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The health benefits of this beautiful mushroom are anything but ordinary

Turkey tail

Trametes versicolor Polyporaceae

An ancient Chinese tonic and lung support, Turkey Tail has come to the fore in modern times as a powerful immune modulator, being able to both stimulate a depressed immune system and calm an overactive one, and has been applied most extensively to the field of oncology.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

Not currently on risk lists but complete data may be missing on the status of the species. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Cancer support
  • Immune modulator
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Antiviral
  • 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?

    Turkey tail
    Turkey tail

    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).

  • Traditional uses

    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.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    Harvested turkey tail mushrooms
    Harvested turkey tail mushrooms

    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).

  • Research

    Turkey-tail porebracket (Trametes versicolor) on a rotting fallen tree
    Turkey-tail porebracket (Trametes versicolor) on a rotting fallen tree

    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:

    Immunity

    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).  

    Cancer

    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). 

    Trametes versicolor mushroom
    Trametes versicolor mushroom

    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.  

    Gut health 

    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.

Additional information

  • Botanical description

    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.

  • Common names

    • Coriolus
    • yun zhi (China)
    • karawatake (Japan)
  • Safety

    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.

  • Interactions

    No well-documented interactions of note.

  • Contraindications

    Avoid in case of mushroom allergy and with immunosuppressive chemotherapy for autoimmunity (7).

  • Preparation

    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.

  • Dosage

    • 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
    • Mycelium
  • Constituents

    • Polysaccharides: Polysaccharide-krestin (PSK), polysaccharide-peptide (PSP)
    • Bioactive flavonoids: Baicalein, baicalin, quercetin, isorhamnetin, catechin, amentoflavone (18)
turkey tail illustration
  • Habitat

    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.

  • Sustainability

    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.

  • Quality control

    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.

  • References

    1. Pengelly A. The Constituents of Medicinal Plants. 3rd ed. Boston: CABI, 2021. 
    2. 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
    3. 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
    4. 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
    5. 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
    6. Kidd PM. The use of mushroom glucans and proteoglycans in cancer treatment. Altern Med Rev. 2000;5(1):4-27.
    7. Powell M. Medicinal Mushrooms: A Clinical Guide 2nd ed. Dorset: Caric Press, 2014.
    8. 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
    9. 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
    10. 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 
    11. 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
    12. 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
    13. 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. 
    14. Serrano L, López AC, Gonzålez 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
    15. 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
    16. 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
    17. State Pharmacopoeia Commission of the PRC. Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (Volume I). Beijing: People’s Medical Publishing House, 2005.  
    18. 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
    19. The Wildlife Trusts. Turkeytail. Accessed Jan 20 2023. https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/fungi/turkeytail
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

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