The Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) is a type of slow growing, non-toxic fungus typically found growing on the trunk of birch trees in forests of Northern Europe, Asia and North America. Unknown to the western world where very few had even heard of this strange looking medicinal mushroom until writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn published in his 1968 semi-autobiographical novel, The Cancer Ward.
The novel is partly-autobiographical. Like Solzhenitsyn, Kostoglotov is a former solder and GULAG prisoner in hospital for cancer treatment from internal perpetual exile in Kazakhstann.
In a chapter called “The Root From Issyk-Kul,” Kostoglotov’s doctor discovers a vial of dark fluid in his bedside table, prompting Kostoglotov to explain the contents are an extract of a root used by natural healers in Russia to cure cancer. Solzhenitsyn ingested the same root extract before his cancer went into remission.
In the chapter entitled “The Cancer in the Birch Tree” Solzhenitsyn describes the character Oleg Kostoglotov, a political prisoner, having been released from a prison camp only to find he has developed cancer. Assigned to a clinic to receive high dose radiation, he tells his fellow patients that he wishes he could have been given a more simple “peasant’s” cure.
“He could not imagine any greater joy than to go away into the woods for months on end, to break off this chaga, crumble it, boil it up on a campfire, drink it and get well like an animal.”
~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward (1968)