When it comes to functional foods, the turkey tail mushroom, often called turkey tail fungus, may top the list. Named for the colorful fall-like palette of stripes it adorns that favor the plume of feathers on turkeys, turkey tail mushrooms have been brewed for thousands of years by the Chinese as medicinal teas, so it’s no secret to them just how amazing this beautiful mushroom is.
It’s been used as early as the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty in China. The Japanese, who reference it as kawaritake or “cloud mushrooms” due to an image of swirling clouds, have been well aware of the benefits of this super, power-filled mushroom, with researchers noting its health benefits, particularly in boosting the immune system. In fact, the cloud-like image symbolizes “longevity and health, spiritual attunement and infinity” to these Asian cultures. (1)
So what is this amazing fungus? If you’ve taken a hike in the woods, you’ve probably seen plenty of turkey tail mushrooms because they grow abundantly on dead and fallen trees, branches, and stumps. Given the description of bracket fungi, they form a wavy, thin, leather-like structure with concentric circles. Unlike shiitake mushrooms that have gills underneath the top, they contain tiny pores that release spores, making them a part of the polypore family. These mushrooms easily grow almost anywhere in the world as long as there are trees, making them one of the most common mushrooms found today.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits
1. Prevents and Treats the Common Cold and Flu
The turkey tail mushroom has long been known to stave off any infection, including those associated with the common cold or flu. It helps your immune system become more resilient to ill-causing germs. When flu season approaches, you may want to include turkey tail as a supplement in your dietary routine. (2)
The turkey tail mushroom has been shown to modulate the immune system, helping fight infections, illness and diseases. (3)
2. Can Offer Support to Chemo Patients
Turkey tail mushrooms may help cancer patients who are going through chemotherapy. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has conducted clinical trials for a turkey tail extract to be consumed by patients who have advanced prostate cancer and are enduring conventional chemotherapy as well as testing how well it helps women with breast cancer in combination with a vaccine treatment in hopes of a new and better form of cancer therapy. Ultimately, since chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, the hope is that turkey tail mushroom builds the immune system up to better handle the weakness that chemo often causes. And a stronger immune system can help combat deadly cancer cells, making the turkey tail mushroom a potentially potent cancer-fighting food. (4)
3. May Combat Breast Cancer
A study published in Global Advances in Health and Medicine revealed that an 83-year-old woman who was diagnosed with advanced, metastatic inflammatory breast cancer led a disease-free life after using turkey tail mushroom. Though she continued chemotherapy use, she consumed capsules of turkey tail mushroom at the same time.
Scientists believe that the immune response of the turkey tail mushrooms boosted the woman’s immune system by recognizing the tumor, which increased the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. This is consistent with research that claims medicinal disease-fighting mushrooms like turkey tail, as well as maitake, reishi and Agaricus blazei, can be natural immune-enhancing and anticancer treatments. (5)
4. Helps Treat Human Papilloma Virus
Mushrooms, in particular the turkey tail mushroom, may help heal infections, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV). According to a study of 61 patients with gum disease testing positive for HPV, 88 percent of the 41 patients who received both turkey tail and reishi mushrooms showed positive results after only two months of treatment. (6)
5. Aids in Digestion
The mycelium in the mushroom is what may help you have a smoother digestion process when supplementing with turkey tail mushrooms. The mushroom contains perfect prebiotics that assist the microbiome. This means that it can help the growth of the good bacteria in the body, including acidophilus and bifidobacterium, which is even more beneficial for anyone suffering from leaky gut syndrome. And this better digestion could even help you lose weight. (7)
6. May Help Patients with HIV/AIDS
Studies reveal that the use of turkey tail mushroom, in conjunction with other wild medicinal East African mushrooms, may be useful in treating patients with Kaposi’s sarcoma, a skin cancer often affecting those with HIV/AIDS. The same product has also benefited patients with HIV/AIDS even without the sarcoma.
Turkey tail has antibacterial and antioxidant properties; therefore, an extract of the turkey tail mushroom may be helpful. This extract, called PSP, has been studied in vitro, noting it as an antiviral agent that may prevent the replication of the HIV virus. (8)
How Does a Turkey Tail Mushroom Work?
A “renaissance mycologist” inventor and researcher by the name of Paul Stamets, Ph.D, is well-known for his strong beliefs in the power of mushrooms, having authored six mushroom-related books and being awarded nine patents with more that are likely to come. Specifically, he has discovered nine antiviral molecules that are revealed through the mycelium of the mushroom as it rots the wood it has inhabited.
Turkey tail mushrooms work by providing a big boost to our immune systems. They contain B-glucans, polysaccharides, within the fungal cell walls. When eaten, these B-glucans provide receptors in the small intestine area that get the immune-boosting power in full force. This power puts the turkey tail mushroom in the adaptogen category. Adaptogen herbs work to resist numerous stress factors that we face daily, providing support to the immune system and stimulating energy levels. Usually, adaptogens are herbal compounds found in things like mushrooms, roots, berries, barks and leaves.
