I will occasionally join a group of genuine badasses from Seven Hills Running Shop (shout out to Team Seven Hills!) in an attempt to make my heart explode on one of their weekly runs. Seriously, these people don't mess around. The run is usually through the large and surprisingly wild Discovery Park in Seattle, so I showed up last week before the run to see what I could find. We finally got some rain, so I was sure mushrooms would be popping up all over the dang place.
And were. they. ever. Even along the main path, I found at least three edible types of mushrooms, two inedible types, and two as-yet unidentified. Also some dog poop covered in fuzz that I was like, "Oooo! What's that kind of mushr--" before realizing, no Jessie. No touch.
Turkey tail mushrooms (bottom left) are insanely prolific, growing on dead wood pretty much everywhere. I saw a great quote online that said, basically, if you can't find these mushrooms, you're either blind or need to give up mushroom hunting. Ouch.
Technically speaking, turkey tail mushrooms are "edible" - they aren't poisonous, and I suppose I've read of people cooking them. But mostly they've been used medicinally and (my favorite) as a "backwoods chewing gum." The internet calls it "redneck chewing gum," but I've known a few rednecks in my day, and there is NO FREAKING WAY they would pop a random polypore into their mouths. So let's go with my new, improved nickname.
The funny thing is, I've never read an account of someone actually chewing the damn things. It's always "it's said that people chew them" or "it's called redneck chewing gum by some" or "noted botanist so-and-so was known to chew them." Not a single first-person account of it.
So, the next time I saw one, I did a little test.
I'm guessing that this mushroom may have a different taste depending on its location, with factors like soil, wood condition, and age affecting the taste. I picked a fairly soft, young mushroom, and the consistency was less like gum and more like an old, tough steak. The taste was ... mushroom-y, to be imprecise. Helpful? No? Ok, I'll use my big girl words: it was earthy with undertones of fishiness - like you get in a dish seasoned with anchovies - with a slight bitterness to it.
While it's not likely to help cure your bad breath, studies have shown that turkey tail mushrooms have incredible immunity-boosting functions. It's been used for cancer patients during chemo and has reduced their recovery time dramatically. They are now testing using it with other immuno-compromised patients as well. Cool, right?!