Turkey Tail, a famous polypore mushroom, whose shape and swirling variegated colors resemble the tail of a wild turkey, has recently garnered a lot of public attention due to studies that demonstrate its ability to support immune function and gut health. Read on to learn more about the history and benefits of the Turkey Tail mushroom, as well as easy ways to incorporate it in your wellness and vitality routine.

History of Turkey Tail

In the wild, Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) grows on dead hardwood throughout the world. Don’t be fooled by the name, however, because Turkey Tail is 100-percent vegan and doesn’t contain any animal parts! Its distinctive layered stripes of brown, tan, gray and white can be stunning. Inspired by its natural beauty, the Japanese call it “kawaritake,” or “cloud mushroom,” due to its resemblance to swirling clouds.

In many Asian cultures, Turkey Tail symbolizes longevity and health, spiritual attunement and infinity. Known in Chinese culture as Tun Zhi, it has been used for centuries by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as an immunomodulator that boosts immune function and helps fight infections. Brewed into a soothing tea and administered to clear dampness, increase energy, and strengthen the lungs, stomach and spleen, the mushroom’s ability to support the health of both an underactive and overactive immune system is unique and long valued among physicians of traditional medicine. 

So revered for its immune health properties, the Turkey tail mushroom was used in traditional medicine to provide potential antitumor mechanisms, and for pulmonary health issues. In Japan, for example, a purified hot water extract of Turkey Tail was traditionally made from cultivated mycelium and used as a support for those recovering from cancer.

Benefits of Turkey Tail

One of the most researched of all functional mushrooms, Turkey Tail is in a class of its own. It is known in particular for its potent natural polysaccharides, such as a protein-bound molecule known as  polysaccharide K (PSK), one of many polysaccharides that studies have shown can support a healthy and robust immune response, as well as polysaccharide peptide (PSP), which can help support management of an inflammatory response at the cellular level.

Turkey Tail also features a broad array of naturally occurring compounds that help improve stamina and support gut health, which, in turn, can correlate with a healthy immune system. It is packed with antioxidants, including powerful flavonoids and more than 35 phenols. They promote immune system health by helping management of inflammation and by stimulating the release of supportive compounds. It’s also replete in prebiotics, which nourish the beneficial bacteria in the gut and restore a balance of good flora in the gastrointestinal tract, helping with improved digestion and immune response.

Ways to Incorporate Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Turkey Tail, like all functional mushrooms, truly shines when you take it daily (whether that’s through food, tea or supplements). In many cultures, mushrooms such as Turkey Tail appear in soups or teas that are consumed to help support and regulate the immune system and improve overall health and wellness. With its mild taste – that some describe as mildly sweet – Turkey Tail is an easy ingredient to mix into a dish, side or beverage of your choice. In the winter, stir it into bone broth, soup, oatmeal or hot tea; in the summer, feel free to blend it with a smoothie or even whisk it into a salad dressing.