Turkey Tail Mushrooms: A Complete Guide

Turkey tail fungus growing in the wild
© James Aloysius Mahan V/Shutterstock.com

Written by Gray Chapman

Updated: May 22, 2023

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Are you curious about the potential health benefits of mushrooms? If you’ve heard about the psychedelic powers of psilocybin mushrooms, you may be interested in discovering other types of mushrooms that offer similar advantages without any risk of delirium. One such type is the turkey tail mushroom — and they’re growing in popularity daily.

These mushrooms are not just a delicious and nutritious treat; their rich flavor and immune-supporting benefits make them an unbeatable addition to any meal. Furthermore, they can grow abundantly in the wild all year round — so you don’t need to break the bank to reap their benefits.

Get the most out of these great mushrooms with this comprehensive guide. It will arm you with all the information necessary to reap their plentiful benefits. We’ll cover where they can be found in the wild and how best to prepare them for your kitchen. Read on and get ready to unlock the amazing medicinal potential of this delicious fungus.

What Are Turkey Tail Mushrooms?

Turkey tail mushrooms are fungi that grow on tree stumps or fallen logs. If you’ve ever ventured into the North American woods, you have likely encountered the turkey tail mushroom. The mushroom can also grow on specific living trees such as conifers and hardwoods.

It’s also worth noting that turkey tail mushroom is known scientifically by the following three names:

  • Polyporus versicolor
  • Trametes versicolor
  • Coriolus versicolor

In Chinese, the mushroom is referred to as Yun Zhi, which, when translated, means “cloudy fungus.” The Japanese refer to the turkey tail mushroom as Kawaratake, meaning “mushroom that grows by the riverbank.”

If you’re ever out in the wild and come across some turkey tail mushrooms, lucky you! These sought-after fungi are safe to eat and provide a wide range of health benefits. It’s best to pick them between May through December, during autumn and winter because that’s when they release their spores.

How To Identify Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Turkey tail mushroom (Coriolus versicolor)

Turkey tails grow in a cluster with multiple colorations consisting of orange, white, and red shades resembling a turkey’s rear.

©Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.com

Although numerous mushroom species look like the turkey tail, there are specific features you can check to ensure you harvest the right mushroom. These grow in a cluster with multiple colorations consisting of orange, white, and red shades resembling a turkey’s rear. 

However, other mushroom species also consist of a variety of colors. If you want to find the actual turkey tail mushroom, inspect it for the following features:

Are There Pores Underneath the Mushroom?

Turkey tails are a polypore species, which means their underside parts contain pores instead of gills. Other medicinal fungi that are polypores include tinder polypores and reishi. If the mushroom doesn’t have any pores, you’re likely looking at Stereum ostrae, commonly referred to as crusty fungus or false turkey tail. 

The turkey tail mushroom and crusty fungus have colorful rings on their top surface and are thin and tough, making them appear identical. The underside part of the Stereum ostrae mushroom species is very soft. Although the crusty fungus is also non-toxic and believed to have antibiotic properties, little research has been done on it, unlike the turkey tail mushroom, which has known medicinal benefits.

Are the Pores Tiny?

The presence of pores isn’t enough to identify actual turkey tail mushrooms. If the underside pores are easy to spot and appear at the rate of one to three pores per millimeter, then the mushroom is another type. Turkey tail mushrooms have microscopic pores that would force you to squint your eyes to see them. The pores of true turkey tails are spaced at three to eight pores every millimeter.

If you are carrying a ballpoint pen, use its tip to check the spacing of the pores. The end of a ballpoint pen has an average diameter of one millimeter. If you can spot more than three pores within the diameter of the ballpoint pen, then it’s an actual turkey tail mushroom. If there are fewer than three pores within the pen’s diameter, then the mushroom is another Trametes species.

Does the Mushroom Have a Smooth Surface?

