Turkey Tail, taxonomically known as Trametes versicolor, is one of the most widely distributed medicinal mushrooms in the world.
A saprotroph, Turkey Tail mycelium typically grows and obtains its nutrients from the dead wood of trees. Turkey Tail mycelium consumes the lignin in wood fastener than the cellulose, causing the resulting mass of dead wood to turn white in appearance and commonly be referred to as white rot.
To identify Turkey Tail mushrooms in the wild, here are some general morphographic traits to look for:
- Grows in a bracket-like formation, extruding from its substrate into a shelf/bracket-like shape in closely concentric zones of fan-like shelves
- Does not possess a stipe (aka stem)
- The underside of the mushroom cap has white pores
- The mushroom cap is concave and has a series of multicolored stripes (white, black, brown, blue, green, gray, and purple are common) on its top that appear slightly hairy with a wavy outer margin
- When the top of mushroom cap is placed in light and presented to the eye at differing angles, the colors and stripes appear holographic
Turkey Tail usually grows on the stumps and fallen trunks of hardwood trees. Only rarely is Turkey Tail found on conifer trees.
The Original Chemo Drug
For decades, Turkey Tail has been used in eastern medicine to treat various forms of cancer.
The anti-carcinogenic powers of Turkey Tail are well studied and primarily attributed to the presence of polysaccharide Krestin — also known as PSK — within its cellular walls. Before today’s most common chemotherapy drug, Taxol, came into being, Krestin was the number one anticarcinogenic therapy on the market.
In Japan, Turkey Tail has a well-documented history since it was first approved as an anticancer prescription drug in 1977. By 1987 in Japan, PSK accounted for more than 25% of total national expenditures for anticancer drugs. It’s worth noting that mycology guru Paul Stamets attributes PSK and Turkey Tail mycelium for helping his then, 84-year-old mother overcome stage 4 breast cancer.
Another polysaccharide in Turkey Tail, polysaccharopeptide (PSP), has also demonstrated an ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and may help to stimulate the immune system, especially when combined with other anticancer treatments.
Turkey Tail mushrooms are inedible but their medicinal properties can be accessed through a simple dual-extraction process.
Next time you’re in the forest, keep an eye out for shelves of colorful, holographic mushrooms with white porous undersides exploding from old stumps and fallen logs. They’re not only very common….they make for one super potent medicine!
- Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, Paul Stamets
- Radical Mycology, Peter McCoy