What Is Turkey Tail Mushroom?
Turkey tail mushrooms, also known as Trametes versicolor and Coriolus versicolor, are a type of medicinal fungi that contains a variety of compounds known for its health benefits. Coriolus versicolor or “cloud mushroom” gets its name from the facts that it looks like swirling clouds. Turkey tail fungus also gets its name because it looks like the plume of feathers on a turkey’s tail. It truly is a beautiful mushroom. For thousands of years it has been used throughout Asian cultures for its medicinal properties and is best known for stimulating the immune system, reducing inflammation, as well as promoting general strength, health, and longevity. (1)
How To Identify The True Turkey Tail
With any mushroom, it is important to know exactly what you are harvesting. Many mushrooms look similar but can actually be poisonous and outright deadly. If you are harvesting your own mushrooms, make sure you are with a trained expert in turkey tail mushroom identification or purchasing from a reputable source.
Turkey tail mushrooms grow on dead logs worldwide. Chances are if you have spent any time in wooded environments, you have seen its spectacular tan and brown rings that resemble the tail feathers of a turkey. Being a bracket fungi, turkey tail forms thin, circular leaf like structures on downed wooded vegetation. So look to the ground to find the majority of these concentric circles of many colors. They are often tan to brown but can have stunning rings of blue, green, red and orange.
Turkey tail mushrooms are edible but can be very tough, chewy, and leathery. This is why it is often consumed as a turkey tail mushroom tea or powder in capsule form. Keep an eye out for its medicinal look alike, “false turkey tail” or Stereum ostrea. Like turkey tail, false turkey tail mushrooms have the concentric cloud like circles of many colors, however, they tend to be more red in color. (2)
What Nutrients Does Turkey Tail Have?
Turkey tail is known as an adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps our bodies to resist a variety of natural stressors thrown our way. It has been used throughout the years to ward off infection, improve healthy gut flora, increase energy, and support patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Two types of medicinal polysaccharopeptides found in turkey tail are Krestin (PSK) and Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP). PSK and PSP have been found to have immune modulating abilities. Due to this feature, it is commonly used by physicians to help modulate over reactive and under reactive immune systems as well as decrease inflammation. The cell walls of the mushroom, contain B-glucans, which boost our immune systems when they interact with the receptors in our intestines. In addition, many edible mushrooms possess vitamin D, vitamin B3, and selenium, which are all beneficial to healthy immune systems. Turkey tail also contains nutrient rich properties (polysaccharides, minerals, proteins, vitamin B and vitamin D) from absorbing nutrients directly out of decaying matter and from the soil. They are loaded with antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties as well as an array of beneficial enzymes. (3,4,5)
What Benefits Does Turkey Tail Provide?
Offer Support to Chemotherapy Patients and Help Combat Cancer
Turkey tail mushrooms work by building the immune system. In chemotherapy, the immune system is greatly suppressed rendering the body’s innate ability to defend itself weaker.
For more than 30 years, Japan has been using pharmaceutical grade turkey tail products for its immunomodulatory effects as adjuvant treatment to cancer. In particular, the Krestin (PSK) in turkey tail helps repair cellular damage created by chemo and strengthens the immune system. (6) The Food and Drug Administartion (FDA) has approved clinical trials for treating prostate cancer patients with turkey tail extract, in conjunction to conventional chemotherapy. Currently breast cancer clinical trials are pending, however, prior research performed by Basytr University and the University of Minnesota “found a turkey tail supplement may support conventional breast cancer therapies by strengthening a patient’s immune system.” (7)
Prevent and Treat the Common Cold and Flu
Turkey tail mushroom has the benefit of making the body more resistant to germs. The polysaccharides in turkey tail have the benefit of communicating with our T cells, part of the white blood cells that fight off infections. Turkey tail has been found to help modulate the immune system, help fight off infections, illness (such as the common cold and flu), and diseases. Because of these properties, you may consider taking a turkey tail or mushroom blend supplement as part of your daily routine during cold and flu season.
Aid in Digestion
The nutrient content within turkey tail mushrooms behave as excellent prebioitcs. This prebiotic feature, assists the microbiome within the body and promotes a healthy digestive system. Test tube studies have shown that turkey tail extract increased beneficial gut bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus while reducing harmful gut bacteria such as Staphylococcus and Clostridum. Better digestion can improve your overall health, well being, improve symptoms of leaky gut, an array of digestive issues and digestive upset, as well as aid in weight loss. (8)
Aid in the Treatment of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
HPV stands for the human papillomavirus. There are over 100 kinds of HPV, most of which cause no health problems. However, there are some strains that can lead to a variety of health concerns and even cancer. A study found that patients treated with both turkey tail and reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum) over a two month period, showed an 88 percent clearance of oral HPV compared to a 5 percent clearance in those treated with “chicken of the woods” mushroom or Laetiporus sulphureous. (9)
How to Consume Turkey Tail?
While edible, turkey tail is often described as tough and chewy. Therefore it is commonly consumed as a tea or in powdered capsule form. You will often find it combined with other medicinal mushrooms in a dietary supplement form.
Because turkey tail gets the majority of its nutrients from the soil and decomposition of decaying wood, you want to look for organic forms. Dirt can be contaminated with all sorts of toxins and pollutants, making an organic form a must if you want to avoid absorbing these harmful substances yourself.
How Much Turkey Tail Do You Need?
There is no clinical evidence to support a specific dosing of turkey tail. However, most dietary supplements suggest taking one to three capsules daily with a meal. You can also open up the capsules and add them to your food, juice, or smoothies. Turkey tail can be taken for a variety of health care reason as well as just an overall health adaptogen or immune supporting tonic.
As with all new foods and dietary supplements, it is best to discuss with your doctor first, especially if you have any concerns, health issues, are pregnant, or breast feeding. While most people experience no negative side effects of turkey tail, some have noticed darkening of the fingernails, darkened stool and digestive discomfort. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue the product and talk with your doctor. (10)