How does it feel?
While it is an edible fungus, Turkey Tail is rather tough and chewy and not especially palatable. It is best decocted as a tea or taken as a powder. The powder is mild in flavour, slightly earthy and may readily be added to food or drink for a health-boosting beverage or meal.
What can I use it for?
Mushrooms are perhaps the best source of readily absorbed beta-glucan polysaccharides which are known to have immune modulating and stimulating effects (1). This is in part achieved by the stimulation of the release of cytokines (chemical messengers involved in the immune response). Turkey Tail has especially high levels of these wonderful immune-boosting constituents. The primary therapeutic polysaccharides extracted from the mycelium of Turkey Tail are polysaccharide-krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide-peptide (PSP). Drugs derived from these extracts are licensed and have been in regular use for several decades in China (PSP) and Japan (PSK) as adjuncts to conventional treatment for a number of cancers where their immunomodulatory action is believed to enhance the efficacy of treatment, reduce the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapies, support recovery and extend survival times (2-6).
These immune benefits extend themselves to management of the common cold and Turkey Tail may be taken as a preventative to boost the immune system at the beginning of flu season or used to reduce the severity and duration of colds and flu that have already set in (7).
Turkey tail may also be helpful as an anti-viral aid and has shown promising results in treating herpes simplex virus (HSV), HIV, human papilloma virus (HPV) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS/ME) with a high viral load (7).
Into the heart of Turkey Tail
While other fungi slumber, this potent mushroom carries on returning nutrients to the forest and offering up its healing potential. It is a true ally of the natural world, encouraging both woodlands and humans to thrive throughout the seasons.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, yun zhi (Turkey Tail) has been used for hundreds of years to boost vitality and wellbeing at times of weakness, especially in chronic conditions and respiratory illness.
Energetically, it affects the lungs, liver and spleen and is sweet and slightly warm, therefore, nourishing and strengthening in cases of debility. It is also slightly bitter meaning it ‘directs downwards’; promoting the draining of dampness from the body and calming cough by redirecting ‘rebellious’ Lung qi (7).
Turkey tail, known as ‘cloud mushroom’ (yun zhi) in China and ‘roof tile fungus’ (karawatake) in Japan, has a long history of use in Asia where it has been used to boost energy, digestion, lung and liver health and aid in convalescence from disease and chronic conditions.
What practitioners say
While Turkey Tail has had numerous applications over time it has been shown to be beneficial for myriad conditions in research. This includes hyperlipidemia, diseases of the liver, candida and in supporting gut health. In the present day the primary therapeutic function of Turkey Tail mushrooms is to support cancer patients. (7)
Mushroom polysaccharides (including Turkey Tail’s PSP and PSK) exhibit anti-inflammatory activity, inhibit cancer cell proliferation, promote cancer cell death (apoptosis) and reduce chemotherapy and radiotherapy side effects (7,8). When treating such serious conditions, it is important to see a qualified, integrative and specialised healthcare practitioner for the best support.
PSK and PSP appear to increase our immune system’s response to cancer cells – in particular of solid tumours – and clinical trials have yielded positive results when administered alongside conventional treatments for stomach, colorectal, lung, oesophageal, nasopharyngeal, breast, cervical and uterine cancers (7). Beta-glucan (polysachharide)-rich mushrooms such as Turkey Tail may support recovery from radiotherapy and chemotherapy by increasing diminished blood cell counts and bone marrow activity, respectively (8).
Owing largely to their use with cancer patients, Turkey Tail mushrooms are one of the most extensively researched of all the medicinal mushrooms. Many clinical trials exploring its potential benefits for oncology were conducted in China and Japan from the 1960s-1990s, the period where PSP and PSK became licensed pharmaceuticals and were routinely used as adjuncts to conventional cancer therapy in these countries, respectively. A 2000 review of these earlier studies concluded that “their extremely high tolerability, proven benefits to survival and quality of life, and compatibility with chemotherapy and radiation therapy makes [PSK and PSP] well suited for cancer management regimens” (6).
