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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.