The Medicinal Turkey Tail Mushroom
Medicinal mushrooms are having a moment right now, and they’re not going away any time soon. You’re probably seeing more and more mushroom capsules, teas, and extracts that claim to improve focus, fight disease, and make you live longer.
Turkey tail mushroom tops the medicinal mushroom list.
Turkey tail mushroom is one worth paying attention to. Unlike a lot of species of fungi that the scientific community largely ignores, turkey tail mushroom is being studied more and more for its effects on the immune system, infections, and even cancer. Here are the benefits of turkey tail mushroom and what you need to know.
What is turkey tail mushroom?
Turkey tail mushroom goes by several names -- trametes versicolor, coriolus versicolor, polyporus versicolor, Yun Zhi in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or kawaratake in Japanese. It all refers to the same bracket fungus, aka a mushroom that grows outward like a shelf, that feeds on the fibers of dead wood.
In the wild, turkey tail mushroom looks like the fanned tail feathers of a male wild turkey that’s strutting his stuff for the ladies. You may see it growing on decaying wood in rainy areas or near creeks or streams. Foragers will look for them in high-moisture areas where there are lots of fallen trees.
Turkey tail mushroom benefits
Traditional healers have been using turkey tail mushroom for thousands of years to stimulate the immune system, to combat fatigue, to ease digestive trouble, to treat upper respiratory infections, and even for more serious conditions like hepatitis and cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver.
More and more research confirms that ancient healers were onto something. Scientists found that there are two main carbohydrates that fuel your immune system: polysaccharide krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP) pack a powerful immune-boosting punch. They act as both immune activators and immune modulators (aka they tell an overactive immune system to chill out) so that your body responds the way it needs to when it’s under attack. It has even shown activity against serious microbes such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Another way turkey tail mushroom indirectly strengthens your immune system is by providing food for your friendly gut bacteria. Turkey tail mushroom is a great source of prebiotics, which feed the good microbe strains that help you fight infections. You may see improvements in digestion for this reason.
Turkey tail mushroom and cancer
There’s emerging evidence that turkey tail mushroom attacks cancer from three different angles. First, it’s packed with antioxidants, which protect healthy cells from free radicals, atoms that can harm healthy cells and cause tumors to develop or multiply. In one study, turkey tail mushroom extract showed protective effects against DNA damage.
Second, scientists have found that PSK has anti-tumor effects. In test tube studies, PSK caused lung, skin, cervical, pancreatic and other tumor cells to self-destruct. The Japanese government has approved PSK itself as a cancer treatment.
Third, a strong immune system can slow or suppress tumor formation and proliferation. Researchers were able to turkey tail mushroom and its active compounds to increase white blood cells in test tube studies. White blood cells, specifically macrophages, fight infection and clean up cellular waste that could cause damaged cells to replicate, which gives way to tumors.
On top of that, turkey tail is slowly crossing into the mainstream as a way to support your body’s natural defenses during chemotherapy, which knocks out your immune system with each treatment. In 2012, the FDA approved the use of turkey tail mushroom extract alongside chemotherapy to help counter some of the negative effects of chemo on the immune system.
How to use turkey tail mushroom
It’s a bad idea to go foraging for any mushroom unless you have extensive training in identifying wild mushrooms. A lot of mushrooms look alike, and mistakes can be deadly or make you extremely sick. If you’re after the whole mushroom, it’s best to purchase them or tag along with a qualified mushroom foraging expert.
How to make turkey tail mushroom tea
Once you get your hands on some turkey tail mushroom, you can follow these steps to make tea from it:
- Steep 2-3 tbsp chopped turkey tail mushroom in 8oz of hot water for 4 minutes, then strain
- Add lemon and sweeten to taste -- we recommend 2-3 drops of Lakanto Liquid Monkfruit Extract
- Sip and enjoy its fruity, earthy flavor
Turkey tail mushroom supplements: powder, extract or capsules
You can buy turkey tail mushroom in powder, extract or capsule form.
- Powder. You can mix powdered turkey tail mushroom into smoothies, coffee, or sprinkle on food. Make sure the only ingredient is turkey tail mushroom.
- Capsules. Make sure the only ingredients are the turkey tail mushroom itself and the capsule, usually listed as vegetable cellulose or hypromellose. It doesn’t matter if something in a capsule clumps together, so any anti-caking ingredients are filler.
- Extract. Again, check the label. Turkey tail mushroom extracts should contain only turkey tail mushroom and alcohol.
Whichever you choose, follow package directions and check with your doctor before starting any supplement.
Turkey tail mushroom side effects
Turkey tail mushroom has been used safely for thousands of years, and has been used as a complementary therapy to chemo in cancer patients since the 1970s. Few side effects have been reported, mostly related to digestive discomfort, but most people do just fine with it. There’s always a chance you could be allergic to it, so start slow.
As a general rule, it’s a good idea to give your body a periodic break from herbal supplements. A lot of practitioners advise to take at least a week off every three weeks, and a full month off every three months. Ask your functional medicine doctor for guidance.
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