. The mechanism has yet to be discovered, but scientists believe this happens by interrupting the destructive and painful inflammatory mediators, such as the tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
Chaga Health Benefits
Because chaga’s composition is similar to reishi’s, it offers pretty much the same benefits. I’ll start with its unique advantages to make the comparison clearer.
Chaga Makes You Look Younger
No matter how advanced science gets, aging will always be inevitable. However, exposure to sunlight, pollution, and unbalanced diets accelerate the aging process by developing free radicals in your body. Those free radicals wreak havoc on your body by damaging the cells — a condition that researchers call oxidative stress.
Consuming chaga can be the best natural way to slow down that inevitable process. Its high antioxidant content will deactivate the free radicals, thereby protecting you from sagging skin, wrinkles, and grey hair.
Chaga Lowers the Risk of Heart Diseases
At the same time, chaga can increase the levels of HDL cholesterol, which is a healthy variant that dials down the levels of LDL.
Chaga Improves the Immunity
Just like reishi, prolonged chaga consumption can increase white blood cells’ potency, thereby enhancing your ability to fight diseases.
Chaga Fights Cancer
In a study performed on lab mice, serving chaga supplements led to an astonishing 60% decrease in tumor masses.
Reishi vs. Chaga: Taste and Recipe Options
Did the health benefits sound promising? Well, let’s see how you can prepare these mushrooms to make use of their medicinal benefits.
You can consume reishi in the form of simmered tea or powder supplement.
If you have laid your hands over fresh reishi, using it to make tea will extract a big part of its nutritional compounds.
To start, cut the reishi into slices small enough to fit into a regular pot. It’s better to do that as soon as possible since reishi hardens up with time.
Afterward, place a handful of reishi slices (about 5 g) inside one liter boiling water. Let that mixture simmer over medium-low heat for two hours to ensure that all the nutrients have steeped into the water.
Once the mixture cools down, use a strainer to remove the softened reishi pieces. You can drink the strained tea right away, or you can store it in the fridge for up to a week. Since reishi has a bitter taste, some people like to add honey, ginger, or orange peel to make it more palatable.
Reishi Powder Supplements
You can find dozens of brands that grow reishi in specified farms to dry and transform it into easy-to-use powder. I particularly like the Real Mushrooms Reishi because it has one of the highest concentrations on the market. You can add that supplement to juices, teas, coffee, and food as long as you don’t mind the bitterness.
Just like reishi, you can use fresh chaga mushrooms to make tea. And you can also opt for ready-made powder.
Since it grows on trees, chaga tends to form much harder chunks, especially when compared to reishi. Large chaga mushrooms may even need a hefty ax to break it!
After cutting small nugget pieces, put five pieces (15 g) in one liter of boiling water. You can let the mixture simmer for up to 6 hours to get the most pungent taste. Then, strain the mixture into a clean jar.
Don’t throw the simmered chaga pieces, though. Due to their unparalleled hardness, you can reuse them two to three times.
Luckily, chaga mushrooms don’t have the same bitterness of reishi. In fact, some people find them quite sweet. Nevertheless, you can add maple syrup or honey if you generally like highly sweetened beverages.
Chaga Powder Supplements
You can use the ready-made chaga powder to prepare smaller servings of tea. And you can also add it to your daily diet to get a more potent health boost.
Reishi vs. Chaga: Side Effects
Nothing is perfect, right? In this section, I’ll explain some of the cases where using these mushrooms won’t be ideal.
Reishi’s Side Effects
When consumed as a powder, reishi can cause dryness of the mouth, throat, and nose. It can also trigger bouts of itchiness, rash, upset stomach, and diarrhea. That’s why nutritionists always recommend sufficing with its steeped extract.
For unknown reasons, some papers documented that consuming reishi increases the bleeding risk for people suffering from chronic bleeding disorders.
Last but not least, since reishi lowers blood sugar levels, people who suffer from chronic hypoglycemia should opt for a different mushroom.
Chaga’s Side Effects
Luckily, chaga is generally safer than reishi. You can consume chaga powder or simmered extracts without encountering significant problems.
However, since it contains trace amounts of compounds that prevent blood clotting, you shouldn’t consume it if you’re taking blood-thinning medications.
People taking insulin should also avoid chaga to avoid any unfavorable interactions.
Summing Up: The Pros and Cons of Reishi vs. Chaga
Still can’t make up your mind? Here’s a quick round-up of the pros and cons of each mushroom.
- Increases the potency of white blood cells
- Increases the count of lymphocytes
- Fights various types of cancers
- Unpalatable bitterness
- Might increase the risk of bleeding in previously ill individuals
- Consuming the powdered form usually cause mouth and nose dryness
- Might aggravate hypoglycemia
- Slows down the aging process
- Lowers the levels of LDL cholesterol while increasing HDL
- Boosts the immunity
- Fights different types of cancers
- Have a quite sweet taste
- Might pose risks for people taking insulin
- Might increase the bleeding tendency
- It hardens up quite fast
The Final Word
If you’re still hesitant choosing between reishi vs. chaga, use both! Although these mushrooms have pretty similar benefits, each one holds a couple of exclusive advantages.
But remember, reishi is more bitter than chaga. You can improve its taste with your favorite sweetener, but the natural sweetness of chaga may taste better, depending on your preferences.