Can the Kombucha Colony be Found in Nature?

    Solzhenitsyn's Writings and the Scientific Literature

    By Norbert Hoffmann

    People often ask where the Kombucha colony comes from and whether it actually can be found in nature. Several authors refer to the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who mentions in several of his books a colony that may be Kombucha. In the chapter "The Birch-Tree Cancer" in his book "The Cancer Ward" he tells the story of Sergei Maslennikov, an old country doctor from the Alexandrov district near Moscow, whose peasant patients had no cancer. The doctor, wondering about this, "started looking around... and discovered this: That to save money on tea the muzhiks of that locality brewed not tea, but chaga, otherwise known as the birch-tree mushroom. ... Actually, it's not even a birch-tree mushroom, but a birch-tree cancer ... a sort of ugly growth on old birch trees... It is dome-shaped, black on the outside and dark brown inside." It occurred to doctor Maslennikov, Solzhenitsyn continues, that this tea made from the birch tree mushroom could be the magic remedy the Russian peasants, without realizing it, had been using to cure themselves of cancer for hundreds of years.

    According to the "Great Soviet Encyclopedia", chaga is a fungus of the family Polyporaceae that grows on the trunks of trees, primarily on birch trees, and befungin, an extract made from chaga, is used for certain gastrointestinal diseases and sometimes can alleviate the condition of patients with malignant tumors.

    In his book, GŁnther Frank includes an article written by a man who studied medicine in Russia. It is here where the connection between Solzhenitsyn's birch-tree mushroom and Kombucha was made for the first time.

    Recently I discovered in the scientific literature on microbiology a reference to symbiotic colonies of yeast and acetic acid bacteria that can be found commonly in nature on plants with sweet sap (Schlegel, 1985). This could very easily be the same as the Kombucha culture we are growing in jars or crock pots on refrigerators in our kitchens, or chaga, the birch tree mushroom Solzhenitsyn talks about.

    Frank writes: " On fruits and elsewhere there exist many yeasts , it is therefore easy to imagine that through the action of air currents or insects the bacteria of the mushroom and the yeasts were brought together so that they can develop together. Such an assumption that these events occurred by chance was also thought by Lindner (1913, 1917/1918)."

    In the same chapter mentioned above, Solzhenitsyn includes a passage which would be very appropriate if written by someone today in this and other countries. He answers the question why if this magic mushroom is so effective it is not being used by the doctors, as follows: "It takes a long time for that...Some people don't believe in it. Others don't want to learn something new and for that reason resist. Still others resist to promote their own remedies."


    Frank G. Kombucha. Healthy beverage from the far east. Its correct preparation and use. Ennsthaler. Steyr. 1996.
    Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Vol. 28. MacMillan. New York. 1973.
    Schlegel H.G. Allgemeine Mikrobiologie. Thieme Verlag. Stuttgart. 1985.
    Solzhenitsyn S. The Cancer Ward. New York: Dial Press. 1968.
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    Last updated 3/21/2000