Mushroom Log: Ode to Turkey Tails

Turkey Tails. On my deck.

Turkey Tails. On my deck.

Mushrooms occupy a strange place in our palates. Neither part of the plant or the animal kingdom, they are an oft-feared addition to any meal. Yet the little decomposers beneath our feet have tremendous health benefits for our bodies and for our planet. In the spirit of reviving the good name of mushrooms everywhere, Dear Food presents an in-depth look at the good, the bad, and the just plain weird of the mushroom world.

Latin name: Travetes versicolor

Other names: Many-Colored Polypore

Spring is upon us, which means that mushroom pickings are scarce in my area. All the little mushrooms are sleeping in the ground until next fall when the temperature cools down and the rain picks up. 

That is, all but the good ol’ Turkey Tails. 

Even if you don’t know the name, everybody knows what Turkey Tails are. They’re those little leathery fungi growing all over trees and stumps the woods and even on your deck (or at least mine, as evidenced by the above picture). They’re hearty little guys that survive all year long.

There are a few turkey tail lookalikes. There’s the Hairy Turkey Tail (Trametes hirsuta) which is like a Turkey Tail, but… hairier. And there’s the Violet-Pored Bracket Fungus (Trichaptum abietinus), which is, as the name suggests, purple underneath. All of them are just about as edible as a turkey tail, which means, well, they’re not poisonous*. 

Unfortunately, due to the fact that they are so leathery, Turkey Tails (and its lookalikes) are also not good eating. They may not be poisonous–in fact they’re probably one of the best mushrooms you could eat–it’s just… it’s like chewing on mushroom-flavored rubber that’s been left out in the sun too long. In the interest of good blogalism (like journalism, but for blogging), I just ate some that were growing on my deck and they’re definitely not something you want to eat fresh. 

However, this oft-overlooked mushroom is one of the “panacea mushrooms” (along with the Reishi mushroom)–it can regulate a ton of systems in the body and can even suppress cancer cell lines**. For these purposes, the mushrooms are normally powdered and turned into pills. But for a more fun approach, they can be infused with honey, bread, pasta, cookies or alcohol.

Who would have guessed the leathery little weed of a fungus could be so powerful?


*according to Mushrooms Demystifiedmy favorite book for mushroom hunting

**according to Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation which is great and if you’re interested in mushrooms at all

Bianca is an almost-graduate of George Fox University. She is an amateur mycologist, fermento and pepperhead, and she could really go for a cup of coffee right about now.