Herbal Profile: Turkey Tail |

By Sarena-Rae Santos, Natural Health Blogger

What is Turkey Tail

Turkey tail, sometimes referred to by its botanical names Trametes versicolor and Coriolus versicolor, is a common mushroom found in North America (1). Turkey tail mushrooms are thin and flexible, and the underside of the mushroom has pores. The top side of the mushroom has concentric bands, usually gray or brown, with very fine hairs that give it a velvet-like texture (2). Similarly to reishi, lion’s mane, and shiitake mushroom, turkey tail is saprotrophic, meaning it feeds off dead organic matter, such as a dead or dying tree, old stumps, or logs, which is where it grows (3). 

Health Benefits of Turkey Tail

Although turkey tail has grown in popularity for culinary preparations, it’s also used for herbal remedies due to its well-documented health benefits, including:

Antioxidant Properties

Antioxidants can help fight damage from harmful free radicals. The buildup of free radicals has been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease (4). Studies have found turkey tail contains antioxidants stemming from several phenols and flavonoids like quercetin and baicalein (5,6). The antibacterial properties of turkey tail are so powerful it’s been documented as a promising source of bioactive products for the pharmaceutical and food industry (7).

Antimicrobial Properties 

Turkey tail has documented antimicrobial properties (8). An antimicrobial property is when a substance, or in this case, an herb, can kill or suppress the spread of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi (10). In vitro, turkey tail extract inhibited the growth of bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Salmonella enterica (11). In a six-month HPV human study, a turkey tail-based vaginal gel resulted in nearly 85% of participants having a normal pap smear and colposcopy, and nearly 60% were completely cleared of HPV (12).

May Support the Immune System

The immune system protects the body from outside invaders, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins (13). When you support your immune system, you potentially support your body’s ability to fight sickness. Turkey tail’s phenol and flavonoid antioxidants support immune system health by reducing inflammation and releasing protective compounds (14). One study demonstrated quercetin’s ability to promote the release of immunoprotective proteins like interferon-y while inhibiting the release of pro-inflammatory enzymes like cyclooxygenase (COX) and lipoxygenase (LOX) (15).

Turkey tail’s krestin (PSK) and polysaccharide peptide (PSP) compounds also help influence and support the immune system (16). PSP increased monocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps fight germs like viruses, bacteria, fungi, and protozoa while eliminating infected cells and promoting immunity (17,18). PSK stimulates dendritic cells, promoting immunity to toxins and regulating immune responses (19).

May Improve Blood Sugar Levels

As of 2020, 34.2 million (1 in 10) Americans have diabetes, and another 88 million (1 in 3) Americans have prediabetes (20). On the bright side, studies have evaluated turkey tail’s compounds and discovered similar actions to some diabetic medications. In animal studies, turkey tail demonstrated the ability to significantly reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance in type 2 diabetic rats (21). Another animal study found that mice treated with turkey tail experienced lower blood sugar levels post-exercise and while resting (22).

Anticancer Properties 

Statistics say that 158.3 of every 100,000 individuals will die from cancer, but what if they didn’t have to (23)? Turkey tail’s immunomodulating properties may even help (24). In vitro,  turkey tail’s polysaccharopeptide content inhibited the growth and spread of human colon cancer cells (25). In animal studies, 45.5 to 90.9 milligrams per pound of body weight of Coriolus versicolor glucan (CVG), taken daily, significantly reduced tumor sizes in mice (26). A small human study found three to nine grams of turkey tail extract, taken daily, contributed to increased levels of cancer-fighting cells in the immune system in stage 1, 2, and 3 breast cancer patients (27). Additionally, a systematic review and meta-analysis of 10,684 patients discovered ​​PSK combined with chemotherapy was superior, improving survival rates in colorectal or intestinal cancer patients (28).

Safety Concerns

According to the mainstream, turkey tail mushroom is likely safe for most people and is well-tolerated for most healthy adults. They claim there isn’t enough reliable information to know if turkey tail is safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding, cautioning to avoid use. They warn that some people who received chemotherapy and a substance extracted from turkey tail mushroom called polysaccharide krestin (PSK) reported nausea, vomiting, low white blood cell counts, and liver problems. Of course, there’s no way to know if these side effects were due to the chemotherapy or PSK, but I am banking on the chemotherapy (29). 

Although I couldn’t find any herbalists who spoke on the safety profile of turkey tail, Mountain Rose Herbs states there are no known precautions (30). 

I’d like to note that turkey tail is a mushroom, a food that can be purchased in some grocery stores. To claim a mushroom with as many documented health benefits as turkey tail is potentially unsafe is unrealistic. I could understand if it were a toxic fungus, but it is used as a meat substitute throughout the plant-based community, and it is completely safe to consume, even while pregnant and breastfeeding. Of course, not every herb is right for every person, so discontinue usage if you find turkey tail isn’t the right fit for you. 

How to Use Turkey Tail

You can find turkey tail as whole mushrooms pills, powders, teas, extracts, or tinctures. Tinctures always contain the most concentrated amount of herbs. Teas and soups are also options, especially when following Ayurvedic medicine recipes. If you’re a DIY person, some great starter recipes are:

Follow the recommendations of any supplement; some of my recommendations include:

  • Earthley’s Mushroom Tincture is a great way to get the benefits of medicinal mushrooms in a highly bioavailable liquid form.  We use only the whole fruiting bodies to create our tincture, not mycelium (which has fewer benefits).  Experience improved mental health and clarity, immune support, lowered inflammation, and more!

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.

If you have turkey tail in your natural medicine cabinet, how do you use it?



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