Atop the list of medicinal foods is turkey tail mushroom, which have been used for thousands of years for their health benefits.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine they are known as Yun Zhi and their scientific classification is Trametes Versicolor. In Japan they are known as kawaritake, which means “cloud mushroom” due to their outward appearance of having swirling clouds.
They are found on dead hardwood tree stumps, branches, fallen logs as well as on live trees. The name derives from its concentric striped rings of orange, tan, white and brown colors that resemble a male turkey’s feathers when they are expanded, and grows to about 4 inches in diameter.
They are known as a bracket fungi because they form these circular structures and have a close resemblance to a leaf.
They grow in deciduous forests throughout the North American, European and Asian continents and thrive in wet and shady areas.
Going on a simple walk in the woods it is likely that you have stumbled upon many of them as they are very common and easy to spot. There can even be dozens of them growing on the same log at the same time.
Unlike many spongy and soft medicinal shrooms their surface is leathery and tough, and when eaten raw can be very chewy.
Turkey tail fungus
They are also often referred to as a fungus, and although fungi are living beings they are still considered 100% vegan and vegetarian for dieters with those preferences.
Because they are so common to find in many parts of the world they have a very rich history in ancient cultures and today one the most researched of all medicinal varieties.
Its health benefits were known all the way back during the Han Dynasty, around 200 BC, when they were mentioned in the first known Chinese medicinal text called Shennong Ben Cao Jing.
In the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty another mention was made by the author Li Shi Zen in his book Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Medicines), saying they are important for one’s vital energy (Qi), they promotes longevity, and will fortify one’s bones and tendons.
Turkey tail mushroom identification
Not until the 1960s were they taken into consideration by modern science for their potential health benefits.
In 1969, Japanese labs were able to isolate one compound from the mycelia (the ‘roots’ of a fungus that contain the active chemical properties). It was patented in 1969 and was officially certified as a medicine by the Japanese Ministry of Health and named Krestin.
Another even more potent strain of mycelia, PSP, was discovered a few years later by a Chinese professor, Qing-yao Yang, and was ratified as a medicine in China in 1993.
By 1987 Krestin became the number one most prescribed anti-cancer medication in Japan, although there is some controversy over the extraction process and the limited effects of mass-produced mycelia, specifically the strain Polysaccharide K (PSK).
While some researchers are investigating the anti-cancer effects of PSK, specifically for Stage 4 breast cancer, all extracts are not approved by the FDA for medicinal use for cancer patients.
Because the major pharmaceutical companies control much of what supplements and medicines are available on the market, both PSP and PSK have not had wide acceptance and implementation as a cancer cure, although it is approved to be marketed and sold as “supports immune system functioning”.
But despite the limitations imposed by these companies, it is an extremely common fungus that can be easily gathered and harvested by hand. The most beneficial way to extract the nutrients is through boiling water and steeping it as a tea, which is the ancient method.
The research that has been done on these shrooms has shown significant improvements in the liver, the gut and the overall immune system, as well as being a strong anti-oxidant.
Here are some of its fundamental medicinal uses:
Fights Against Cancer
One anecdotal story about the possible discovery of the anti-cancer properties came from a chemical engineer at Kureha Labs (the same lab who developed the initial mycelia in the 1960s).
The engineer’s neighbor was suffering from gastric cancer and decided to use them in an attempt to cure himself.
Over the course of a couple months the cancer improved and was removed entirely, prompting the engineer to notify his supervisors about investigating it further.
In addition to stopping the growth of this gut-related cancer, it has been shown to also significantly improve other very serious types of cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer.
Enhances Gut Bacteria
The immune system is based on the efficient and well-rounded functioning of healthy gut bacteria that absorb nutrients from foods and eliminate harmful toxins at the same time.
In a randomized clinical trial from the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center the use of the PSP mycelia strain was shown as a beneficial prebiotic for the intestinal microbiome.
PSP’s ability to build and maintain a healthy flora of micro-bacteria in the intestinal tract was shown to be a fundamental aspect of “substantial” changes to the gut health of the patients, leading to a positive overall ability to fight diseases that originate in the gut.
In addition, like most kinds, it contains a substantial amount of fiber, which is an integral part of all healthy digestion.
Oxidative stress is when the body has an over-abundance of free radicals, which are unstable and potentially toxic molecules that are usually absorbed from eating toxic foods or breathing toxic air.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight off free radicals, and so are important to maximize as a preventative method against many types of diseases.
In the extract of these fungi, as well as many other species, are antioxidant substances called phenols and flavonoids. In PSP there are around 35 strains of phenols and two important flavonoids, quercetin and baicalein.
In addition to combating free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, these molecules will in turn significantly reduce inflammation and stimulate the body to produce more anti-inflammatory compounds.
These extremely common yet powerful fungi have been a part of the medicinal documentary record since at least 200 BC in China, but only in the past 50 years have they begun to be accepted as a legitimate medicine in the rest of the world.
Turkey tail mushrooms have shown incredible potential for halting and reversing even the most advanced stages of cancer, and can be an important everyday supplement for preventing serious diseases altogether.