By Laura Crawley

The chaga ("Inonotus obliquus") is a mushroom often used in traditional Russian herbal medicine. It grows in the forests of Siberia, northern Europe and North America. A parasitic fungus that looks like charcoal on the outside with a yellow interior, it grows in the wounds of birch trees, eventually destroying the tree after several years. Chaga has many phytochemicals and is used to cure a variety of ailments, but it is best known as a herbal treatment for cancer; Russian author Solzhenitsyn believed it cured his cancer in the 1950s. Chaga is consumed primarily as a tea or a tincture, both of which can be made at home.

Chaga is found in northern forests in Russia, Europe and North America.

Making Chaga Tincture

Dry fresh chaga pieces in an oven before pulverizing.

Buy or make chaga powder. If you make it from fresh chaga, dry it thoroughly first. Chop the chaga into small pieces to ensure it dries completely. Place the pieces on a cookie sheet and put in the oven at 110 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 24 hours. Take the pieces out and let air dry for a few days so the pieces dry completely on the inside. Oven-dry at the same temperature as before for another 24 hour period.

Grind the chaga pieces in a grinder.

When the chaga pieces are totally dry, put them in a meat grinder and grind to a powder. Grind them again in a blender to make a finer powder, if desired.

Use vodka to make your chaga tincture.

Fill a container with a lid half-way with chaga powder. Fill the container to the top with 80- or 100-proof vodka. Replace the lid on the container and let the mixture sit in a cool, dry place for at least a few days. You may leave the mixture to steep for up to a few weeks, if you wish.

Strain the chaga-vodka mixture through a filter-lined sieve.

Remove the lid from the container and strain the mixture into another container through a sieve lined with an unbleached coffee filter. When all the liquid goes through the filter-lined sieve, squeeze the filter to get the remaining moisture out. Cover the container and store the tincture.

Boil the chaga mash with water to increase tincture strength.

The tincture you made is known as a "single extraction." To make a stronger "double extraction" tincture, simply take the leftover chaga mash (solid remains) out of the sieve. Put it into a pot with a few cups of water. Boil the water and mash mixture until the liquid is reduced by half. Add this to the original single extraction, making the alcohol concentration in this "double extraction" at least 25 percent.