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.
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.
Turkey tail benefits include stimulating immune function and reducing 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.
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.
The turkey tail mushroom has been shown to modulate the immune system, helping fight infections, illness and diseases.
2. Can Offer Support to Chemo Patients
Benefits of turkey tail mushrooms may include helping 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.
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.
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.