Turkey tail: Uncommonly good for you

Lisa Petty, PhD @ 2021-11-24 12:13:59 -0800


Commonly called Turkey tail, Trametes versicolor is a widespread white-rot mushroom species that grows on many deciduous trees like oak and conifers including as fir and pine trees. Recognized by the rings of black, tan and white on its cap, turkey tail has been used traditionally in Chinese medicine to treat spleen dampness and respiratory disease like asthma and cough as well as for its ability to enhance immunity.[1]

Research has shown that turkey tail possesses many medicinal properties. Human and laboratory studies have revealed its antioxidant,[2] antitumour,[3] antimicrobial,[4] anti-diabetic,[5] and immunostimulant [6] benefits. Although its tough and leathery texture means you aren’t likely to find it on your dinner plate, you might enjoy this medicinal mushroom steeped into a healing tea.

Nutritional power

A source of essential and nonessential amino acids leucine, isoleucine, methionine, tyrosine glutamine, and asparagine, turkey tail also provides vitamin B3, linoleic acid, oleic acid, and linolenic acid.[7]  This mushroom provides anti-inflammatory compounds, including triterpenoids like oleanolic acid, sterols like ergosterol and phenols like quercetin.1

Many of the bioactive compounds in turkey tail belong to a group of proteins and polysaccharides: Polysaccharide krestin (PSK) and polysaccharopeptide (PSP) are the most studied to this point.[8] PSK consists of β-glucan and peptide, and it’s known to stimulate the promotion of T-cells. T-cells are the go-between for the innate and adaptive immune systems. We also know that PSK activates white blood cells that protect you from bacteria and viruses both inside and outside of cells.[9] Both PSP[10] and PSK stimulate signalling cells that manage the immune response to infection, inflammation and injury.

The polysaccharides are associated with increased superoxide dismutase (SOD) activities of lymphocytes and the thymus. SOD is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting cells against free radicals.[11] SOD also serves as as an anti-inflammatory agent and can prevent precancerous changes in cells. As with many health-supporting nutrients, natural SOD levels in the body drop as we age, which is a potential risk factor for chronic diseases associated with free radical damage, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers.[12]


Pain is the number one reason for a doctor’s visit. When we have aches and discomfort at home, we often reach into the medicine cabinet for Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), which is a form of over-the-counter painkiller (or analgesic) that’s bottled under a variety of familiar brand names.

ASA works mainly by calming down the COX-2 pathway that leads to the creation prostaglandins (PG), which causes inflammation and pain. Unfortunately, long-term use of ASA is associated with gastrointestinal problems and kidney damage. In other words: It’s good to have ASA in the cupboard but you don’t want to over-use it.

Research has shown that Turkey tail may belong in the medicine cabinet, too. Animal research has shown that PSP and oleanolic acid in this mushroom reduced COX-2 and PG levels and may help with pain relief.[13],[14]


PSK and PSP are showing themselves to be powerful allies in protecting cells against cancer and reducing the damaging affects of cancer treatments. Cancer involves the uncontrollable growth of cells that eventually form a mass called a tumour.[15] Laboratory research has shown that turkey tail polysaccharides suppress the abnormal proliferation of cells and have anti-tumour effects.13 Test tube studies with colon cancer shows that turkey tail polysaccharides inhibit the migration and cell invasion involved in the metastatic process.[16] 

A systematic review showed a significant survival advantage for cancer patients who used turkey tail alongside standard cancer treatment. Statistics showed a 9% reduction in 5-year mortality for patients who used turkey tail as an adjuvant treatment.[17] Turkey tail may also reduce side effects caused by chemotherapy, including hair loss, poor appetite and vomiting.17

Lipid management

Animal research shows that turkey tail may help to decrease total cholesterol, triglyceride, and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (the dangerous cholesterol) in blood.[18] PSP can reduce lipid accumulation in the liver, and normalize the microbiome associated with high-fat induced diet- obesity.18 Turkey tail may be beneficial in supporting healthy levels of cholesterol and blood fats, as well as in promoting healthy body weight and supporting heart health.

Gut health

Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is home to trillions of microbes: Some are good for your health, and some – like E. Coli can cause a lot of trouble for you. Along with supporting immunity by protecting you from pathogenic microbes, the good bacteria perform important metabolic functions that support nutrient absorption and protect against intestinal ailments, including inflammatory bowel disease. Because these microbes are “pro” health, they’re known as probiotics.

“Anti” biotics, conversely, kill bacteria. That’s great when you have a bacterial infection, but the problem is that antibiotics don’t discriminate. When you take them for a bacterial infection, they kill everything – good and bad. These medications can throw your GI tract out of equilibrium, and diarrhea, pain and cramping can occur.

Like anything that’s alive, probiotics need to eat, and what they eat is known as a “prebiotic.”

Prebiotics are simply carbohydrates that indigestible for humans, but they ferment rather nicely in the GI tract. Once fermented, probiotics transform them into short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that provide us with quite a few health benefits, including protecting the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. SCFA also play a critical role in communication between the gut and the brain.[19] Medicinal mushrooms are a source of prebiotic carbohydrates, and turkey tail is no exception. In fact, research with 24 participants found that taking PSP from turkey tail helped patients recover from microbial changes caused by taking the antibiotic amoxicillin.[20]

As a nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich medicinal mushroom with powerhouse PSK and PSP that can boost the immune system and halt tumour formation, Turkey tail mushroom is the whole package.


