What Is Turkey Tail?

Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor) is a medicinal mushroom used for hundreds of years to treat various health conditions. Long used in traditional Chinese medicine, turkey tail is packed with antioxidants and other health-boosting compounds.

When taken as a supplement, turkey tail benefits may include the following: 

This article discusses the potential uses and benefits of turkey tail. It also covers potential side effects and what to look for when purchasing turkey tail supplements. 

Dietary supplements are not regulated the way drugs are in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. Choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF, when possible. 

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Tree stump covered in turkey tail mushrooms.

Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredient(s): Polysaccharides, antioxidants, beta-glucan, sterols, fatty acids, phenolic compounds
  • Alternate name(s): Tramates versicolor, Coriolus versicolor, Yun Zhi, turkey tail fungus, cloud mushroom, and kawaratake
  • Legal status: Legal, available over the counter (OTC)
  • Suggested dose: Dosage depends on the reason for use
  • Safety considerations: Turkey tail mushroom is safe and generally well-tolerated, but it's not recommended for use while pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Uses of Turkey Tail

Supplement use should be suited to the individual and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. 

Turkey tail has well-documented uses for supporting immune function, reducing inflammation, improving gut health, and enhancing the efficacy of cancer treatments

Researchers are exploring how turkey tail may help balance blood sugar levels, boost athletic performance, fight viral and bacterial infections, and reduce fatigue. Some proponents of turkey tail believe it can prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) and protect against age-related cognitive decline.

Many studies investigating the potential medicinal benefits of turkey tail have been conducted using animal models or in lab settings. More clinical research is needed to determine the specific uses of turkey tail for human health.

Promotes Immune Health 

Turkey tail contains a high concentration of two polysaccharides with immune-boosting properties: polysaccharide-K (krestin, or PSK) and polysaccharide peptides (PSP). PSK and PSP are immunomodulators that stimulate and balance the immune system to help the body fight infection, cancer, and other diseases.

PSPs stimulate immune cell production to help fight and protect against infection. Research suggests that PSPs may promote the growth of monocytes—a type of white blood cell that fights infection and improves immunity.

Similarly, PSK helps support the immune system by activating the body's natural killer cells to fight off infection and disease. It has also been shown to modulate the body's immune response by suppressing inflammation, which may help protect against inflammatory diseases.

Adjuvant Therapy for Cancer

Turkey tail extracts have been used in Japan for decades as an adjuvant (additional) therapy for cancer treatments. These extracts are often combined with chemotherapy or radiation therapy to boost the efficacy of these treatments and improve outcomes. 

A review of 13 clinical trials found that cancer patients given turkey tail in combination with standard treatments lived longer than those who received chemotherapy alone. The combination of turkey tail and chemotherapy was especially effective in improving outcomes for people with breast cancer, gastric cancer, and colorectal cancer

Other studies have shown that turkey tail extracts not only inhibit the growth of some cancer cells but also improve immune function in people with certain cancers, which may reduce the risk of infection.

Supports Gut Health 

Turkey tail may improve gut health by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria that support healthy digestion. Turkey tail acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the development of "good" bacteria in the gut microbiome. Having a healthy, balanced gut microbiome is linked to improved digestive health, a strong immune system, and a lower risk of gastrointestinal disorders and diseases,

In one small study, participants were given 3,600 milligrams (mg) of turkey tail PSP extract per day over eight weeks. Results showed that turkey tail extract increased the number of beneficial bacteria and suppressed the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

An earlier test-tube study found that turkey tail extract significantly increased the number of helpful bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, while reducing populations of "bad" bacteria, such as Clostridium and Enterococcus.

May Boost Athletic Performance 

Turkey tail may boost stamina and fight fatigue to enhance athletic performance. A study using animal models found that turkey tail extract increased endurance and strength in mice. Moreover, the extract reduced physical fatigue in the mice and lowered blood sugar levels at rest and after exercise.

Human trials are needed to determine what benefits turkey tail may offer athletes regarding endurance, strength, energy levels, and recovery. 

Other Benefits

In addition to the health benefits listed above, some people use turkey tail to support:

  • Bone health: Animal model research found that turkey tail extract resulted in thicker, less porous bones and may protect against bone loss related to certain cancer treatments.
  • Cognitive function: Turkey tail is rich in antioxidants, which may improve cognitive function (e.g., memory, problem-solving) and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. 
  • Healthy aging: The antioxidants and immune-boosting properties of turkey tail may help support health and protect against inflammation and age-related diseases. 
  • Balanced blood sugar levels: Studies using animal models show that turkey tail extracts may reduce blood sugar levels, improve insulin resistance, and prevent diabetes-related complications in people with type 2 diabetes.

What Are the Side Effects of Turkey Tail? 

Turkey tail is safe to consume and generally well-tolerated, but some people may experience mild side effects, including:

  • Bloating 
  • Dark stools
  • Darkening of the fingernails
  • Gas
  • Heartburn 

Although turkey tail is safe for most people, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking a turkey tail mushroom supplement. 

