What is Turkey Tail? The Mushroom With Immune-Boosting, Anti-Cancer Benefits

Turkey Tail Mushrooms
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How to find, forage, and use this beautiful, medicinal mushroom!

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We’ve been harvesting a lot of Turkey Tail this season. No, we’re not talking about plucking the feathers of a Thanksgiving turkey! Instead, Turkey Tail is one of the most common medicinal mushrooms for good reason; she’s a powerhouse of health benefits! See how to incorporate these mushrooms into meals to keep immune systems strong!

What is Turkey Tail?

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) mushrooms grow on trees and fallen logs worldwide: throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. It’s often one of the first mushrooms novice foragers can identify safely, as there are no poisonous varieties in the Polyporaceae family. (It’s easy to forage, but also you can purchase its extract or capsule form.)

This fascinating fungus is named for its unmistakable, colorful, fanlike shape, which looks like a turkey’s outspread tail. 

With a long history in traditional Asian medicine, Turkey Tail has been used for centuries around the world as a way to keep the body healthy and strong. 

Turkey Tail Benefits Are Many!

  1. Prevent and Treat a Cold - Because of its strong anti-viral and anti-microbial properties, Turkey Tail can fight various infections caused by these microbes, including the common cold and flu. They significantly improve the system’s immunity and thus make it more robust to fight against disease-causing germs. It is a good idea to include Turkey Tail in your life when the flu season draws nearer. The turkey Tail mushroom modulates the immune system to act in a stronger way to fight infections and germs.  Having it already in your body before a cold or flu is the best way to prevent sickness with this mushroom.
  2. Anticancer Potential - Turkey tail mushrooms, have been used as a  drug for the reduction in the risk of cancer since ages, especially in Chinese and Japanese culture. This includes not only breast cancer, but lung, gastric, pancreatic, and liver cancer as well. Despite decades of study, the mechanisms at work here remain unclear.
  3. Manage Diabetes - Turkey tail mushroom helps reduce diabetes by lowering the level of glucose in the body.
  4. Reduce Inflammation - The inclusion of turkey tail mushrooms in the diet helps in the reduction of inflammations, both internal and external.
  5. Lowers cholesterol - Turkey tail mushrooms help reduce the levels of cholesterol, especially when used on a daily or very regular basis.
  6. Improve bone health - Studies have shown that Turkey Tail improves bone health and can help in regenerating bone marrow.
  7. Aid digestion - The mycelium is that part of the mushroom that enables a person to have a smooth process of digestion. The microbiome is assisted by the prebiotic content of the turkey tail mushrooms. This implies that the growth of the good and beneficial bacteria in the body is enhanced. It also helps in the treatment of leaky gut syndrome. The process might also help in losing weight.
It truly resembles a turkey’s tail! Credit: Digoarpi

How to Identify Turkey Tail Mushroom

  1. Turkey tail has concentric color zones and they should be distinguishable, meaning you should be able to easily see where one color stops and the other starts. 
  2. A true Turkey Tail has tiny pores on the underside (hence being in the Polyporaceae family) and can be hard to see until you get up close.  This mushroom does NOT have gills.  If it has gills, and is smooth or toothed on its underside, it is another variety in the family and not genuine Turkey Tail.
  3. The mushroom cap should be slightly fuzzy, not super hairy, but fuzzy to the touch.
  4. The colors of the turkey tail can vary but will be found in reddish brown, grey, or blue-grey, combined with stripes of white in concentric color zones.
  5. The underside of the Turkey Tail should be white when it is in its prime, turning to a cream color as it ages.

Let’s look at the underside of two mushrooms in the Polyporaceae family that are NOT Turkey Tail.

As you can see, this mushroom has gills. This is not Turkey Tail.


This mushroom does have small pores but it is NOT white. This brown color tells you this is False Turkey Tail. This one is also a NO.

Now let’s look at the underside of true Turkey Tail

This is a fresh Turkey Tail just harvested. Look how white this is. This is what you are looking for. If you were to zoom in, you would see the tiny white pores as well.


