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The Complete Guide to Turkey Tail Mushrooms
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The Complete Guide to Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Angelina Dickinson
Angelina Dickinson
February 08, 2024
7 min

Turkey tail mushrooms have grown in popularity among health enthusiasts in recent years. This isn’t surprising, given that turkey tail mushrooms are among the most researched medicinal mushrooms in the world. Numerous scientific studies have found that turkey tail mushrooms contain bioactive compounds with powerful health benefits. 

In this guide, we’ll explore everything you want to know about turkey tail mushrooms, including their use in traditional medicine, where to find them, and the best ways to incorporate them into your diet so you can enjoy their health benefits.

What are turkey tail mushrooms?

Turkey tail mushrooms, also known as trametes versicolor, coriolus versicolor, or yun zhi in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), are one of the most common and versatile medicinal mushrooms out there. Named for their distinctive shape and color, which closely resembles a wild turkey’s feathers, these mushrooms have been used for centuries in TCM. 

Turkey tail mushrooms are often cited as a natural way to boost the immune system. They’re colorful mushrooms and may be shades of gray or brown, with ribbons of blue, green, red, or white tones. Turkey tail mushrooms are hardy, too, surviving for multiple growing seasons, finally turning gray toward the end of their life cycle (1).

Turkey tail mushrooms history and use in natural medicine

Turkey tail mushrooms: varieties of herbs and spices on a table

While we’re getting more familiar and comfortable using medicinal mushrooms in our Western medical system, Asian medicine has used these miraculous mushrooms for centuries.

The Chinese Compendium of Materia Medica was first published in the 1500s and detailed drinking turkey tail mushrooms as a tea for various health conditions. It reportedly nourishes the spirit or Shen, vital energy or Chi, and strengthens the bones and tendons.

Turkey tail mushrooms have been used in Japan and China since the 1960s to treat different types of cancer. As a result, turkey tail mushrooms are one of the most extensively studied mushrooms for their potential health benefits (2).

Psst: Functional mushrooms are a step up from culinary mushrooms and are believed to have health-promoting benefits beyond their nutritional value. If you’re exploring turkey tail mushrooms, consider checking out some other medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, chaga, cordyceps, and lion’s mane. They all have uniquely beneficial effects that support your body, improve cognitive and immune function, and boost overall wellness.

Health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms

Perhaps best known for its ability to affect immune system modulation (more on that soon), turkey tail mushrooms offer even more health benefits.

  • Stress support: Like many other functional mushrooms, turkey tail mushrooms contain a wealth of antioxidants (like phenols and flavonoids) that can help with oxidative stress and undo the damage from free radicals. Without supporting our body during stressful times, those free radicals can run amok, causing cellular damage and inflammation, which research suggests can lead to the development of cancer cells and an increased risk of heart disease. 
  • Better gut health: Turkey tail mushrooms impact gut health and microbiota. Known as your second brain, your gut affects so much more than your digestion, as it can impact your mental and skin health. And it’s teeming with millions of bacteria. Your gut microbiome benefits from turkey tail mushrooms because of their prebiotic content. One in vitro study discovered these mushrooms can increase the number of good bacteria in the gut while decreasing potentially harmful ones (3).
  • Powerful polysaccharopeptide: We know that seems like a mouthful, but bear with us here. Polysaccharopeptides are ‌protein-bound polysaccharides in turkey tail mushrooms. Two of these, polysaccharide-k (PSK, also known as Krestin) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP), significantly impact immune response. PSP can increase the number of white blood cells that affect a person’s immunity. Clinical studies have demonstrated how combining cancer treatment with PSK increases the survival rate while decreasing cancer recurrences, making it a supportive adjuvant therapy for cancer patients (1). People with gastric, colon, or breast cancer who used turkey tail mushrooms with their cancer treatment experienced better outcomes than chemotherapy alone (3).

The benefits don’t stop there, either. Turkey tail mushrooms demonstrate their value as powerful therapeutics in several areas, like helping lower blood sugar levels after exercise (and at rest), and supporting the immune system in clearing the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Consider consulting healthcare professionals if you have an underlying issue and are curious about incorporating turkey tail mushrooms into your day.

Where can you find turkey tail mushrooms?

Person walking outside

Turkey tail mushrooms are native to temperate, tropical, and subtropical zones. And unlike some mushrooms with specific growing requirements, turkey tails are highly adaptive and grow on many different types of wood. As such, they grow all over North America and in every state. They often grow on dead hardwoods, so don’t be surprised to see them on tree stumps (1).

GIY (grow it yourself)

You may be surprised to learn that turkey tail mushrooms are one of the best mushrooms to grow at home. And it’s easier than you think; mushroom growing kits make it easy to test the waters of being a mushroom grower, even if it’s just for your family and friends. 

There’s a fantastic community of mushroom enthusiasts out there too. Forums are a tremendous resource for growing tips, helping with identification, learning about mushrooms in folklore, and hunting for shrooms on your next hike or forest walkabout.

Foraging vs. wildcrafting

Humans have relied on nature and its gifts for sustenance and medicinal purposes for centuries. Alongside that, two different practices have developed: wildcrafting and foraging. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, they each involve different ways of harvesting. 

Foraging typically involves gathering wild food resources, such as fruits, nuts, mushrooms, herbs, and other edible plants that grow in the wild. Wildcrafting, on the other hand, involves a more intentional and purposeful approach to harvesting plants from their natural environment.