Furthermore, mushrooms are composed of compacted mycelium, the same noted by Dr. Stamets, and jam-packed with nutrition, such as polysaccharides, proteins, minerals, and vitamins B and D. They’re also low-fat. The mycelium structure is loaded with helpful enzymes, antimicrobial agents and antiviral compounds. In fact, this mycelium is more important than you may think by helping provide nutrient-dense soil, something our land is often lacking, which can help neutralize the toxins in our immune systems.
How to Use and Buy Turkey Tail Mushrooms
The turkey tail mushroom is edible but is rather chewy, which is why it’s most commonly served as a tea or powder in capsule form. It’s often found combined with other mushrooms as a supplement.
It’s best to buy organic to avoid toxins that may be found in the soil, especially since one of the biggest benefits is the dirt the mushroom is grown in, providing nourishment due to its natural environment.
Other things to consider when making a purchase is whether the product has been validated by scientific studies. You want to make sure you get the real thing that has been properly sourced. Find out where the mushrooms were grown and if they’ve been handled by experts.
There is a fractionated “drug” version of turkey tail, also called PSK or polysaccharide K. It’s extremely popular in Japan for its anticancer properties, but it cannot be legally sold in the U.S. However, the pure version of turkey tail that was used in a breast cancer study can be found at Fungi Perfecti under the label “Host Defense.” Because this turkey tail mycelium is in its pure form, it’s considered an FDA-approved nutraceutical, allowing it to be marketing as a supplement.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Recipes
Turkey tail mushrooms can be utilized in a number of recipe. For instance, you can make your very own turkey tail tea — just make sure to get turkey tail from an organic source. It’s recommended that you consume one to two eight-ounce glasses per day to receive the immune-boosting power it has the ability to provide. The get a mild flavor, the best ratio is one part mushrooms to five parts of water. For example, for this recipe, I recommend one cup of mushroom to five cups of purified water:
Turkey Tail and Turmeric Tea
- 1 cup chopped turkey tail mushroom
- 5 cups purified water
- 2.5 teaspoons ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon local honey
- 1 drop lemon essential oil
- Chop the turkey tail mushroom into small pieces and add to a large pot of water on the stove.
- Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for an hour.
- Strain the mixture through a colander. Add a ½ teaspoon of fresh ground turmeric and the honey and stir.
- Add the lemon essential oil and stir again.
- That’s it — time to drink!
If you’d like to add additional flavor, almond milk, one drop of cinnamon, ginger or lemon essential oil, or stevia are good options.
Feel free to add the rest of your turmeric to your leftovers while it’s still warm since it’s easier to blend, and keep any leftovers in the refrigerator. You can then reheat or serve chilled or on ice.
You can also try this Turkey Tail Tincture recipe.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Nutrition and History
The turkey tail mushroom comes the Trametes versicolor family, formerly Coriolus versicolor, and is very useful to the ecology of the forest as it helps decompose hardwood. “The fungus is characterized among the white-rot basidiomycetes. T. versicolorproduces a laccase used to detoxify xenobiotics such as polychlorinated biphenyls, dyes, and a variety of synthetic polymers and as a pulp biobleach for making paper,” according to the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. (9)
Due to its ability to help cancer patients, turkey tail is considered the one of the best researched mushrooms and sits right on top with other medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, cordyceps and maitake. Many edible mushrooms contain selenium, vitamin D and vitamin B3, which is part of what makes them strong immune boosters, in addition to the nutrient-rich soil and decaying matter where they live. These mushrooms feed on this decaying matter and other living things, such as rotting logs, making them saprotrophs.
To find one, you probably just need to look around the ground when in a wooded area. While they have an array of fall colors like a span of turkey feathers, one of the most vivid colors is typically bright green and is actually algae. (10)
Mushrooms have been around medicinally as far back as Neolithic times. In fact, according to Spirit of Change Magazine, “The oldest human mummy, dating back 4,000 years ago, was found with Piptoporus betulinus in his medicine kit, a mushroom used for its antibiotic properties and as a natural parasite killer, still in use today.” (11)
Archaeologists have found evidence of mushrooms on Egyptian hieroglyphics noting the mushrooms as “the plant of immortality, called the ‘sons of the gods’ sent to Earth on lightning bolts and eaten only by nobles and pharaohs.” The Aztecs event kept mushrooms as sacred, consuming them in holy rituals. And as noted above, the Asian cultures have been keen to the turkey tail mushroom since the 15th century.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Risks
It’s always best to check with your doctor prior to using any new food for medicinal purposes, especially if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, or have any disease-related condition. Some patients have reported problems with bowels, such as diarrhea and darkened stools, as well as darkened nail pigmentation. If you notice any negative effects or discomfort while consuming turkey tail mushroom, discontinue use immediately and check with your doctor. (12)
Final Thoughts on the Turkey Tail Mushroom
Research seems very strong in the area of the turkey tail mushroom and its ability to be a great cancer-fighting natural remedy and immune booster. These medicinal mushrooms have also been shown to prevent and treat the common cold and flu, offer support to chemotherapy patients, treat HPV and other infections, aid digestion, and even offer help to HIV/AIDS patience, in addition to potentially combatting cancer.
While more research needs to be conducted, choosing turkey tail mushrooms may be helpful and worth considering. If you choose to use the product, make sure that it you adhere to my recommendations above regarding how to use it and buy it.