How to Harvest Turkey Tail Mushroom

When I harvest Turkey Tail, I like to look for vibrant fresh-looking caps. If they are brittle, fading in color, and looking dingy, I know I’ve missed the window. I find here in Indiana, I tend to find vibrant colonies of this mushroom in both the spring and fall. They grow on dead or fallen trees, and you’ll see them growing usually in colonies.  Like most mushrooms, Turkey Tail likes to grow in shade where it doesn’t get direct sunlight that can dry it out.  

I find you can sometimes easily pull them off the log, but sometimes I use my foraging knife to assist in pulling them off the tree. Like anything we forage in the wild, leaving some behind is important. I never harvest all of anything I forage.  In fact, a good rule of thumb is to harvest 1/3 of what you find and leave the rest for the bugs, animals, and other foragers and for the mushroom to spore and continue growing in the area.

Turkey tail is known for benefiting the soil and pulling certain types of toxins out of the environment in which she grows. I am very aware of my relationship with the land and what a gift it is to walk into the forest with empty hands and return with a basket of medicine.  I like to say words of gratitude while I harvest and take a moment to simply appreciate the mushroom or plant I’m harvesting. 

I only forage what I need and/or will use and leave the rest.  Our relationship to the land and the medicine we harvest is just as important as the actual foraging. Once I arrive home, I air-dry the Turkey Tail by laying it out on a flat surface.  It dries completely in just a few days when laid out in one layer. You can also dehydrate. 

The next step is optional but can help prolong the life of your Turkey Tail.  I will put my thoroughly dried mushrooms into a Ziplock bag and freeze them for three days.  I have been told this helps to kill any larvae that are still living inside of the mushroom that can slowly eat away the dried mushroom, leaving just powder over time.  

How to Use Turkey Tail in the Kitchen

My favorite way of using Turkey Tail is using the dried mushroom in cooking or making a decoction. I teach about this amazing mushroom in my Medicine Woman course because it’s such a powerful alley to have in your home kitchen.  When we are able to step into the forest and bring home plant or fungi medicines, we are given the opportunity to weave this into our every day lives and our meals. Instead of just taking a capsule, we can actually infuse the food we feed ourselves and our family with the deep medicine of the land.  This lifestyle shift has improved my life greatly and this is what I love to teach.

Turkey Tail is not known as an edible mushroom, as it is very tough and hard to chew.  It is best used decocted into water.

Dried in whole form:

  • Add Turkey Tail to rice, quinoa, lentils, beans, etc., during the cooking process.
  • Add Turkey Tail to soup broths during the simmering process.
  • Add Turkey Tail to an herbal brew or decoction, meaning I will simmer for 45 minutes or so on the stove.  

In the above situations, I will add a small handful of dried Turkey Tail into what I’m cooking – perhaps ¼ cup if loosely broken apart or chopped.  Although, I do not chop the Turkey Tail up.  I leave the Turkey Tail in its whole form, making it easy to remove from the rice, beans, soup broth, etc., when it is finished cooking.

One of my favorite “medicine brews” is to add a few pieces of Turkey Tail, a stick of cinnamon, a few dried cloves, and two tablespoons of roasted dandelion root into 4 cups of water.  I allow this to simmer for 45 minutes. The water will reduce down a bit and turn dark.  I use this strained brew to add to drinks or to cook with.  

You can also use Turkey Tail in tincture form or in powdered form.  

Not ready to forage this mushroom quite yet?  Not to worry.  You can purchase Turkey Tail from your favorite health food store or online herb company.   Paul Stamets’s company, Host Defense, is a great place to start when looking for Turkey Tail extract or powder in capsule form.

As with most medicinal mushrooms, they only work when they are consumed, and Turkey Tail needs to be consumed on a regular basis, as it is the use over time that brings the most success. 

As with all herbs taken long term, I always like to take a break every once in a while to give the body a break.

Note: I am not a medical doctor, and this is not medical advice. With any new herb, it is a good idea to check with your healthcare provider before adding it into your life.  It is possible to be allergic to any herb. Listen to your body and only take something if it feels good to you.  You are the #1 expert of your own body.  

About The Author

Audrey Barron

Audrey Barron is a herbalist, writer, and herbal farmer in Indianapolis, Indiana. Read More from Audrey Barron

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