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Turkey Tail Mushroom: The Disease-

Fighting, Immune-Boosting Fungus


By Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS

October 12, 2018

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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.

What Is Turkey Tail Mushroom?

The turkey tail mushroom comes from the Trametes versicolor family, formerly Coriolus
versicolor (or “cloud mushroom”). It’s one of the 100 species of mushrooms that have been
researched for their medicinal properties.

Turkey tail mushroom grows on dead logs in woodland environments worldwide and gets its
name from the brown and tan rings that look like the tail feathers of a turkey. It’s a type of
bracket fungi, which means that it forms thin, circular structures that appear leaf-like.

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. (2)

Turkey tail mushroom is best known to stimulate immune function and reduce inflammation.
It has a long history of use in Asia among practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, who
used formulations of turkey tail to promote general health, strength and longevity. (3)

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
against ill-causing germs. When flu season approaches, you may want to include turkey tail as
a supplement in your dietary routine. (4)

The turkey tail mushroom has been shown to modulate the immune system, helping fight
infections, illness and diseases. (5)

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. A stronger immune system can help combat deadly cancer cells, making the turkey
tail mushroom a potentially potent cancer-fighting food. (6)
3. May Help Combat Cancer

For more than 30 years, medicinal mushrooms have been used as adjuncts to standard cancer
treatments in Japan and China. They are used for various types of cancer, including lung
cancer, breast cancer, gastric cancer and colorectal cancer. More research is needed to
understand the true benefits of turkey tail mushroom for cancer, but there is evidence that it
may help significantly improve survival, according to a review done by the National Cancer
Institute. (7)

PSK, the best known active compound found in turkey tail mushroom, has been studied in
patients with several types of cancer, and it has been safely used for cancer in Japan with few
reported side effects. Studies show that PSK helps repair immune cell damage that’s caused
by chemotherapy and strengthen the immune system.

When six randomized clinical trials in patients with lung cancer were conducted, researchers
found that patients receiving PSK improved in one or more ways, including body weight,
well-being, immune function, tumor-related symptoms and longer survival.

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. (8)

4. Helps Treat Human Papilloma Virus

Mushrooms, in particular the turkey tail mushroom, may help heal infections, such as an oral
strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV). According to a study of 61 patients with gum
disease testing positive for oral HPV, 88 percent of the 41 patients who received both turkey
tail and reishi mushrooms showed positive results after only two months of treatment.
(9) HPV in the mouth can sometimes lead to oropharyngeal cancer of the mouth.

5. Aids in Digestion

The mycelium in the mushroom is what may help you have a smoother digestion process
when supplementing with turkey tail mushroom. 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. This better digestion could even help you lose weight.
(10)

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. (11)
Turkey Tail Nutrition Facts

Due to its ability to help cancer patients, turkey tail is considered 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.

Turkey tail mushrooms work by providing a big boost to our immune systems. They contain
B-glucans, a type of 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 vegetative part of fungus
that’s 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.

Turkey Tail Uses in Ayurveda, TCM and Traditional Medicine

Eastern cultures have revered the powerful health benefits of mushrooms for thousands of
years. In the classic herbal text the “Shen Nong Ben Cao,” written in 200 A.D., medicinal
mushrooms are discussed for their healing potential.

In traditional Chinese medicine, turkey tail mushroom is known as Tun Zhi. It’s been used
by practitioners of TCM as an immunomodulator that boosts immune function and fights
infections. This ability to support the health of both an underactive and overactive immune
system is unique and valued among physicians of traditional medicine.

