Missouri Girl Eats Weeds
Thu, 11/11/2021 - 2:04pm admin
Ann J. Hines, PhD
This week’s wild resource is a little more advanced because it has several look-alikes, but it is so plentiful and so medicinally valuable that I decided it was well worth discussing. Turkey Tail’s benefits seem never-ending. It has been well-studied, so bear with me if the list gets a little long and technical. Let’s start with its usefulness as a natural anti-depressant and mood regulator. It does this by increasing serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) two neurotransmitters that help the brain deal with anxiety and stress, and increase feelings of calm and confidence.
Turkey Tail detoxifies and protects the liver from damage, lowers blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, (total and LDL) supports the kidneys and prevents diabetic nephropathy. It reduces pain and stiffness in the joints through the production of the anti-inflammatory protein, TNF-alpha. It has been used in treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It nourishes the gut, increasing nutrient absorption and production, and reduces risk of obesity and diabetes, specifically by regulating blood sugar levels through increasing the body’s production of adiponectin. Adiponectin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic properties and is also involved in lipid metabolism and increasing insulin sensitivity.
Turkey Tail is a source of beta-glucans, a polysaccharide that has been used to benefit the immune system for 40 years, particularly in Japan. It stimulates the activity of macrophages, a white blood cell that is part of our immune system. Beta-glucans have shown a plethora of benefits ranging from healing bedsores to fighting cancer. Other cancer-fighting properties include inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, reducing the size of existing tumors, preventing the formation of new tumors, (angiogenesis) preventing the spread of cancer (metastasis) and preventing tumors from becoming resistant to chemotherapy and radiation.
Now that I’ve surely convinced you of its value, here is how to identify Turkey Tail, or trametes versicolor. It can be found nearly year round, another reason it is so valuable. Aptly named, it has beautiful, multicolor concentric colors in hues of grey and brown. It is thin, leathery, and velvety to the touch. They key to distinguishing it from its look-alikes is the underside. It is completely white underneath, and has microscopic pores.
False Turkey Tail, or steareum ostrea, is the most similar look-alike, with multicolor concentric colors, although it often has more reddish browns. The shape differs, as False Turkey Tail has thin edges that often curl upward like petals. The defining difference is on the underside: as a crust fungus, it is completely smooth, having no pores, and is not pure white. False turkey tail is being studied for its antibacterial and antifungal uses. But that discussion will have to wait for another article. Both of these varieties will be found growing on limb and logs, not on the ground.
To reiterate, the most important distinguishing characteristic of Turkey Tail is the white underside with microscopic pores. The Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Mycological Society are two good resources for verifying your finds. Also, if you are a Facebook user, join us in the Missouri Girl Eats Weeds group to share your finds, ask questions, and find links to past articles.