More recent studies include:
A 2019 in vitro study looking at the immunostimulant and immunomodulatory properties of T.versicolor mycelium versus its substrate (the substance on which the mycelium was cultured, in this case rice flour) found that both had strong immune-activating effects; the mycelium strongly induced CD69 (a marker of T cell activation) on lymphocytes and monocytes (white blood cells involved in fighting infection) while the fermented substrate triggered a large increase in immune-activating cytokines (9).
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Phase 1 randomised control trial (RCT) included in the Mushrooms and Chinese Herbs for Covid-19 (MACH-19) trials is currently underway exploring the effect of T.Versicolor and another mushroom, Fomitopsis officinalis (Quinine conk), when used as adjuncts to COVID-19 vaccinations. The trial, in which ninety subjects are enrolled, explores whether the immunomodulatory properties of these mushrooms might both enhance the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccination and reduce vaccination side-effects. The mushroom supplement (FoTv) will be given in capsule form at a dosage of eight capsules three times per day for four consecutive days (10).
A 2008 in vitro study exploring the mechanism of PSKs activity with regard to cancer cells found that it was cytotoxic to tumour cell lines and inhibited tumour cell proliferation at an inhibition rate of 28-84%. It did so by tumour cell cycle arrest and the stimulation of tumour cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) (11).
A later in vitro study also found that PSK stimulated Natural Killer (NK) cells in human immune cells to produce Interferon-Gamma (IFN-y) – a cytokine that stimulates an immune anti-tumour response. PSK was also found to increase the ability of the cancer drug, Trastuzumab, to mediate ADCC (antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity) against specific breast cancer cells (2).
A 2012 systematic review of thirteen double-blind RCTs on the efficacy of T. Versicolor on survival in cancer patients found that, while further studies were needed, there was “strong evidence” that T.Versicolor alongside conventional cancer treatments could offer survival benefit (according to the review, a 9% reduction in 5-year mortality) for cancer patients in particular in breast, gastric and colorectal cancers (3).
A later systematic review looked at PSK for lung cancer specifically, drawing on twenty-eight studies (six RCTs, five non-random control trials and seventeen preclinical trials) where it was given alongside and following chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The authors concluded that PSK may improve immune function, reduce tumour-associated symptoms and extend survival in lung cancer patients (4).
A 2019 systematic review of twenty-three RCTs involving 4,246 subjects into the use of both T.Versicolor and G. Lucidum (Reishi mushroom) products as adjuncts to cancer therapies concluded that these products may have the quality of life and survival benefits in cancer patients (5).
A U.S. Stage II clinical trial is currently underway exploring the use of a variety of complementary medicines in reducing surgical adverse events and raising the quality of life and survival rates of patients undergoing surgery for thoracic (lung, gastric and esophageal) cancers. 1.5g of T.Versicolor will be given twice daily alongside a number of other complementary medicines and nutrition, exercise and psychological recommendations (12).
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
A relatively small, yet promising, study in to supplementation with T.Versicolor for HPV found that 3g per day of its mycelial biomass resulted in nine out of ten high risk cases (those whose lesions were at the greatest risk of leading to cervical cancer) were clear of the virus after twelve months as compared to one in twelve from the control group (13).
A 2021 Phase IIB RCT involving ninety-one subjects explored the use of Papilocare, a T.Versicolor-based vaginal gel in healing HPV-related low-grade cervical lesions found there was a significant increase in normal pap smears and colposcopies after three and six-month periods as compared to the control group (78.0% and 84.9% vs 54.8% and 64.5%). This was especially true for women in the high-risk group (79.5% and 87.8% vs 52.0% and 56.0%). The cervical re-epithelisation score was also significantly higher in the treatment group. (14) Larger Papilocare Phase IIB and III studies are currently underway and an observational Phase IV study completed.
