Last Updated: July 28, 2014
Coriolus versicolor (Trametes versicolor) is a fruitful woodland mushroom that grows prolifically on diverse hardwoods virtually all over the earth. It has been used for centuries, in many parts of the world, as a natural medicine that provides strong anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-tumor properties.
It is often referred to as "turkey tail" for it's shape and striped lines of various colors that resemble the tail feathers of wild male turkeys.
It is one of the most widely researched medicinal mushroom varieties for its powerful effects on raising base and secondary immune functions.
Coriolus contains two specific polysaccharides, PSK and PSP, that have been shown to help inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. It has long been used as an adjunct to cancer therapy in Japan. In fact, PSK extract (also called "krestin") has been used by the Japanese since the 1980's as an approved natural medical treatment for several types of cancer.
Trametes versicolor, also called Coriolus versicolor, is a type of polypore mushroom or "bracket fungi" that has pores on the underside of its fruiting body and tends to grow in shelf-like formations, ranging from only a single row or, like turkey tail, up to dozens of rows at a time.
Polypore mushrooms, like Inonotus obliquus, Ganoderma lucidum or Trametes versicolor, grow and feed off of tree trunks, branches, stumps or decaying logs. These types of mushrooms, related to corticioid fungi, are one of the most vital managers of wood decomposition and play an important role in the cycles of all forest ecosystems on the planet.
Interestingly enough, Trametes veriscolor is one of the most commonly found mushrooms, forming great colonies on sides of trees or rotting wood. Once you are familiar with it, suddenly you see them every where when hiking through wild forest habitats.
Turkey tail mushroom is native to tropical, subtropical and temperate zone climates and is extremely adaptive, growing prolifically in a wide assortment of woodland regions all over the world.
It is not a soft mushroom, like shiitake, but rather a thin, tough and sometimes slightly fuzzy feeling variety. They also come in a wide spectrum of colors but are predominantly shades of white, brown and orange with occasional lines of green, blue and maroon pigments. These colors form in very beautiful rainbow-like segments.
Asian cultures were one of the first people to discover the potent effects that medicinal mushrooms can have on overall health. Referred to in China as yun zhi, coriolus mushroom has been brewed as an adaptogen tonic tea for centuries.
The Japanese refer to turkey tail as kawaritake, which also translates as "cloud mushroom." Scientists in Japan, since the 1960's, have been intensely researching the medicinal properties that the mushroom has on the immune system as well as its influence as an anti-tumor agent.
Coriolus has also been used by native peoples and herbalists in Europe as well as parts of North America for a very long time.
In the Traditional Chinese Medical Book, called the Bencao Gangmu or "Compendium of Materia Medica", written by Li Shizhen during the Ming Dynasty in 1578, it refers to "the cloud mushroom" and its ability to positively affect all three treasures Chi, Shen and Jing. It is referenced that long-term consumption will "make one vigorous" and "contribute to a long life."
Turkey tail mushroom is packed with
Beta-glucan polysaccharides that are known to help modulate and
stimulate the immune system. One of these beta-glucan-rich
compounds is a protein-bound polysaccharide called polysaccharide-K (PSK
or krestin), and is found only in the Trametes versicolor mushroom species.
After being researched by Japanese scientists, PSK extract was approved in the 1980's as a medical drug to be used for treating several types of cancers. Evidence in human clinical trials using PSK indicates anti-tumor activity particularly for stomach, esophageal, lung and breast cancers.
"In Japan, PSK is a best-selling
anti-cancer drug where it is currently used as a cancer treatment along
with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. PSP was discovered
more recently and has been studied mainly in China." American Cancer Society
In addition, other small polypeptides as well as versicolor polysaccharide (VPS) are also known to have beneficial results on inhibiting certain cancerous tumor growths.
Turkey tail mushroom also contains the polysaccharide referred to as PSP, a
potent anti-viral agent that works primarily as a "biological response
modifier" (BRM), stimulating the bodies response to infection and
These anti-viral components are thought to be specifically protective toward the "oncoviruses" such as the Hepatitis C virus and the Human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. All medicinal mushrooms have these immune shielding effects and many, like coriolus, chaga and maitake, are currently being researched for their potential benefits for eliminating viruses and also may act as preventatives, helping to build a healthy immune system.
Powdered extracts of coriolus are often used in "supplement" form, here in the West, and as a complementary adjunct to prescribed cancer treatment. Many holistic medical practitioners are well aware of the mushroom extract and it is often recommended for an extra boost to the immune system after chemotherapy to help protect against cancer recurrence.
Coriolus mushroom naturally helps to increase and activate "natural killer cells" or NK cells. These are unique immune cells that provide a speedy protective response against tumorous growth and virally infected cells, acting in a much faster way than other cells because of their ability to identify stressed cells and pathogens.
They perform on both surface (secretory) immunity, the first line of defense, as well as on the deep immune system and bone marrow reserve, which is essentially the back up resource for the secretory system. These attributes make NK cells potentially helpful for a number of autoimmune related conditions in addition to cancerous tumors.
Because NK cell levels drop and substantially deactivate after radiation and chemotherapy treatments, turkey tail extract can be particularly supportive as a supplement when undergoing such procedures. Increased NK cells can assist in protecting the patient from further growth or exposure.
In an FDA approved trial at Bastyr University, studying the response of turkey tail extract on cancer patients, it was hypothesized that the mushroom could help improve impaired immune health in women inflicted with breast cancer after a course of conventional medical therapies. An increase in NK cell count was thought to be the reason as these specialized immune cells tend to quickly move in and attack any remaining cancer.
Well known mycologist Paul Stamets, director of research and founder of Fungi Perfecti, had his own personal experience with coriolus versicolor when his own 84 year old mother was diagnosed in 2009 with stage 4 breast cancer and given less than 3 months to live. (Watch the video here!) Although she could not undergo surgery or radiation treatments, she was prescribed Taxol and Herceptin as well as 4 capsules of turkey tail twice a day. Months later she was tumor-free and still alive today to tell the story.
Turkey tail extracts can assist those with Lyme's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and other autoimmune or inflammatory diseases as it helps to modulate the immune "helper cells", which is an essential factor in controlling these conditions.
Powder Hot Water Extracts
The best and most medicinally effective way to use this mushroom is
to use powdered extracts.
Mushroom Science is a high quality brand
that offers a tested potent extraction of coriolus, by far one of the
best on the market. They offer both a super strength version as well as a PSP extract. Mushroom Science extracts are made using a method called "hot water extraction" in which the chitin (hard shelled fiber) is removed. This allows for the effective extraction of polysaccharide concentrates.
Fungi Perfecti is another top medicinal mushroom brand we use and trust. These are a freeze-dried encapsulated powdered extract of the actual mushroom mycelium bio-mass.
Dragon Herbs also offers an alcohol tincture called Coriolus Immune Drops.
We tend to open up powdered capsules of mushroom extracts and stir them into hot drinks, shakes and tonic teas with other superfoods, like shilajit and maca. The powder has a mild bitter-sweet flavor, but not noticeable when blended with most
For those of you who like to harvest wild foods, turkey tail can be commonly found in many woodland environments around the planet.
It is VERY important that you positively identify any mushroom before you ingest it as there are many poisonous and deadly varieties.
Fresh coriolus versicolor mushrooms need to be decocted in hot water for 20-60 minutes to extract the medicinal polysaccharides. The liquid tea can then be consumed for its many immune building properties. The actual mushroom is commonly discarded after simmering rather than eaten as it is not very palatable.