There are over 14,000 different varieties of mushrooms. Approximately 2000 of these are edible, and 270 of these species have potential therapeutic properties.
Humans have used these mushrooms for thousands of years, and they are a common component of East Asian medicines. One of the best-known and most well-studied examples is Trametes versicolor, the turkey tail mushroom.
This article explains all about this fantastic fungus, its benefits, and how to use it. Read on to learn more.
Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Trametes versicolor has several alternative names. Turkey tail is the most common and refers to the concentric brown and grey rings on the mushroom’s surface. In Chinese, it is known as yunzhi, meaning ‘cloud fungus,’ and in Japanese, it is kawaratake, or ‘roof tile fungus.’ Both of these names describe the mushrooms’ appearance and growing habits.
Turkey tails are a polypore fungus, meaning that their spores come from tiny pores on their surface rather than gills. They grow on dead and dying wood, acting as decomposers and playing a crucial role in forest ecosystems.
They are one of the most adaptable mushroom species on the planet, growing on many different types of wood. It is possible to find them in temperate, subtropical, and tropical regions, and they are in season for most of the year.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Benefits
These mushrooms have a range of possible health benefits. Chinese medicine traditionally considers them to act upon the spleen, liver, and lungs to aid digestive and respiratory issues.
They are also said to improve endurance and longevity. Although these claims are mostly unproven, there are plenty of research-backed turkey tail benefits.
Turkey tails’ active compounds appear to have a range of benefits for human health, especially immunity.
The mushrooms contain a variety of active substances. Like many other medicinal fungi, they are rich in polysaccharides, especially beta-glucan. They also contain two unique chemicals called polysaccharopeptide (PSP) and polysaccharide krestin (PSK). These compounds appear to have a range of benefits for human health, especially immunity.
Most human clinical trials have focused on their potential as an adjunct to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In fact, PSP and PSK are routinely used for this purpose in China and Japan. However, animal studies have also highlighted the following as possible benefits:
- Supporting liver function
- Reducing cholesterol and protecting the cardiovascular system
- Antioxidant effects
- Antiviral properties
- Increasing resistance to bacterial and fungal infections
- Analgesic properties
- Mildly tranquilizing
Turkey Tail Mushroom Health Benefits
As we mentioned, one of the main health benefits of turkey tail mushrooms is their ability to modulate immunity. They promote the generation and activation of several different types of immune cells. These include elements of the innate immune system that we are born with and the adaptive immune system that we develop over time.
Turkey tails also activate something known as the reticuloendothelial system. This cellular system is responsible for clearing soluble substances from the bloodstream and tissues, including foreign particles and tumor cells.
Finally, these mushrooms can modulate cytokines, chemicals that play a crucial role in the inflammatory response. Inflammation is a highly complex process. It is essential for keeping the immune system functioning correctly, with either too much or too little leading to problems. The polysaccharides in turkey tails appear to upregulate some cytokines but not others, helping to maintain a state of balance.
The mechanisms behind turkey tails’ other benefits are less clear due to insufficient research on the subject. We hope to see more evidence relating to them emerging soon.
Turkey Tail Supplement Consumption Methods
There are several different options for taking turkey tail mushroom supplements. Some of the most common include teas, powders, and capsules. We will look at some of the pros and cons of each of these methods below.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Tea
The most traditional way of using these mushrooms is by brewing them into tea. It is possible to do this using whole fresh or dry fungus.
However, because the mushrooms are relatively dense, it is not merely a case of pouring over hot water. It takes a little more time to extract all of the beneficial compounds. In Asia, dried medicinal mushrooms are usually made into a tea-like liquid known as a decoction. The process is as follows:
- Cut or break the mushrooms into pieces to increase their surface area
- Place the mushrooms in a pan and cover generously with cold water
- Allow them to soak for 20–30 minutes
- Turn on the heat on low, bringing the water to a gentle simmer
- Simmer for 20 minutes (keep the pan lid on to reduce evaporation)
- Strain off the liquid and set aside
- Return the mushrooms to the pan and cover them with more water
- Repeat the simmering process for another 20 minutes
- Strain off the liquid into the same container as the first draft
- Divide the liquid into two and drink half in the morning and a half in the evening
Because making a decoction is a time-consuming process, it is common practice to make enough for a couple of days and store it in the refrigerator. Individuals can then simply warm up each portion when it is time to drink it.
Not everyone will enjoy the earthy flavor of turkey tail tea. Therefore, some people choose to add extra herbs and spices, or a teabag, to improve the taste. However, bear in mind that any additions could alter the properties of the tea. Therefore, it is advisable to consult a qualified herbalist who can prescribe an appropriate blend.
Turkey Tail Mushroom Powder
Turkey tail powder offers a more convenient way to consume the mushrooms. It is possible to mix this product into recipes, such as smoothies, soups, or sauces. Follow the guidelines on the packaging that should explain how much to use each day.
One significant difference between powder and tea is that while tea generally uses the mushroom fruiting bodies, the powder may include the mycelium. This is the part of a fungus that grows underground or inside rotting wood.
The inclusion of the mycelium may alter the turkey tails’ properties slightly. For example, research suggests the fruiting body contains more beta-glucan, but the mycelium contains a broader range of compounds overall.
Turkey Tail Capsules
Finally, turkey tail capsules are perhaps the easiest consumption method. They are powdered turkey tails, enclosed in a capsule shell. It is possible to simply swallow the capsules with water, taking much of the hassle out of dosing.
The primary downside is that capsules may be more expensive than whole mushrooms or powder. They may also contain gelatin, making them unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans. An alternative to pre-made capsules is buying empty casings and filling them with powder at home.
Bottom Line on Turkey Tail Mushrooms
Turkey tail mushrooms are becoming increasingly well-known for their potential health benefits. East Asian medical traditions have recognized their usefulness for centuries, and they are now becoming more popular in the West.
Turkey tail mushrooms are becoming increasingly well-known for their potential health benefits.
One of the most famous turkey tail benefits is their ability to modulate the immune system. They could also have other positive effects, although these are still under investigation. Anyone wishing to try turkey tails for a specific health condition should consult a physician or herbalist for further advice.