Turkey Tail Mushrooms Are Colorful, Beneficial

Turkey tail mushrooms are a great first forage, as this colorful species is easy to spot, has no dangerous lookalikes and offers a wealth of immunity benefits!

by Melissa Calhoun
PHOTO: Barbora Batokova/Adobe Stock

Turkey tail mushrooms look like turkey tails! Thankfully their lookalikes are not harmful, though they don’t have the benefits that we’re looking for in Trametes versicolor. “Versicolor” means many colors, and these mushrooms do come in many colors, always looking like a turkey’s tail.

You’ll want to check out these handy step-by-step instructions for identifying turkey tails from other species that look like them. When they are fresh, their colors are so bright, especially the reds and blues.

They can often be found quite dry, though they can also appear dry when they are, in fact, fresh. You’ll find turkey tail mushrooms on many kinds of wood (including your firewood piles), and, in the forest, large flushes are common on fallen limbs laying along the ground. You can even find turkey tail mushrooms in suburban backyards! They seem to be everywhere in the U.S. that mushrooms can grow.

Storage—With or Without Beetles

Turkey tail mushrooms store well in paper sacks. If your finds are somewhat aged, there may be beetles living inside. These bugs will start breaking them the mushrooms and, with only a few small holes or places where they have been chewed, you may not notice as you harvest. If you do notice, try to leave those for the beetles and hunt for a fresher flush.

If beetles have secretly gotten to them, you’ll know it eventually. They’ll make more and more little tiny holes and chewed places around the edges, and even send little beetles crawling out of your storage sacks.

I simply freeze them in that event. This will stop the beetles from eating the harvest all by themselves. The I double my amounts for brews with that batch, since they’ve been partially harvested already.

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Preparing Turkey Tail Mushrooms

Many different mushrooms are praised and prized for their special compounds. Turkey tail is a fine substitute for harder-to-find species such as reishi and chagga, and the species is much more accessible here in the scrubby overgrazed woods of my Kentucky home.

I make a winter tea from turkey tails, and the process for fresh or dried is the same—a low, low, low simmer over hours (or overnight). Some of these most desirable compounds need heat and time, coupled with solubility in water, to break down the cell walls that protect them from being digested in our bodies. As we gain access to these polysaccharides via a long hot water bath, our bodies also gain access to their effects.

A tea made from turkey tail mushrooms might taste yummy or bland, depending on the season, freshness of the mushroom being harvested, and time spent brewing it. The flavor is subtle enough to blend easily into soups and meld with other tea ingredients.

At the first sign of any winter wellness imbalances, we brew up turkey tail tea in our household for everyone. jim mcdonald speaks of the effects of long-brewed turkey tail (along with reishi and other mushrooms) with a beautiful analogy about our immune system.

Some elements of our immune systems come to alarm quickly and actively, causing multiple byproducts in our systems. The immune system stimulation gained from mushrooms is not that—this tea is not for emergencies but, rather, more like a training or an exercise. It will remind your immune system how to function by sending certain beneficial messages.

jim pointed me to this scientific article making a case for turkey tail as an immune toner.

I blend the dried mushrooms in a spice grinder and grind to a powder, then mix it with seaweeds and other dried mushrooms (such as reishi, chicken of the woods, chagga, shiitake or oyster ) for medicinal soup broths.

As I say, turkey tail plays well with others. Enjoy it on its own or with other ingredients. It’s an excellent first mushroom to look for, but (as always) be sure you have a knowledgeable forager who has found and identified them before.

I like to hunt for turkey tail mushrooms around the time that I see other people hunting for wild turkeys. This kind of turkey, however, is much easier to catch!

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