Precautions

Avoid taking turkey tail supplements if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding: No research has been conducted on the safety of turkey tail for pregnant or breastfeeding people. 
  • Have diabetes: Turkey tail may lower blood sugar levels and cause levels to drop too low when taken with diabetes medications.
  • Are allergic to mushrooms: Turkey tail is a fungus and should be avoided by anyone with mushroom or mold allergies. 

Children should also avoid turkey tail, as its safety has not been studied in minors. 

Dosage: How Much Turkey Tail Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking turkey tail to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

There are no guidelines for a standard turkey tail dose. Dosages vary widely in studies exploring the benefits of turkey tail extracts and supplements. For example, studies examining turkey tail as an adjuvant therapy for cancer have used 3–9 grams per dose.

Many turkey tail supplement manufacturers recommend starting with 1–3 grams daily to support overall health. Supplement doses vary by product, so read the manufacturer's supplement facts on the product label or speak with a healthcare professional to determine the best product and dose for you.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Turkey Tail? 

Turkey tail is safe for consumption when taken as directed. No reports of overdose have been documented. However, there are concerns that wild-grown medicinal mushrooms can accumulate heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic. These metals can pose health risks when too much is consumed. 

More research is needed on the long-term safety of turkey tail. Take only the recommended dose on the product label, and consult your healthcare provider for guidance on dosing and supplement type.

Interactions

Certain medications may interact with turkey tail mushrooms, including:

  • Certain anticancer drugs: Compounds found in turkey tail mushrooms can change how certain anticancer drugs (e.g., cyclophosphamide, tamoxifen) are processed and removed from the body, which may alter the efficacy of the anti-cancer drug and cause more side effects.
  • Diabetes medications: Turkey tail mushrooms may lower blood sugar levels too much in people taking diabetes medications. 
  • Other herbs and supplements that lower blood sugar: Any herbs and supplements known to lower blood sugar (e.g., aloe, cassia cinnamon) should be avoided to prevent blood sugar levels from dropping too low. 

Carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of any turkey tail supplement you purchase to know which and how much of each ingredient is included. Review the supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications. 

How to Store Turkey Tail 

Store turkey tail in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Some turkey tail tinctures or liquid extracts may need to be refrigerated. Follow storage directions on the product label. Discard turkey tail supplements once the expiration date listed on the label is reached.

Sources of Turkey Tail & What to Look For

Turkey tail mushrooms grow on dead logs, stumps, and branches in deciduous forests in Asia, Europe, and North America. Semicircular and fan-shaped with distinctive striped layers of brown, gray, tan, and white, the mushroom resembles the feathers of a turkey’s tail. 

If you forage for wild-grown turkey tail, it’s important to be aware of other fungi species that look similar to turkey tail. Before harvesting, be sure you have correctly identified that the mushroom is turkey tail and not a look-alike. 

Though turkey tail is edible, the texture can be described as tough and leathery. For this reason, wild-harvested turkey tail is usually dried, ground into a powder, and consumed as tea. It can also be added to soups or blended into smoothies. Dried whole turkey tail mushrooms can be used to make extracts and tinctures. 

Turkey Tail Supplements

Turkey tail supplements are available in capsule, powder, and tincture forms. 

Some turkey tail supplements contain the whole mushroom, including the fruit body and mycelium (root structure). The mushrooms are dried and then ground into powder. Other turkey tail supplements contain extracts of the mushroom’s beneficial compounds. These products provide a concentrated amount of health-supporting compounds with the full spectrum of health benefits.

When shopping for a high-quality supplement, look for the following: 

  • An ingredients label on the product packaging that clearly lists all ingredients contained in the supplement and the amount of each ingredient.
  • Supplements made from organic, 100% fruiting bodies. These offer the highest amount of beneficial compounds. Skip the supplements that include mycelium (root structure of the mushroom), grain, or other fillers. 
  • Products tested by accredited third-party labs in the United States, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) and ConsumerLab. A quality assurance seal on the packaging from accredited labs is a sign that the product was manufactured properly, does not contain harmful contaminants, and includes the ingredients listed on the label. 

Reading product reviews online can help ensure you purchase from a reputable manufacturer. Consult your healthcare provider for advice on finding the best supplement. 

Summary

Turkey tail is a medicinal mushroom with a long history of use in traditional medicine. This fungus is found on dead tree stumps and logs around the world and has a tremendous range of potential health benefits. Turkey tail is packed with antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds that may help boost immunity, support gut health, reduce inflammation, and enhance the efficacy of standard cancer treatments.

Proponents of turkey tail suggest that the mushroom may enhance cognitive functioning, reduce fatigue, improve athletic performance, and protect against age-related diseases. Turkey tail is generally safe to consume with few side effects. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if turkey tail supplements are right for you. 

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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.
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