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Medicinal Mushrooms: All about Turkey Tail Mushroom

Written by Sydney Waldner

 

Let me introduce you to the holy grail of medicinal mushrooms; Turkey tail. If you are a forest lover, there is a high chance that you have stumbled upon this mushroom or co-species of turkey tail. If you haven’t, then let the name of this mushroom tell you everything you need to know about its physical appearance. It looks extremely similar to (you guessed it) a turkey’s tail!

The beautiful details this mushroom offer us some head-turning features. However, its beauty is much deeper than what you can find on its fruiting body. Turkey tail mushrooms host an array of potent compounds. We have been utilizing the power of these compounds for centeries!

In this article, I will be giving you a breakdown of the basics of turkey tail, specific treatments, the effectiveness of said treatments, general information and somebenefits one can reap from its many applications! Before we go any further, let’s go over ‘‘What is turkey tail mushroom?’’.

What is turkey tail mushroom?

While it is most commonly referred to as turkey tail mushroom, it has a few other names that are used in mycology. Some include trametes versicolor, coriolus versicolor and polyporus versicolor. Turkey tail is a common polypore mushroom that can be found in nature across the globe. This name essentially means ‘of several colours’ due to ‘Versicolor’ most often describing that this fungus displays a variety of colours.

It is most commonly observed to have a wide range of red, brown and orange dues. The shape of this mushroom body resembles the tail of a turkey and its surface texture is described as ‘velvety’ to touch. The fruiting body of this mushroom is extremely recognizable and loved by many.

The typical habitat of this particular mushroom is deciduous wood, in the wounds of living hardwood trees and other dead bark. While it is most commonly spotted in Canada and the USA, it can be found in many countries around the world. Though it naturally occurs most in North America, China is a hotspot for the production of these mushrooms as well as extraction.

To this day, China is quick to prescribe this mushroom as standard practice in hospitals due to their strong belief in a holistic approach. They still believe in the medicinal benefits of this mushroom and many other medicinal mushrooms in China, just as much as they did in ancient times. Speaking of medicinal mushrooms, let’s talk about what that term actually means.

What are medicinal mushrooms?

Quite essentially, medicinal fungi are mushrooms that contain metabolites. If a mushroom hosts specific compounds that we know have medicinal benefits, it would make that mushroom fall into the medicinal category.

We most commonly try to use medicinal mushrooms to combat complications such as cancer, unhealthy cholesterol, immune disorders and much more.

Not only are many medicinal mushrooms excellent for your physical health but are also known to assist those who suffer from poor mental health. Many mushrooms have displayed promising results when used in treatments to fight mild depression, anxiety and sometimes even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

While we have been using these gifts from the Earth to heal serious health complications for a very long time, we are also beginning to (slowly) understand the possible benefits that come from simply supplementing extracts, as well.

Turkey tail mushroom is the #1 most researched medicinal mushroom so far. I believe that this speaks volumes when considering that we still have such a long way to go when it comes to clinical studies and data collection.

We know so much more about the turkey tail mushroom than any other medicinal mushroom, yet, we are only scratching the surface and will likely come across many other things this mushroom (and all medicinal mushrooms) can potentially do for humans.

Turkey tail mushroom and its medical benefits

Let’s talk about some specific health benefits that turkey tail has displayed during testing.

Turkey tail as a method for improving gut health

gut health

Essentially, gut health reflects the physical state and physiological function of different parts of the human gastrointestinal tract. A healthy gut generally contains good bacteria as well as immune cells that ward off infectious bacteria and viruses.

Additionally, a healthy gut will communicate with the brain through different hormones and nerves. Turkey tail contains natural prebiotics, which nourishes beneficial bacteria in the microbiome.

When this improves, it generally means you will experience smoother digestion. Supplementing turkey tail mushrooms can work as an effective tool in maintaining good gut health!

Turkey tail as an adaptogen

Adaptogens are used in herbal medicine and claim to stabilize psychological processes and promotion of homeostasis. Turkey tail is an adaptogenic mushroom that offers strong antiviral properties that make it effective in preventing and treating influenza and plausibly other viruses.

Some studies have shown us that it has an inhibitory effect against certain dangerous bacteria(s). Adaptogens, like turkey tail, are known for improving mental and physical health through working with the natural pathways of the body.

This can assist in regulating things like mood, energy, recovery, etc.

Turkey tail as a cancer treatment

brain scans

A vital factor in treating cancer patience is providing methods that help strengthen the immune system. This mushroom hosts two very powerful polysaccharides compounds called PSK and PSP.

These compounds have been studied extensively and so have their specific effects on boosting immune function in cancer patients who are facing chemotherapy. More specifically, some studies have shown us that this mushroom has a powerful effect on lung, breast and gastrointestinal cancer!

Turkey tail as a tool against fatigue

Scientists that have studied this mushroom have learned a lot in regards to how it can fight fatigue. According to multiple studies, taking turkey tail extracts can raise the white blood cell count in the human body.

This can indicate the mushroom’s capability to stimulate a specific region of the immune system. Not only could this protect you against some diseases and illnesses, but it could also help fight fatigue, even on a chronic level.

One study shows that PSP increases the body’s production of interferon, which encourages cells to communicate with each other. A rise in these numbers in the body will lead to feeling more energized.

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Final Thoughts

While there is a lot of certainty surrounding the turkey tail mushroom being an effective method for specific health complications, the research is ongoing. We have only dipped our toes into the possibilities and have a lot to discover about this medicinal mushroom and how we can optimize our application/use of it.

Many individuals find it surprising when they hear about the powerful effects of medicinal mushrooms. However, the only reason why we have survived and evolved to this point is from our long history of consuming medicinal plants and mushrooms.

Foraging and hunting are the oldest practices known to mankind. Mushrooms have played a huge role in human history and has lead us down a path of survival and are to thank for helping us get to where we are today!

Thanks to science and medicinal research, we can begin to truly understand the technology hidden in the mushroom kingdom and the endless ways we can apply said technology to our strive toward longevity.

I would like to end this article with a few quotes by a beloved mycologist in the community. Paul Stamets is a proud advocate for mushrooms and how they can help both humans and the planet.

He believes that using turkey tail mushroom as a treatment for his mother’s cancer was a prominent factor in her recovery. In fact, he even completed a both information and touching TED talk about his mother’s cancer journey and how he believes that turkey tail mushroom may have saved her life.

Paul Stamets
Credit: Fantastic Fungi

Paul Stamets Quotes

‘‘The task that we face today is to understand the language of nature.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘‘Mushrooms are miniature pharmaceutical factories, and of the thousands of mushroom species in nature, our ancestors and modern scientists have identified several dozen that have a unique combination of talents that improve our health.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘‘Mycelium is Eath’s natural internet.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes. These membranes are aware, react to change, and collectively have the long-term health of the host environment in mind.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘‘Fungi are the interface organism between life and death.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘‘Nature is a numbers game. We need all the support we can get as our immune systems and health are under assault from pollution, stress, contaminated food and age-related diseases as our lifespans increase.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘‘Through trial-and-error and observable outcomes, our ancestors narrowed the field of edible mushroom candidates to just a few with remarkable, health-supporting properties.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

‘‘Mushrooms can heal you, they can feed you and they can kill you.’’ – Quote by Paul Stamets.

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