TURKEY TAIL: PART 1 | FORAGING
In 2018, Color Theory relocated from the endless limestone & mountain cedar landscapes of Austin TX to the epic and diverse geographical beauty of the Pacific Northwest. We eagerly anticipated our future days of exploration amongst the area’s mountain ranges, snowcap-fed rivers, crystal clear lakes, old growth forests and majestically turbulent and rugged coastline. Additionally, we hoped to forge a deeper connection with our wild surroundings by acquiring skills of self-sustainability like gardening, hunting and gathering. Promptly upon arriving, excursions to the surrounding National Forests and regional parks commenced and developed into a routine rotation of weekly trips to our favorite destinations.
When trekking through these dense forests, one’s senses are rendered highly alert and present, perpetually on the lookout for cougars, bears, animal tracks, blackberries and mushrooms. In anticipation of our move, we had picked up a PNW Mushroom Guide and have this handy reference guide stowed away in our packs while exploring. We were mentally prepared for identifying such culinary delights as chanterelles or morels, however our very first wild mushroom identification and harvest was, unexpectedly, the wonderfully medicinal Turkey Tail mushroom. From this harvest, we decided to create a double-extracted tincture, the process of which we will share with you in Part 2 of this series.
For a nascent forager with only hypothetical, book-read knowledge about mushroom identification, harvesting mushrooms in the wild can be a daunting task to undertake without the watchful eye of an experienced guide. There are an untold number of mushrooms species growing throughout these forests, many of which are look-alikes. There is a vast spectrum of experiences to be had following the ingestion of a mushroom, ranging from a delectable meal, to mind-altering entheogen or a fatally toxic poison. Positively identifying the species of a mushroom that you wish to consume is categorically imperative to your well-being. We absolutely do not advise anybody to consume a foraged mushroom without consulting a trusted mycological resource for a beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt confirmation of it’s identity.
INTRODUCING THE TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM
Trametes versicolor (aka Coriolus versicolor) is a ubiquitous mushroom, to be found in every state of the continental USA, on every continent other than Antartica and can persist year-long throughout all seasons in certain climates.
Etymology: tram: thin, versicolor: of several colors
Within the Class Basidiomycetes, it is categorized as both a bracket fungi, due to it’s thin, fan-like fruiting bodies that propagate in cascading series of shelves or brackets, and as a polypore, releasing spores from pores on the white underside of it’s fruiting body. These visible pores are a key indicator that you have stumbled upon a true Turkey Tail mushroom, as if the underside is smooth or covered with gills or teeth, then you’re looking at a look-alike. As a saprotrophic acquirer of nutrients, Turkey Tails will be found primarily on dead and decomposing deciduous hardwoods throughout all seasons of the year. Therefore, fallen trees and old stumps are prime habitat for discovery. Turkey Tail is a tough and unpalatable species. While not the savory, umami-rich culinary treasure as some of it’s fungal relatives, Turkey Tail has been long revered for it’s healing and medicinal properties worldwide...colloquially referred to as Yun Zhi in China and as Kawaratake in Japan.
IDENTIFYING IN THE WILD
Since there are several Turkey Tail look-alike species, we used the following criteria to positively identify our foraged bounty as true Trametes versicolor:
•Kidney shaped cap with a fan-like appearance
•Thin and flat fruiting body, 2-8cm across - 1-4cm deep - 1-2mm thick
•Hairy, velvety top surface
•As a polypore, has visible pores on it’s underside, rather than gills or a smooth surface
•Alternating bands of starkly contrasting color and texture, generally hues of reddish brown or cinnamon
•Fresh mushroom is flexible, not rigid
FALSE TURKEY TAIL SPECIES
If you are interested in foraging for Turkey Tail, please take a moment to research the internet and make yourself aware of the most common species of Turkey Tail look-alikes. Here are a few links to the mushrooms most commonly mistaken for being Turkey Tail.
Turkey Tail’s traditional medicinal use can be traced back thousands of years to ancient China & Japan where, today, the mushroom is still utilized in healing regimens and is actively studied in clinical research trials to confirm and better identify the mechanisms of it’s purported medicinal properties.
The medicinally-active compounds of interest found within Turkey Tail are polysaccharides called Beta-glucans. Clinical studies using proprietary extracts containing the protein-bound polysaccharide complexes PSP (China) & PSK (Japan) have shown to be effective at stimulating the immune system, suppressing tumor growth, inhibiting the expression of genes that have the potential to cause cancer as well as offsetting the immunosuppressive effects of allopathic cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In Japan, PSK is routinely prescribed to cancer patients both during and after chemotherapy and radiation. In the United States, naturopathic physicians and integrative oncologists have been known to administer whole, freeze-dried Turkey Tail to breast cancer patients. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
METHODS OF USE
As mentioned previously, turkey tail is a bit too tough and tasteless to be palatable for consumption when fresh. Turkey Tail is generally collected, cleaned, dried, pulverized and then either encapsulated, simmered as a tea or tinctured. In the follow-up Part 2 to this post, we will show you the process of creating a double-extracted tincture.
FORAGING FOR MUSHROOMS
FIND SOME TURKEY TAIL MUSHROOMS
BEHOLD YOUR BOUNTY !
CUT AWAY FOOT & REMOVE DEBRIS
RINSE & AIR-DRY
STORE THE DRIED MUSHROOMS
Drying times will vary based on air temperature and humidity. When processing this batch of Turkey Tail, it was wintertime in Portland and we thoroughly dried our mushrooms in a garage overnight. Once dried, the mushrooms can be put away for longterm storage and used in the future to make teas, tinctures or capsules.