Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor, is a powerful immunomodulator, and one of the few Tonic Herbs that is helpful to take throughout the duration of a cold or flu. Many herbalists warn against using Tonics while you are sick as some Tonic Herbs can “tonify” the illness. Meaning they can help you feel better and power through, instead of naturally feeling awful, and sleeping for days. This concern is similar to the “symptom suppression” phenomenon that is so common in western medicine and most over-the-counter cold remedies. However, Turkey Tail is a valuable herb we should all have in our apothecaries! Taking Turkey Tail throughout a cold or flu can support natural killer cells and fortify the immune system to better fight off microbes and cleanse the body of mutated cells.
Turkey Tail in Asian Traditions
In China, Turkey Tail is known as Yun Zhi, the raincloud mushroom. The Ancient Taoist Herbalists prized this mushroom. Seeing it growing on pine trees, they believed it conveyed the longevity and rejuvenating qualities of these evergreens. It's seen as a Yang Tonic, able to collect the Yang energies from the tree roots. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to increase circulation, clearing heat and dampness, making it helpful in relieving fever sweats that so often accompany the flu or other viral infections. It's considered sweet, and slightly warming, entering the spleen and heart meridians, and is used to dispel infections and inflammation from the respiratory, urinary, and digestive tracts. It's also taken as a daily longevity tonic to increase overall immunity, digestion, energy and stamina (1).
Turkey Tail in Modern Medicine
The prevalence of Turkey Tail in Asian herbal traditions has led to it becoming one of the most studied mushrooms in Asia. Extracts of Turkey Tail have been found to act directly on cancer cells, and enhance the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. In fact, a potent dual extract of its long-chain sugar, known as Polysaccharide Peptide (PSP & PSK), has been prescribed as an anti-cancer drug in Japan since the 1960's and is covered by all Japanese healthcare plans. Despite it's proven efficacy and safety in Japan, the FDA has still not approved PSK as a "clinical cancer treatment" in the USA, and no major health plans cover its costs. Meanwhile, the research reveals the anti-tumoral actions of Turkey Tail to be many layered. PSK effectively reduces cancer metastasis by inhibiting tumor invasion, adhesion, and production of cell-degrading enzymes. It directly suppresses the tumor cell's ability to attach to endothelial cells, limiting mobility, and simultaneously suppresses growth within the tumor (1). And several other studies have found that complementary use of PSK alongside standard Chemotherapy increased survival rates of patients (2).
Turkey Tails also exhibits powerful antiviral actions. Turkey Tail Extracts have been effective against influenza virus and herpes simplex viruses in cell cultures (3). Other studies show it can inhibit HIV, either by modifying the viral receptor, or preventing HIV from bonding to lymphocytes (1). Another study found Turkey Tail extracts to produce a 35% average increase in natural killer cells within patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (4). And other evidence exist that Trametes versicolor offers antioxidative, antifungal, and anti-neurodegenerative activities (5).
This tiny forest Pharmacy is one of the most common mushrooms in North American woods. You can find its colorful ringed top (and velvety pure white underside) virtually anywhere there are dead hardwood logs and stumps, occasionally, on conifer wood too.
Note that true Turkey Tails always have a pored underside that is pure white to off white.
There are several look-alikes that are much flimsier and rings are visible on the underside.
Turkey Tail: A Tonic for Our Times
Turkey Tail mushrooms are a helpful ally for living in these modern times wrought with pollution and toxicity. They are a potent antiviral and a