Turkey tail mushroom is also revered for its potential antitumor mechanisms and its ability to
treat pulmonary disease. In Japan, a purified hot water extract was traditionally made from
cultivated fungal mycelium and used as an adjuvant treatment for cancer. (12)

Turkey Tail Mushrooms vs. Reishi vs. Chaga


With so much interest in medicinal mushrooms, you may be wondering which one has the
most health benefits. The truth is that, from what the research indicates, there are over 100
species of mushrooms that have therapeutic and healing properties. Three of the most popular
mushrooms on the market are turkey tail, reishi and chaga. Here’s a quick rundown on how
they compare:

 Turkey tail mushroom: Turkey tail mushroom is consumed or taken as a supplement


to stave off infection, offer support to patients undergoing chemotherapy and feed the
beneficial bacteria in the gut.
 Reishi mushroom: Reishi mushroom plays a role in balancing hormones, stabilizing
blood sugar levels, fighting allergies and asthma, and promoting heart and liver health.
 Chaga mushroom: Chaga mushroom is used to reduce inflammation, enhance
endurance, boost immune function and fight viral infections.

All of these mushrooms are available in capsule, tablet and tincture forms, and they are often
used together in mushroom tea and mushroom coffee.

Where to Find and How to Use Turkey Tail

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, which you can find online or in your local vitamin store.

It’s best to buy organic to avoid toxins that may be found in the soil, especially since one of
the biggest benefits comes from 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.

Turkey Tail Mushroom Supplements and Dosage

Turkey tail mushroom supplements are available in capsule form and usually taken to support
a healthy immune system. In case your furry friends need some immune support, you can find
turkey tail mushroom supplements for dogs too.

Clinical evidence doesn’t support one specific dosage for turkey tail. Product labels usually
suggest taking one to three capsules daily with meals and a glass of water. Turkey tail is also
available in extract and powder forms, which can be added to water, juice or a smoothie.

Polysaccharide-K (known as PSK) is a protein-bound polysaccharide that’s isolated from


turkey tail mushroom and used as a dietary supplement. It’s extremely popular in Japan for its
anticancer properties and is taken orally to improve the response to chemotherapy for people
with various types of cancer. For several decades, PSK has been used in Japan for breast,
lung, gastric, esophageal, colorectal, hepatic and nasopharyngeal cancers. In Japan, PSK is
meant to help patients undergoing chemotherapy restore their immune status. (13)

PSK cannot be legally sold in the United States; 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 marketed as a supplement.

Turkey Tail Mushroom vs. False Turkey Tail Mushroom

There’s actually a type of mushroom that’s referred to as “false turkey tail mushroom” or
golden curtain crust because they are turkey tail mushroom lookalikes. The scientific name
for false turkey mushroom is Stereum ostrea, and it’s a basidiomycete fungus. Like turkey tail
mushroom, false turkey tail has concentric circles of many colors, but they are described as
being more red than turkey tail. The name ostrea actually means “oyster” to describe the
mushroom’s shape.

Turkey tail mushroom and Stereum ostrea both contain compounds that inhibit the growth of
bacteria and fungi. False turkey tail mushroom has been used for folk remedies because of its
therapeutic compounds, including sesquiterpenes and other antimicrobial compounds. (14)

Turkey Tail Recipes

Turkey tail mushrooms are an edible type of fungi, and they can be utilized in a number of
recipes. For instance, you can make your very own turkey tail mushroom 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. To 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

INGREDIENTS:

 1 cup chopped turkey tail mushroom


 5 cups purified water
 2.5 teaspoons ground turmeric
 ½ teaspoon local honey
 1 drop lemon essential oil

DIRECTIONS:

1. Chop the turkey tail mushroom into small pieces and add to a large pot of water on the
stove.
2. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for an hour.
3. Strain the mixture through a colander. Add a ½ teaspoon of fresh ground turmeric and
the honey and stir.
4. Add the lemon essential oil and stir again.
5. 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.

History and Facts

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.” (15)

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, Asian cultures have been keen to
the turkey tail mushroom since the 15th century.

Precautions

It’s always best to check with your doctor prior to using any new food for medicinal purposes,
especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding or have any disease-related condition.

What are the side effects of turkey tail mushroom? 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. (16)

Final Thoughts

 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 patients, 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 you
adhere to the recommendations above regarding how to use it and buy it.

Read Next: Cordyceps for Anti-Aging & Exercise Performance

From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in
reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering
a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.