Chances are, when you go out for a walk out in the woods in North America, you’re going to come across a patch – or many patches – of Turkey Tail mushrooms. You’ll spot them growing on dead logs, fallen branches, or forgotten stumps, absorbing nutrients from the decomposing wood. The consumption of rotting hardwoods helps to naturally clear the forest floors, making them a vital part of the forest ecology.
The power of the Turkey Tail mushroom doesn’t stop with forest clean up however, as this bracket fungus is rich in medicinal offerings. With a 3,000 year history of use in Chinese medicine, over the past decade Turkey Tail has stepped into the spotlight for its vast immune system benefits.
Taking on everything from the common cold to hardcore cancer diagnoses, turkey tail mushrooms are one type of medicinal mushroom you’re going to want to familiarize yourself with.
What are Turkey Tail Mushrooms?
The abundant Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) are some of the easiest mushrooms to locate throughout the woods due to their distinctive appearance. Trametes means “thin” and versicolor means “many colored” which aptly describes the autumn-colored stripes that decorate the body of this mushroom. Its plumed cap offers horizontal stripes of creams, oranges, greens, blues, and browns. You may not even realize the petite, slightly wavy, fan-shaped mushrooms you’re used to seeing all around you in the forest are the mighty Trametes veriscolor.
Being polypore mushrooms, Turkey Tails release spores from their white porous underbellies which float through the air before landing on more wood to reproduce. It is this action that allows them to grow in such abundance throughout the forest – or on your backyard wood pile.
Turkey tails are considered to be adaptogens. Meaning, they work within your body to create homeostasis. If your immune system needs to react against an invader, Turkey Tail helps. If it needs to downregulate because the attack is over, Turkey Tail is there. The mushrooms help your body maintain balanced energy levels and respond better to stress. By creating a strength within your body to respond to whatever is happening, they prevent your body from get overwhelmed. This results in better overall health and wellness.
Don’t be fooled by Stereum Ostrea! This Turkey Tail look-alike has a brown smooth underbelly or gills and does not have the same medicinal properties!
Turkey Tail Nutrition (PSK)
Alongside Reishi mushroom, Turkey Tails are one of the most scientifically studied mushrooms on the planet.
There is a growing body of controlled research showing the immune-system-enhancing properties of this fungus which range from fighting the common cold and flu, to killing cancer cells, to aiding in digestion.
The body of the Turkey Tail mushroom contains selenium, vitamin D, vitamin B3, proteins, minerals, and enzymes. These nutrients supercharge your cells against toxic agents that may be lurking within you, making Turkey Tail an excellent daily supplement to support your immune system.
Turkey Tail’s antibiotic properties come from the B-glucans and polysaccharides within its cell walls. They contain a specific protein-bound molecule called polysaccharide K (PSK). This particular polysaccharide has been shown to boost the immune system against viral infections and multiple kinds of cancers to stop the gene expression that can cause them. In addition, Turkey Tail can mount an immune response against cancer and viral cells by suppressing the growth of tumor cells. Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) within Turkey Tail is a strong anti-viral agent which in vitro studies have shown to stop the replication of HIV.
During the 1980s, the Japanese government approved PSK to be used in the treatment protocol for several types of cancers. By 1984, it was fractionated into a drug version and became the 19th most commercially successful drug sold in the world.
Today, this type of PSK is the best-selling cancer treatment in Japan and is used as a major part of cancer protocols in conjunction with other treatment modalities. This version of PSK isn’t legal in the U.S., but the pure form of turkey tail is FDA-approved and available for sale.
The Japanese refer to Turkey Tail mushrooms as “kawaritake,” meaning “cloud mushrooms”. Clouds are symbolic of health, longevity, and infinity in their culture.
The Top 3 Scientifically-Proven Benefits of Turkey Tail
Studies have shown Turkey Tail to positively affect a wide number of immune system reactions. Here are the top three:
1 – Work Against the Common Cold, Flu, and Viruses
Due to its ability to help your immune system become more resilient to sickness-causing germs, Turkey Tail is an incredible supplement to take daily. By fighting against outside agents, it helps prevent viral infections like human papillomavirus (HPV) and promote resistance to the common cold and flu. It is also recommended for patients with chronic viral conditions such as hepatitis C to support the health of the liver.
2 – Aid in Digestion
The prebiotics in turkey tail support the growth of the good bacteria in your intestines. This helps increase the strength of your immune system, as well as your digestion. By helping you digest your food more effectively, turkey tail can aid in weight loss efforts. The mushrooms may be a great helper for people suffering from leaky gut syndrome to rebuild their gut.
3 – Supportive to Cancer Patients
Turkey Tails have been shown to improve the survival rates in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation when used as an adjuvant therapy.
Since chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, Turkey Tails help restore balance. Scientists believe that the mushrooms boost the immune system by recognizing the tumors, which increases the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with other sources have been testing Turkey Tails as an adjuvant therapy in patients who have:
- Gastric cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Advanced non-small cell lung cancer
- Advanced prostate cancer
- Breast cancer, estrogen receptor positive and negative
In addition to recognizing the tumors, Turkey Tail has shown some promise in causing cellular death of leukemia and breast cancer cells. It has been shown to prompt cell death of promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells and in a blend with other medicinal mushrooms, it stopped the cancerous cell spread of invasive human breast cancer cells
Listen to the ending of mycologist Paul Stamet’s incredible TED talk about his mother’s experience with Turkey Tail and stage 4 breast cancer HERE.
The Most Effective Way to Consume Turkey Tail
It’s a big step for the medical industry to label a medicinal mushroom as a worthwhile adjunct therapy. The more studies that can be conducted on Turkey Tail and other mushrooms, the more validity and viable the option of taking them becomes. As our understanding grows around how Turkey Tail works with our immune system, we can better determine other uses for it in the fight against cancer and other chronic illnesses.
While Turkey Tail has a solid place now as an adjuvant therapy, there is no reason to wait to take Turkey Tail! As hard as it fights against existing illness, it works just as hard to prevent them from ever taking hold.
Why wait to treat disease if you can avoid it by taking a preventative supplement?
One of the easiest ways to take Turkey Tail is in a tincture. Tinctures are made by soaking the mushrooms in alcohol, which extracts the beneficial constituents to create a highly concentrated liquid.
Swallowing 2-3 squirts of a tincture = Drinking 4-5 cups of strongly brewed tea.
Tinctures quickly deliver the “medicine” of the mushrooms to your bloodstream via the mucosa of your mouth. This makes tinctures the clear choice to deliver quick nutrition throughout your body over a supplement that has to pass through your entire digestive system first.