[1] Hung, P.-H., Lin, C.-M., Tsai, J.-C., Hsu, T.-H., Chang, S.-L., Chen, Y.-I., & Tzeng, C.-Y. (2020). Acetylsalicylic acid-like analgesic effects of Trametes versicolor in Wistar rats. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 129, 110328–110328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110328 OPEN

[2] Kamiyama MHoriuchi MUmano K, et al. Antioxidant/anti-inflammatory activities and chemical composition of extracts from the mushroom Trametes versicolor. Int J Nutr Food Sci 2013;2:8591. 

[3] Luo KW, Yue GGL, Ko CH, et al. In vivo and in vitro anti-tumor and anti-metastasis effects of Coriolus versicolor aqueous extract on mouse mammary 4T1 carcinoma. Phytomedicine 2014;21:1078–87. 

[4] Helba LVuković NPetrová J, et al. Antimicrobial activity of crude methanolic extracts from Ganoderma lucidum and Trametes versicolor. Anim Sci Biotechnol 2014;47:8993. 

[5] Liu YTSun JLuo ZY, et al. Chemical composition of five wild edible mushrooms collected from Southwest China and their antihyperglycemic and antioxidant activity. Food Chem Toxicol 2012;50:123844. 

[6] Trovato ASiracusa RDi Paola R, et al. Redox modulation of cellular stress response and lipoxin A4 expression by Coriolus versicolor in rat brain: relevance to Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis.

[7] Krivak, I., Kivrak, S., & Karababa, E. (2020). Assessment of Bioactive Compounds and Antioxidant Activity of Turkey Tail Medicinal Mushroom Trametes versicolor (Agaricomycetes). International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms. 22: 6 559-571 DOI: 10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2020035027

[8] Janjušević, L., Karaman, M., Šibul, F., Tommonaro, G., Iodice, C., Jakovljević, D., & Pejin, B. (2017). The lignicolous fungus Trametes versicolor (L.) Lloyd (1920): a promising natural source of antiradical and AChE inhibitory agents. Journal of enzyme inhibition and medicinal chemistry32(1), 355–362. https://doi.org/10.1080/14756366.2016.1252759 

[9] Moradali, M.-F., Mostafavi, H., Ghods, S., & Hedjaroude, G.-A. (2007). Immunomodulating and anticancer agents in the realm of macromycetes fungi (macrofungi). International Immunopharmacology, 7(6), 701–724. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intimp.2007.01.008

[10]   Saleh, M. H., Rashedi, I., & Keating, A. (2017). Immunomodulatory Properties of Coriolus versicolor : The Role of Polysaccharopeptide. Frontiers in Immunology, 8, 1087–1087. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2017.01087

[11] Wei, W.S.; Tan, J.Q.; Guo, F.; Ghen, H.S.; Zhou, Z.Y.; Zhang, Z.H.; Gui, L. E_ects of Coriolus versicolor polysaccharides on superoxide dismutase activities in mice. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao 1996, 17, 174–178.

[12] Younus H. (2018). Therapeutic potentials of superoxide dismutase. International journal of health sciences12(3), 88–93.

[13] Hung, P.-H., Lin, C.-M., Tsai, J.-C., Hsu, T.-H., Chang, S.-L., Chen, Y.-I., & Tzeng, C.-Y. (2020). Acetylsalicylic acid-like analgesic effects of Trametes versicolor in Wistar rats. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 129, 110328–110328. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110328 OPEN

[14] Wang, K., Wang, Z., Cui, R., & Chu, H. (2019). Polysaccharopeptide from Trametes versicolor blocks inflammatory osteoarthritis pain-morphine tolerance effects via activating cannabinoid type 2 receptor. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, 126, 805–810. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2018.12.212

[15] https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/cancer-basics/what-cancer

[16] Roca-Lema, D., Martinez-Iglesias, O., Fernández de Ana Portela, C., Rodríguez-Blanco, A., Valladares-Ayerbes, M., Díaz-Díaz, A., Casas-Pais, A., Prego, C., & Figueroa, A. (2019). In Vitro Anti-proliferative and Anti-invasive Effect of Polysaccharide-rich Extracts from Trametes Versicolor and Grifola Frondosa in Colon Cancer Cells. International journal of medical sciences16(2), 231–240. https://doi.org/10.7150/ijms.28811 OPEN

[17] Wong, L.Y. Eliza., Cheng, K. Fai., & Leung, P. Chung. (2012). Efficacy of Yun Zhi (Coriolus versicolor) on Survival in Cancer Patients: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Recent Patents on Inflammation & Allergy Drug Discovery, 6(1), 78–87. Available from: doi:10.2174/187221312798889310. 

[18] Huang, Z., Zhang, M., Wang, Y., Zhang, S., & Jiang, X. (2020). Extracellular and Intracellular Polysaccharide Extracts of Trametes versicolor Improve Lipid Profiles Via Serum Regulation of Lipid-Regulating Enzymes in Hyperlipidemic Mice. Current Microbiology, 77(11), 3526–3537. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00284-020-02156-3

[19] Silva, Ygor Parladore, Andressa Bernardi, and Rudimar Luiz Frozza. “The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids From Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication.” Frontiers in endocrinology (Lausanne) 11 (2020): 25–25.

[20] Pallav, K., Dowd, S. E., Villafuerte, J., Yang, X., Kabbani, T., Hansen, J., … Kelly, C. P. (2014). Effects of polysaccharopeptide from Trametes Versicolor and amoxicillin on the gut microbiome of healthy volunteers: A randomized clinical trial. Gut Microbes, 5(4), 458–467. https://doi.org/10.4161/gmic.29558