A small RCT with twenty-four participants found that PSP had prebiotic effects on gut microflora (15).
Did you know?
Turkey Tail is a popular supplement for dogs, primarily given for immune support.
Turkey Tail is a polypore (or bracket/ shelf) fungi, meaning its underside is covered in small pores as opposed to gills and they grow in tiered clusters of little ‘shelves’ on stumps, branches and logs. They are thin (trametes), multicoloured (versicolor) and fan out in beautiful semi-circular displays of autumnal striations, reminiscent of a turkey’s tail. The rings may also have shades of blue, black or even green, the latter occurring on older mushrooms where algae have settled. The underside and edge of the Turkey Tail mushroom will always be white or cream in colour. They are tough, grow up to 10cm wide, have a velvety feel on top and grow all year round.
- yun zhi (China)
- karawatake (Japan)
Turkey Tail is generally well tolerated. Up to 9g was given to women with breast cancer daily for a period of six months with no significant side effects (16). Adverse reactions are rare but may include darkening of stools and fingernails and digestive disturbance (6). Information regarding the safety of Turkey Tail for pregnant and breastfeeding women is lacking.
No well-documented interactions of note.
Avoid in case of mushroom allergy and with immunosuppressive chemotherapy for autoimmunity (7).
Today, Turkey Tail is most often taken as a powder in capsule form (including the commercial proteoglycan extracts PSP and PSK) or added to food or drink. These powders may be made up of the fruiting body (mushroom), mycelium (root-like thread system of fungi), mcyelial biomass (mycelium and the residual substrate – normally a grain – on which it was grown), fermentation broth (liquid in which the mycelium was grown) or a combination thereof.
In TCM, the mushroom fruiting body is decocted alongside other herbs in herbal formulae and drunk as a tea.
Turkey tail may also be chopped up, simmered for around twenty minutes and drunk as a decoction on its own or made in to a tincture.
- T. Versicolor polysaccharide extracts are typically taken at 3-6g/ day (7)
- Research with mycelial biomass (explain) supplements show benefits at the same dose (7)
- PSP and PSK are normally given at 3g/ day alongside conventional cancer treatments (7)
- Cancer recovery / maintenance: 1-2g polysaccharide extract / day (7), though it is important to see a specialist for cancer support.
- Immune support: 1-2g polysaccharide extract/ day (7)
- In TCM, the crude dried herb for decoction is used at 9 -27g (17)
Plant parts used
- Fruiting body
- Polysaccharides: Polysaccharide-krestin (PSK), polysaccharide-peptide (PSP)
- Bioactive flavonoids: Baicalein, baicalin, quercetin, isorhamnetin, catechin, amentoflavone (18)
Turkey Tail grows in woodlands across much of the globe on stumps, logs, fallen trees, dead trees and branches and sometimes on living trees. They are especially fond of deciduous hard woods.
Turkey tail grows abundantly across most of the world. If foraging, always seek the advice an experienced forager, exercise caution (there are a number of Turkey Tail lookalikes) and harvest sustainably by only taking half a patch at a time, leaving plenty behind and picking older mushrooms which will more likely have already released their spores.
High quality Turkey Tail supplements are without adulterants and carriers, have high levels of beta-glucans (over 20%) and polysaccharides.
How to grow
Turkey Tail is relatively easy to grow at home and best done with a tailored grow kit. It is also considered the easiest mushroom to grow on logs and this can be done via inoculation with sawdust or plug spawn.
You can also encourage the growth of Turkey Tail (and other fungi) in your garden or outside space simply by leaving dead wood and log piles for them to feed on (19).
The fruiting body takes around 1-2 months to grow.
- Pengelly A. The Constituents of Medicinal Plants. 3rd ed. Boston: CABI, 2021.
