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The Turkey Tail Mushroom

The turkey tail mushroom isn’t one you’ll find in your local grocery store’s produce department because it’s not a culinary mushroom, such as buttons, shitakes, or portabellos. But it’s still a useful mushroom in its own way, as you’ll learn in this article.

Keep reading to learn about the benefits of turkey tail mushrooms and methods for using it as part of your wellness regimen.

Turkey tail mushrooms growing on a log

What is the Turkey Tail Mushroom?

Turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor) is a medicinal mushroom that has been used for hundreds of years to treat various health conditions. Turkey tails are commonly found growing on tree trunks and fallen trees in wooded areas, characterized by their vibrant, multicolored appearance.

It’s too woody and tough for culinary use like the mushrooms you can buy at the grocery store. But that doesn’t mean it’s never used as a recipe ingredient.

Turkey tail mushrooms can be added to food in powdered form or cooked in water with vegetables and spices to make a mushroom broth for use in recipes. Some people even roast and blend them into soups.

Identification and Ecology

Turkey tail mushrooms growing on a log

Turkey Tail Mushroom Identification

Turkey tail mushrooms are quite unique in appearance, sporting distinct, starkly-contrasting bands of color that can range from gray, white, reddish-brown, tan, and more.

These mushrooms have very small pores on their underside, tightly grouped together with approximately 3 to 8 pores per millimeter. The mushrooms are classified as polypores due to their porous nature.

Habitat and Growth Patterns

The Turkey Tail fungus is a very common mushroom in North American woods, generally found on fallen logs or tree stumps year-round, although they can also be found on living trees.

These fungi can live on over 70 different genera of hardwood trees and several conifers in the United States, making them quite adaptable to various environments.

False Turkey Tail

It’s essential to be aware of the false turkey tail (Stereum ostrea), which looks similar but has distinct differences.

The false turkey tail has a smooth, yellow underside without the visible pores present in the true turkey tail, setting both species apart. Additionally, Stereum ostrea mushrooms are known for commonly having algae on them.

Another look-alike to the turkey tail mushroom is the violet-toothed polypore (Trichaptum biforme).

It is crucial to properly identify any mushrooms when foraging in the wild, as consuming the wrong species can be deadly. By understanding the unique features of true turkey tail mushrooms and their false counterparts, a forager should be better equipped to harvest them safely.

Preparation and Consumption

mushroom powder

Turkey tail mushrooms are commonly used for their purported health benefits, including boosting the immune system and providing antioxidants. The two primary methods for consuming turkey tails are as tea and mushroom extract.

Turkey Tail Mushroom Tea

To prepare turkey tail mushroom tea, follow these steps:

  1. Cut or rip fresh or dried turkey tail mushrooms into small pieces, large enough to be strained but small enough to expose more surface area.
  2. Add the mushroom pieces to a sturdy pot.
  3. Pour approximately 1 1/4 cups of water per serving into the pot.
  4. Gently bring the pot of water and mushrooms to a low simmer, and let it cook for roughly 20-30 minutes. You can go up to an hour, but shorter times are preferable to avoid overcooking.

Enjoy the tea after straining out the mushroom pieces, and be aware that the taste may be somewhat earthy and woody. You can add honey or a sweetener if desired.

Mushroom Extract

Another popular method for consuming turkey tail mushrooms is through extracts, which are concentrated forms of the mushroom’s beneficial compounds. You can either purchase store-bought extracts or make your own using the following steps:

  1. Find a reputable source for dried turkey tail mushrooms, or collect and dry them yourself.
  2. Grind the dried mushrooms into a fine powder using a blender or coffee grinder.
  3. Measure out the powder (usually 1 tablespoon) and mix it with an alcohol solution (vodka, brandy, or another high-proof alcohol) in a jar.
  4. Let the mixture sit for 4-6 weeks, shaking it occasionally to ensure the proper extraction of the compounds.
  5. Once the extraction process is complete, strain the mixture into a clean jar to remove the mushroom powder, leaving only the liquid extract behind.

You can consume the mushroom extract by adding a few drops to water, tea, or any other beverage. Whether you choose to drink turkey tail mushroom tea or use the extract, ensure that you consult a healthcare provider to determine what consumption methods and amounts are suitable for your individual needs.

Health Benefits

Ganoderma lucidum. lingzhi mushroom or reishi mushroom growing on trees, Herb plant for alternative medicine.

This fascinating fungus has garnered attention in recent years for its potential immune-boosting properties and health benefits.

Packed with antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, turkey tail mushrooms have been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a natural remedy for a wide range of ailments.

Immune System Support

Turkey tail mushrooms contain compounds such as polysaccharide-k (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP), which have been shown to support the immune system. These compounds are known to stimulate the production of immune cells and increase their activity, making the body more resilient against illnesses such as the common cold or flu.