Another way to identify the Polyporus versicolor mushroom is to feel the texture of its surface. If the mushroom’s surface feels rough or hairy, it’s a different species. Turkey tails have an exterior so smooth that it glistens in the sunlight. 

The mushroom should have a silver shine, and its surface should be as soft as velvet. The turkey tail fungus is sometimes challenging to see with your naked eye because of its glossy appearance.

Is the Mushroom’s Cap Colorfully Striped?

If the mushroom’s cap has one solid color, white or gray, it’s the hairy bracket fungus, known scientifically as Trametes hirsuta. The top of the turkey tail mushroom is made of colorfully striped rings instead of a single color. Moreover, the hairy bracket fungus has a furry texture due to the tiny hair-like structures on its surface.

Are the Mushrooms Flexible?

Although mushrooms grow dry as they age, especially after harvesting, the turkey tail mushroom maintains a somewhat flexible and relaxed state after drying. If you harvest the mushrooms and realize they are stiff and rigid after drying up, you are likely dealing with another mushroom species called Trametes ochracea.

How to Harvest Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Once you find the real turkey tail mushrooms in the wilderness, how should you harvest them? When is the best time to collect the mushrooms? We recommend gathering them while they are still young, between one to two months old. Young mushrooms are in better shape than older mushrooms, and they contain more nutrients that are beneficial to your health.

When harvesting, ensure that the turkey tail mushroom has a smooth white underside and brightly colored rings on the top, which are the tell-tale signs of young, healthy mushrooms. The mushroom is no longer edible if you notice a brown, tan, or red underside and brown patches on the cap.

Also, remember to check for bugs when harvesting turkey tails. Avoid harvesting mushrooms that have green mold.

The best way to harvest the mushrooms is by using a sharp knife. Since mushrooms grow in the wilderness, they are covered in dirt and grit. Therefore, after harvesting your shrooms, scrub them thoroughly using an old toothbrush with soft bristles to clean them up. Carefully examine the mushrooms and remove any wooden bits using kitchen shears. The bits of wood, dirt, and grit are why we don’t recommend eating mushrooms raw after collecting them. Always clean your mushrooms first.

Turkey tail mushrooms are tough and chewy if cooked or taken raw. Moreover, the mushrooms don’t have a very appealing taste. If you want to enjoy your mushrooms and get all the health benefits, we advise drying the mushrooms and grinding them into powder before consuming them.

Health Benefits of Turkey Tail Mushrooms

For centuries, the medicinal properties of turkey tail mushrooms have been praised in Japanese and Chinese cultures as a key ingredient for traditional medicines. For example, Chinese people use them to tackle lung ailments, whereas Japanese folks depend on them to bolster their immune systems.

And now, research shows that these fungi can also benefit our health today. Not only do they help fight off diseases, but they can also contribute to overall wellness by providing vital nutrients and vitamins to our bodies, and here’s how:

Help in Fighting Cancers

Did you know that turkey tail mushrooms can prevent the growth of specific cancerous cells in your body? Most scientific research about turkey tail mushrooms today focuses on how extracts from the mushroom can help fight against cancers like gastric and lung cancer. Countries like Japan and China have approved extracts from the turkey tail mushroom species to be used as supplementary treatments in people with cancer.

When it comes to your health and fighting off cancerous tumors, turkey tail mushrooms can be a great ally. This type of mushroom has been known to increase your immunity which helps fight the growth of tumors. Cancerous tumors typically grow larger over time because they can suppress your body’s natural immune system. These mushrooms can help the body resist this suppression, preventing the tumor from growing larger.

Also, people undergoing chemotherapy can benefit significantly from taking turkey tail mushrooms because their immune systems will improve. Chemotherapy also suppresses one’s immune system, making one vulnerable to other opportunistic diseases.

Besides improving the immune system, turkey tails can help to boost the long-term outcomes of specific cancer patients, particularly those with esophageal cancer. Although turkey tail mushrooms have promising results, more research must be carried out to determine how the mushroom extracts can be used to beat cancer.

