The Health Benefits of Turkey Tail

Turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor) are medicinal mushrooms. You can find them all around the world, mostly in wooded areas since they grow on tree trunks. Research suggests that mushrooms like turkey tails may have several health benefits.

Also Known As

Turkey tail is also known as yun zhi in Chinese medicine and as kawaratake in Japan. It’s so named because it looks a lot like the feathered tail of a turkey. 

Layers of shelf fungi Trametes versicolor grow on a log

Scott T. Smith / Getty Images

Health Benefits 

Polysaccharide-K (PSK) and polysaccharopeptide (PSP) are important compounds in the turkey tail mushroom that may provide several notable health benefits. Research suggests that PSK may help treat some types of cancer. PSK is approved for use in Japan as an additional treatment in standard cancer treatment. 

Stomach Cancer

Evidence suggests that PSK, combined with standard cancer therapies, can help with immune system damage resulting from chemotherapy. While most of the research on PSK and stomach cancer is years old, a 2007 review concludes that people who received PSK along with chemotherapy lived longer cancer-removing surgery.

Breast Cancer

There are also studies that suggest that turkey tail may help boost cancer-fighting cells in people with breast cancer.

Colorectal Cancer

Research suggests that PSK may help build immunity in people with rectal cancer receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy. It may also prevent cancer recurrences and help people with colorectal cancers live longer.

Lung Cancer

PSK may also extend the lives of people with lung cancer. Studies also suggest that people with cancer who are treated with PSK in addition to chemotherapy may have better immune function, healthier body weight, and improved well-being.

Adding PSK therapy to traditional cancer treatments may also lessen tumor-related symptoms and help people live longer.

Possible Side Effects 

Most of the studies report very few side effects in people taking turkey tail or its extracts. However, because most of the studies center on people of Japanese descent, it’s possible that other people may experience side effects. 

In a phase I clinical trial of people with breast cancer, most side effects were mild, including:

  • Heartburn
  • Heart palpitations
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Radiation rash

It should be noted that since people in these studies received traditional cancer treatments in addition to turkey tail extracts, side effects may possibly be linked to chemotherapy. 

People with allergies to fungi or molds should not take PSK or PSP.

Dosage and Preparation 

The active compounds in turkey tail (PSK or PSP) are typically taken in capsule or tea form. You shouldn’t try to source wild turkey tail mushrooms. It’s difficult to correctly identify mushrooms and some types are poisonous. Only experts are qualified to identify wild mushrooms.

What to Look For 

Be aware that the FDA doesn’t approve dietary supplements or guarantee their safety. The onus is on supplement companies to make sure their products are safe. That said, the FDA can investigate and recall products that make bogus health claims or contain unsafe ingredients. 

You can do your due diligence by checking labels for ingredients and third-party certifications from independent labs like NSF International.

If you’re not sure about whether a supplement is safe, talk to your doctor. Even if you think a product is OK to take, have a chat with your doctor to make sure. The most innocuous-seeming supplements can interact with medications or cause serious side effects at high dosages.

Other Questions 

Will eating turkey tail mushrooms cure cancer?

No. While studies on people with cancer taking turkey tail extract suggest that they may have life-prolonging effects, all the studies follow people who are also receiving standard cancer treatments.

Eating turkey tail mushrooms alone won’t cure cancer. Neither will taking the supplements. People should not forgo traditional therapies for medicinal mushrooms. 

Can you overdose on turkey tail mushrooms?

As with any supplement, too much of a good thing can be bad. Follow your doctor’s advice regarding dosage to be safe. Taking too much can increase your risk of experiencing side effects. 

Will taking turkey tail supplements or eating turkey tail mushrooms get me high?

No. Medicinal mushrooms are not the same as psychedelic mushrooms. 

A Word From Verywell 

What we know so far about turkey tail is promising, but don’t assume that downing bottles of this supplement will turn you into a superhuman. If you have cancer and want to try alternative therapies, talk to your doctor about trying turkey tail. Keep up with traditional treatments and use turkey tail extract only to supplement your regular cancer therapy. 

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Cancer Institute. Medicinal Mushrooms (PDQ®). October 5, 2020.

  2. Oba K, Teramukai S, Kobayashi M, Matsui T, Kodera Y, Sakamoto J. Efficacy of adjuvant immunochemotherapy with polysaccharide K for patients with curative resections of gastric cancer. Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2007 Jun;56(6):905-11. doi:10.1007/s00262-006-0248-1

  3. Torkelson CJ, Sweet E, Martzen MR, et al. Phase 1 clinical trial of trametes versicolor in women with breast cancer. ISRN Oncology. 2012;2012:251632. doi: 10.5402/2012/251632

  4. PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Medicinal mushrooms (Pdq®): Patient version. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. National Cancer Institute (US).Updated April 21, 2020.

  5. National Capital Poison Center. Wild mushroom warning.

  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Beware of fraudulent dietary supplements. March 15, 2011.