These mushrooms are rich in beta-glucan, a type of polysaccharide that can enhance immune function by activating natural killer cells and other immune components.

Cancer Treatment Support

Research suggests that turkey tail mushrooms can provide support during cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. The immune-boosting properties of turkey tail mushrooms can help combat cancer cells and maintain overall health during treatments.

PSK and PSP have been used as adjuncts to standard cancer treatments in Japan and China for more than 30 years. They appear to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and may enhance the effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Antioxidants and Inflammation Reduction

Rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, turkey tail mushrooms can help combat oxidative stress and reduce inflammation in the body. By neutralizing free radicals, these antioxidants can prevent cellular damage, lower inflammation levels, and potentially reduce the risk of various diseases.

Blood Sugar Regulation

Turkey tail mushrooms may also help regulate blood sugar levels among people with type 2 diabetes. By improving insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, these mushrooms can contribute to better glycemic control and prevent complications from elevated blood sugar levels.

Gut Health and Prebiotic Effects

Turkey tail mushrooms can promote gut health by serving as a prebiotic, fostering the growth of beneficial gut bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Clostridium.

These mushrooms can improve digestion, boost the immune system, and maintain overall wellbeing by supporting a balanced gut microbiome.

Respiratory Health Support

In traditional Chinese medicine, turkey tail extract has been used to treat respiratory conditions, including bronchitis and other infections affecting the lungs. Its immune-boosting properties are believed to help combat these infections and maintain overall respiratory health.

Athletic Performance

There is some evidence to suggest that turkey tail mushrooms can improve athletic performance by increasing energy levels, reducing fatigue, and enhancing mental focus.

Additionally, the immune-boosting effects of turkey tail mushrooms may help athletes recover more quickly from intense physical activities.

In each of these areas, turkey tail mushrooms offer potential health benefits that can contribute to overall wellbeing, making them a valuable addition to a balanced diet and lifestyle.

While there are promising findings on the potential medicinal benefits of turkey tail mushrooms, it is important to always consult with a healthcare professional before adding them to your health routine. Source high-quality supplements and extracts from reputable vendors to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

FDA Status

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved medicinal mushrooms, such as turkey tail, as a treatment for cancer or any other medical condition.

However, the FDA has approved a clinical trial for a turkey tail extract for patients with advanced prostate cancer in combination with conventional chemotherapy.

Turkey Tail Mushroom Supplements

Turkey tail mushroom supplements are available in various forms such as capsules, powders, and extracts. They contain compounds like polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide-K (PSK), which are believed to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Some potential benefits of turkey tail supplements may include:

  • Boosted immunity
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Increased exercise performance
  • Improved gut health
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes

It’s important to choose high-quality turkey tail mushroom supplements from reputable brands to ensure safety and effectiveness.

Recommended Dosage

Since the FDA has not approved turkey tail mushroom supplements as a treatment for any specific medical condition, there are no officially recommended dosages. However, some common dosages that have been found to provide potential benefits include:

  • 1-3 grams of dried turkey tail mushroom powder per day
  • 1-3 grams of turkey tail mushroom extract per day

Once again, consult with your healthcare professional before starting any new supplement, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medications.

Side Effects and Interactions

There are potential side effects to be aware of that some may experience when consuming turkey tail mushrooms. These may include:

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Dark stools
  • Darkening of the fingernails
  • Diarrhea (in some cases, darkened stool)

It is essential to note that each individual’s experience with turkey tail mushrooms may vary, and some may not experience any side effects.

Drug Interactions

When considering turkey tail mushroom consumption or supplementation, it is crucial to be aware of possible drug interactions. The mushroom can potentially lower blood sugar levels, so those taking diabetes medications should monitor their blood sugar closely. In addition, turkey tail mushrooms might have interactions with the following medications:

  • Cyclophosphamide: Turkey tail mushrooms may affect the effectiveness of cyclophosphamide, a medication used to treat certain types of cancer.
  • Tamoxifen: There is a possibility that turkey tail mushrooms can interfere with the action of tamoxifen, a medication used to treat breast cancer.
  • Vitamin D: Since turkey tail mushrooms naturally contain vitamin D, it is essential to monitor your vitamin D levels if you are already taking a vitamin D supplement.

While these interactions have not been extensively studied, it is crucial to consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before adding turkey tail mushrooms to your routine, especially if you are taking any of the medications mentioned above.

Wrapping Up the Turkey Tail Mushroom

As interest in natural remedies continues to grow, turkey tail mushrooms have emerged as a popular and versatile option for those seeking to improve their overall health and well-being.

With a variety of potential benefits and a long history of use in traditional medicine, turkey tail mushrooms are worth further exploring for those interested in harnessing the healing power of nature.

To learn about other mushroom varieties, visit our Mushrooms page.