Boosts the Functioning of the Nervous System

Do you want to improve your brain function? Turkey tails may be just what you need. The mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, which help to improve your memory capacity and repair damage caused by inflammation. 

When your body experiences an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants, you experience oxidative stress. Oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation and cellular damage, which can lead to severe neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

People who eat turkey tail mushrooms have less cellular stress, which ensures their brain cells are protected from damage, hence lowering their risk of developing neurological illnesses.

Fights Viruses

Turkey tail extracts such as Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP) and Krestin (PSK) treat several viral infections. For example, the PSK and PSP mushroom extracts effectively treat the human papillomavirus (HPV) when combined with extracts from other types of mushrooms. HPV is an STI that causes genital warts to form around the genital areas and can cause cancer. Although HPV usually disappears without treatment, taking turkey tail mushrooms can help treat oral HPV.

Improves the Performance of the Liver

Suppose you want your liver function to improve and fight disorders that affect the liver, such as jaundice, then turkey tail mushrooms are the way to go. Extracts from the mushrooms have been used to treat liver-related illnesses in China for ages.

These mushrooms reduce fat accumulation in your liver and decrease the inflammation caused by consuming excessive alcohol. So, take turkey tail mushrooms frequently if you want a healthy and simple way to avoid damaging your liver.

Boosts Metabolism and Gut Health

A study was carried out on diabetic rats fed with turkey tail mushrooms. After examination, scientists discovered that the rats had reduced glucose and cholesterol levels after eating the mushrooms. The research shows that turkey tail mushrooms can help to improve your metabolism and lower your sugar levels. 

Moreover, a different study showed that the PSP extract in turkey tail mushrooms could increase the number of good bacteria in your gut if paired with a prebiotic.

Are There Side Effects of Taking Mushrooms?

A turkey-tail mushroom growing from the side of a moss-covered tree trunk

People with diabetes should also be careful when using turkey tail mushrooms.

©Slobodan Cvetkovic/Shutterstock.com

Turkey tail mushrooms are generally safe because they offer many health benefits. However, several people may experience side effects after taking the mushrooms, especially for the first time. Some of the mild side effects of taking turkey tail mushrooms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Dark stool
  • Dark fingernails
  • Bloating

The above side effects will fade once the mushroom is out of your system. However, if the symptoms worsen or persist, please seek medical attention immediately because you could have a severe allergic reaction. If you always have an allergic reaction to mold, you will likely be allergic to all types of mushrooms, so practice caution when using mushroom extracts.

People with diabetes should also be careful when using turkey tail mushrooms. The mushrooms lower your blood sugar level, which might be dangerous if your sugar levels are already low when consuming the mushrooms.

When it comes to children, there isn’t much research on the effect of turkey tail mushrooms. We recommend keeping them away from minors as a safety precaution. For expecting and lactating mothers, it is best to consult with their healthcare provider before taking mushrooms, as there are limited reliable studies available.

Do Turkey Tail Mushrooms Taste Good?

These mushrooms are great for your health if you consume them reasonably. Many mushroom species look identical to turkey tails, so ensure you’ve got the right mushrooms before you consume them. Other look-alike mushrooms may not have the same medical benefits that turkey tails have to offer.

If you want to work on your metabolism, improve your liver’s health, boost your brain’s functioning, fight viral infections, and lower your risk of getting cancer, consider adding these mushrooms to your diet. The positive health effects associated with turkey tail mushrooms prove that they benefit your body’s overall health.

Turkey tail mushrooms are easy to spot if you know the features to look for. Make sure the mushroom has tiny pores on the underside, a smooth velvet-like surface, and bright-colored rings on its cap. Always harvest the young fresh mushrooms because the old mushrooms might have mold. The best way to consume turkey tail mushrooms is in powder form. You can use the powder to make some tea or prepare soup to add your favorite flavors and enjoy the mushrooms—whatever you prefer.

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