BLOG 20*: It seems we Canadians are the last to learn about awesome stuff with respect to our health, like the importance of consuming mushrooms. The rest of the world has already experienced the medicine offered by this kingdom, but here in Canada we are still passing them by in the grocery store. Medicinal mushrooms like Oyster or Maitake can be found right beside the commonly consumed white button mushrooms. Albeit for a slightly higher price, but in my local grocery store they often have a 50% off sticker slapped on them. Lucky me. I grab them all and dehydrate them for later use in soups and stir fries. Did you know that like many mushrooms, Oysters and Maitake mushrooms are immune system modulators, have blood-sugar lowering effects, are anti-inflammatories and both mushrooms have been used effectively in several clinical trials with different Cancers? This is astounding news and both mushrooms are found wild in the deciduous forests around us. The conundrum is possibly living in a country with universal healthcare. A country offering inexpensive pharmaceuticals, pharmacies just minutes from your house and free access to doctors has encouraged most of us Canadians to lose touch with traditional field and forest medicines. More importantly though is the fact that we have forgotten about our free access to forage them and how we are privileged to live in or near greenspaces.
Did you know, some medicinal mushrooms are found all over the globe within the same longitudes and are not indigenous to one country? This fascinates me! Why? Wait, I’m not talking about ‘people’ fungi that have followed everyone around as spores. For example, Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) mushroom is indigenous to China but introduced to Canadian fungi growers. What I’m referring to is fungi indigenous to the many countries or continents at the same time. Think about that for a second. These wise guys were most likely around since Pangea, the supercontinent. In the Paleozoic era our present continents were joined and were split apart by tectonic activity. Being a Geographer, this is unbelievably fascinating to me. This kingdom, this fungi network that lives below forest floors was once connected and here before any of us. That’s Earthwise! The Turkey Tail polypore (Trametes versicolor) is one of these global medicinals that live in the Northern Hemisphere above the 30th parallel and is indigenous to North America, Europe and Asia. They grow abundantly in the highlands and I have harvested many on my hikes. It is an extremely stunning mushroom in my opinion. Turkey Tail is a bracket fungus growing in overlapping rows or in swirls attached to dead logs or stumps on the forest floor. Although similar there are no two Turkey tail patterns alike but all of them have a flat bright white bottom (fertile) surface with visible tiny pores. On the surface they exhibit lines of different alternating colours (versicolor) as you can see in the photos. The Turkey Tail polypore is pliable and leathery with a velvety feel. It is very easy to trim with a small hiking knife. It hardens and slightly yellows on the flat fertile surface with age. Harvest when it is pliable, and the bottom is white. There are many Turkey Tail look-alikes out there, but none have the tell-tale white fertile surface.
Like Oster and Maitake mushrooms, Turkey Tail is an immune system modulator. So why is it important to pick it and use it now? Turkey Tail is abundant and therefore can be easily found, dried and stored for winter use. In the northern hemisphere near summer’s end and during the fall season, it is an important time to begin a strategy to strengthen your immune system before the flu and cold season hits. Nature understands this better than we do and so she brings everything to harvest just at the right time. Super foods like apples, garlic, onions and broccoli show up in our fall gardens. In the forest currently, medicinal immune boosting mushrooms are popping up everywhere. Especially after our area’s predictable rain season in September. Mushrooms love rain and usually appear after one or two days of steady rainfall followed by warm temperatures. Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is a superfood. Its Latin name has changed recently from ‘Coriolis versicolor’ and for that reason many historically significant studies are found under the name ‘Coriolis’. Several studies confirm that Turkey tail is an immune modulator with antimicrobial, antiviral and anti-tumour actions. Japanese pharmacies have been dispensing turkey tail to patients since the 1980’s. One isolated ingredient called kestin is unique to turkey tail and it is not found in any other species. Why isn’t this great mushroom being dispensed by pharmacists in North America, you say? Well, it seems that kestin is a polysaccharide (a type of sugar-like molecule) with no API reading. An API or Active Principal Ingredient is used by pharmacists to consistently measure a drug. With no API reading, Turkey tail has been classified as an un-identified drug. Therefore it has been put aside here…but not in Asia where it has been used for years.
Did you know the immune system is transported in the flow of lymph fluid and part of the lymphatic system? Your tonsils, adenoids, spleen, and thymus are all part of your lymphatic system. This system helps to fight infection and produce white defender blood cells that produce anti-bodies to kill virus and bacteria. The Thymus is where special white blood cells called T-cells are stored and can destroy cancer cells. Tonsils and adenoids are called the first line of defense because they sample the bacteria and virus that enter through the nose and throat and alert the rest of the body. Your Lymph nodes swell because they are storing and accumulating white blood cells to fight invaders. I find it fascinating that the lymph highway, with its 700 ‘warning’ nodes, flows in only one direction and that direction is straight up from your knees to the tonsils. It doesn’t circulate in our system. Each swollen node has a story to tell of infection in their area. Daily intake of Turkey tail tea trains and tones your immune system to know the difference between good and bad invaders. It works as an adaptogen and therefore the longer you use it better it works for you and your immune system.
I think the best news about turkey tail is that its active ingredients are extracted easily with boiled water. Because it is tough to chew, we do not eat fresh Turkey tail or fry it in butter. We do not steep it in an alcoholic tincture either. We simply use it fresh or dried and then steep it in boiling water.
How to harvest Turkey Tail:
During August to February, trim off fresh Turkey Tail from logs with a small hiking knife or kitchen shears. Be careful to leave a ¼ inch of the mushroom base attached to the log so as not to kill its mycelium (roots). Carry your harvest home in a basket so the mushroom can freely release its spores back into the forest. When home use a mushroom brush to remove any dirt and then rinse thoroughly in cold water. Then cut the fresh turkey tail into one-inch squares and dry on a rack for a couple of days or in a dehydrator at lowest setting till dried. Store dried Turkey Tail in a closed mason jar in a dark pantry for later use.
How to prepare dried Turkey Tail Tea:
Bring two litres of water to a boil. Add a handful of dried pieces to the pot of boiling water and reduce to a lower setting. Simmer for 1.5 hours. Strain and store the wet pieces in the freezer to use again for your next pot of tea. Sweeten or add milk as desired. Drink one cup daily. Store the remainder of prepared tea in the fridge for up to five days.
Turkey Tail Coffee or Chai:
Finely grind dried Turkey Tail pieces in a coffee grinder. Stir in a ½ teaspoon of ground mushroom into your morning coffee or Chai tea. Sweeten or add milk as desired.
*This blog was first published in The Madawaska Highlander newspaper Vol 16 Issue 4, you can read my past articles online at www.madawakahighlander.ca