- Lu H, Yang Y, Gad E, et al. TLR2 agonist PSK activates human NK cells and enhances the antitumour effect of HER2-targeted monoclonal antibody therapy. Clin Cancer Res. 2011;17(21):6742-6753. doi:10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-1142
- Eliza WL, Fai CK, Chung LP. Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on survival in cancer patients: systematic review and meta-analysis. Recent Pat Inflamm Allergy Drug Discov. 2012;6(1):78-87. doi:10.2174/187221312798889310
- Fritz H, Kennedy DA, Ishii M, et al. Polysaccharide K and Coriolus versicolor Extracts for Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review. Integrative Cancer Therapies. 2015;14(3):201-211. doi:10.1177/1534735415572883
- Zhong L, Yan P, Lam WC, Yao L, Bian Z. Coriolus Versicolor and Ganoderma Lucidum Related Natural Products as an Adjunct Therapy for Cancers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Front Pharmacol. 2019;10:703. Published 2019 Jul 3. doi:10.3389/fphar.2019.00703
- Kidd PM. The use of mushroom glucans and proteoglycans in cancer treatment. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(1):4-27.
- Powell M. Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide 2nd ed. Dorset: Caric Press, 2014.
- Novak M, Vetvicka V. Beta-glucans, history, and the present: immunomodulatory aspects and mechanisms of action. J Immunotoxicol. 2008;5(1):47-57. doi:10.1080/15476910802019045
- Benson KF, Stamets P, Davis R, et al. The mycelium of the Trametes versicolor (Turkey tail) mushroom and its fermented substrate each show potent and complementary immune activating properties in vitro. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019;19(1):342. Published 2019 Dec 2. doi:10.1186/s12906-019-2681-7
- Gordon Saxe, University of San Diego. RCT of Mushroom Based Natural Product to Enhance Immune Response to COVID-19 Vaccination (MACH19). Accessed Jan 20 2023. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04951336
- Jiménez-Medina E, Berruguilla E, Romero I, et al. The immunomodulator PSK induces in vitro cytotoxic activity in tumour cell lines via arrest of cell cycle and induction of apoptosis. BMC Cancer. 2008;8:78. Published 2008 Mar 24. doi:10.1186/1471-2407-8-78
- Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. Pioneering Pre- and Post-Operative Integrative Care to Improve Thoracic Cancer Quality of Care – The Thoracic Peri-Operative Integrative Surgical Care Evaluation (POISE) Trial – Stage II. Accessed Jan 20 2023. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04871412
- Couto S., da Silva D.P. Evaluation of the Efficacy of CoriolusVersicolor Supplementation in HPV Lesions(LSIL). 20th European Congress of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2008.
- Serrano L, López AC, González SP, et al. Efficacy of a Coriolus versicolor-Based Vaginal Gel in Women With Human Papillomavirus-Dependent Cervical Lesions: The PALOMA Study. J Low Genit Tract Dis. 2021;25(2):130-136. doi:10.1097/LGT.0000000000000596
- Pallav K, Dowd SE, Villafuerte J, et al. Effects of polysaccharopeptide from Trametes versicolor and amoxicillin on the gut microbiome of healthy volunteers: a randomized clinical trial. Gut Microbes. 2014;5(4):458-467. doi:10.4161/gmic.29558
- Torkelson CJ, Sweet E, Martzen MR, et al. Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Trametes versicolor in Women with Breast Cancer. ISRN Oncol. 2012;2012:251632. doi:10.5402/2012/251632
- State Pharmacopoeia Commission of the PRC. Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (Volume I). Beijing: People’s Medical Publishing House, 2005.
- Habtemariam S. Trametes versicolor (Synn. Coriolus versicolor) Polysaccharides in Cancer Therapy: Targets and Efficacy. Biomedicines. 2020;8(5):135. Published 2020 May 25. doi:10.3390/biomedicines8050135
- The Wildlife Trusts. Turkeytail. Accessed Jan 20 2023. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/fungi/turkeytail