Wildcrafting is mindful and deliberate, and it requires more of an in-depth understanding of the plant species and how to sustainably harvest them without causing any harm to the environment. It’s not blindly gathering; it’s a way to connect with nature at a much deeper and more nuanced level. You gain insight into nature’s diverse flora while also reaping the benefits these plants have to offer as food or medicine. All of this ensures that nothing is over-harvested or depleted from the natural environment. 

Wildcrafters have a deeper understanding of the plants they are harvesting, including their growth patterns, optimal harvest times, and the best methods for drying or processing the plants to preserve their potency for medicinal or culinary use.

Remember, the fruiting bodies of a mushroom are the tip of the iceberg—that’s just what we see above ground. Underneath there’s a sophisticated network of communication, the mycelium. The mycelial network links plants and fungi together, a sort of “wood wide web” that facilitates communication and exchange of information related to environmental changes, limited water resources, and potential predators. Mindful wildcrafting ensures this fragile network remains intact.

Take the time to familiarize yourself with what you’re harvesting, including lookalikes and dangerous or endangered plants. If you need to check if you’ve made an accurate identification, consult a professional to be sure.

Wildcrafting is an age-old tradition cherished by those who seek sustenance and communion with nature, and following its tenants ensures it can be enjoyed by generations to come.

How to enjoy turkey tail mushrooms

4 spoonfuls of different mushroom powders

Unlike other mushrooms you’d readily add to a favorite recipe (we’re looking at you, baby bella and pink oyster mushrooms), turkey tail mushrooms aren’t something you’ll want to include in your next pizza night. They can be tough and woody, and they aren’t necessarily much better in the flavor department once they’re cooked, as they can have a slightly bitter, albeit nutty, flavor. Don’t worry, though—they can still be an easy part of your wellness plan. Here are a few ways to enjoy turkey tail mushrooms.

  • Tea: An easy way to enjoy turkey tail mushrooms is by making tea. Steep dried turkey tail mushrooms in hot water and add a bit of honey or lemon juice for a cozy cuppa. Mushroom teas are a simple way to enjoy the benefits that turkey tail mushrooms have to offer.
  • Tincture: Tinctures typically involve steeping mushrooms in alcohol to extract all of their beneficial compounds in a highly concentrated dose. Usually diluted in water, these are an easy way to include turkey tail extracts in your daily routine.
  • Capsules and powders: Turkey tail mushrooms can be dried and ground into a fine powder you can add to a smoothie or coffee or taken in capsule form.

Remember that there are some things to pay attention to when you’re shopping for a turkey tail mushroom supplement that apply whether you’re looking for a mushroom extract, a functional mushroom powder blend, or something in between. Dietary supplements can range in quality, so it’s always a good idea to do some research and give labels a thorough once-over to make sure you’re picking up a quality supplement and something that works for you and your lifestyle.

Look for companies that talk about what kind of processing they use. Mushroom tinctures and powder can be a single or a dual extraction. A dual extraction (alcohol and water extractions combined) is the most potent. It ensures that the mushroom’s polysaccharides and beta-glucans are intact. Separate alcohol and water extractions have their benefits. Still, some people prefer having the benefits of both in a single supplement.

Lastly, an organic mushroom blend free from fillers is ideal when shopping around. Fillers can potentially create toxicity if used excessively or are contaminated with heavy metals, which can accumulate in the body over time. 

Psst: Our furry friends can benefit from turkey tail mushroom supplements too! A study conducted by two University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Medicine faculty discovered genuinely remarkable results. Before this study, the longest median survival for dogs with an aggressive form of cancer (hemangiosarcoma) was 86 days. Instead of going down the path of conventional cancer treatment, the dogs were treated solely with turkey tail mushroom and lived beyond a year (4).

Turkey tail mushrooms: an antioxidant powerhouse

Turkey tail mushrooms contain a wealth of health benefits, including boosting immunity, improving gut health, and offering powerful anticancer effects. And since they’re readily available in various forms like capsules, powders, and tinctures, incorporating them into your daily routine is a breeze. 

Remember, it’s essential to do thorough research and check labels before using them, whether for you or a four-legged friend. Be sure to keep up with the latest news and discoveries and learn about other types of mushrooms on shroomer.

References

  1. Stamets, Paul. Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms. Ten Speed Press, 2011. https://fungi.com/collections/books-by-paul-stamets/products/growing-gourmet-and-medicinal-mushrooms
  2. “The Turkey Tail Mushroom: A Thousand Year Story | Mecklenburgh Square Garden,” n.d. http://mecklenburghsquaregarden.org.uk/the-turkey-tail-mushroom-a-thousand-year-story/.
  3. Rd, Jillian Kubala Ms. “5 Immune-Boosting Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushroom.” Healthline, November 6, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/turkey-tail-mushroom#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2.
  4. Unger Baillie, Katherine. “Compound Derived From a Mushroom Lengthens Survival Time in Dogs With Cancer, Penn Vet Study Finds.” Penn Today, September 10, 2012. Accessed March 27, 2023. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/compound-derived-mushroom-lengthens-survival-time-dogs-cancer-penn-vet-study-finds.

Fact Checked: Mar Yvette


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ShroomWiki
Angelina Dickinson

Angelina Dickinson

Content Writer

Table Of Contents

1
What are turkey tail mushrooms?
2
Turkey tail mushrooms history and use in natural medicine
3
Health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms
4
Where can you find turkey tail mushrooms?
5
Foraging vs. wildcrafting
6
How to enjoy turkey tail mushrooms
7
Turkey tail mushrooms: an antioxidant powerhouse

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