DIY Medicinal Mushroom Dye: Turkey Tail
Posted by : Mary Wutz /
We’ve dedicated a lot of time and space to discussing the concept of wearing one’s medicine via plant fibers and dyes on our site. The scientific discussion about this topic focuses on the toxic chemicals that are used in modern fiber and dye production, and how they can be absorbed through the skin (our largest organ of absorption and detoxification) and cause harm to our bodies (mainly our nervous and endocrine systems) when worn. The esoteric discussion about this topic focuses on the spirits and energetics imbued into the plant fibers and dyes we use, and how they interact with our energy fields to bring about healing and balance when we wear them.
Although this conversation is just getting started, increasingly among larger circles of people in the “Sustainable Fashion” industry, it occurred to me recently that we were leaving out a very important, very available, and very medicinal group of beings: Mushrooms! When I was first introduced to botanical dyes in Herb School (thank you Rebecca Burgess!), it was mentioned by another one of our teachers that mushrooms could be used to create a whole palette of rainbow dyes, which blew my mind. That day, I went to the school book store (which is a shelf in the main classroom that carries some of the best and most well-written books on all kinds of herbal topics from skin care to aromatherapy to fermentation, etc.), and purchased, The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer’s Field Guide. Upon moving into my new studio in Maui recently, I unpacked this book and became fascinated all over again with the amazing world of mushroom dyes.
Although there are hundreds (probably thousands) of mushrooms that can be used for dye, I decided to share and talk about Turkey Tail, Trimetes versicolor, for several reasons: It can create beautiful hues, it can be found throughout the world, and it is extremely medicinal.
Turkey tails are possibly the most common mushroom you will find. They are saprobic, meaning they grow everywhere on dead or rotting stumps and branches. As "versicolor" suggests, they are very variable in color. From blues to browns, their uses are mainly medicinal and decorative. The Blue Turkey Tail Mushrooms are the ones that are known to create beautiful blue and green dye hues. The brown ones yield beige or no color, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my book. Perhaps you are dyeing a garment with another plant who yields a strong color, but still want the medicine of the Turkey Tail in your dye bath- then the brown Turkey Tail may be just want you’re wanting. If there is any blue or grey in the Turkey Tail, there is a chance it will yield greens or blues, but you’ll have to experiment to find out for sure.
*It is important to note that soil conditions, time of harvest, and water elements (try to use spring or distilled water when dyeing), can also affect the colors yielded.
In terms of its medicinal properties, there are more studies that exist today confirming this mushroom as being unbelievably good at promoting immunity and protecting the body from various diseases and states of imbalance than any other mushroom. Science would say this is due to the presence of certain chemical constituents in the mushroom, one important group being Polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are immune-boosting chemical constituents found in many other mushrooms and plants. Polysaccharides fulfill a number of fundamental functions in plants; two of the most important: acting as structural substances (cellulose in plants, chitin in insects, mushrooms and crustaceans), and energy reserves (starch and inulin in plants and glycogen in animals). I could go on about all of the pathologies this mushroom can tackle, but I’ll let you google it instead.
Science has its own unique way of authenticating what ancient herbalists have known and practiced for a long time: Turkey Tail Mushrooms promote longevity (in a myriad of ways). These mushrooms have been brewed for thousands of years by the Chinese as medicinal teas. They have been used as early as the 15th century during the Ming Dynasty in China, and the Japanese, who reference it as kawaritake or ‘cloud mushrooms’, have been well aware of this mushroom’s benefits as well. To these Asian cultures, the cloud-like growth pattern of the mushroom symbolizes longevity and health, spiritual attunement and infinity. This could be considered to be this mushroom’s Doctrine of Signatures.
It is with great joy and excitement that I bring mushrooms into my awareness and inclusion of things I consider to be wearable medicine from nature. I’m sure this is not a new concept or idea among others, but it's new for me. Below you will find some tips on using Turkey Tail Mushrooms as dye. In my limited experience and on advice read from various books, mushrooms that have been dried first usually yield more even color. If you have any tips or thoughts on Mushroom Dyes, I’d love to hear them!
May the Plants (and mushrooms!) Be With You
Notes on Dyeing with Blue Trimetes versicolor:
Simple natural mordants/modifiers like salt water, vinegar, and ammonia can be used alone. This will most likely yield a light gray/blue color.
To diversify your color range, other mordants can be used. According to, The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer’s Field Guide, the following colors can be obtained from these mordants:
- Alum: Blue
- Chrome: Greenish Blue
- Tin: Dark Blue
- Copper: Light Green
- Iron: Greenish Blue
A ratio of 2:1 of dried mushroom to fiber should be used.
The same mordanting process that is used when dyeing with botanical colors can be used when dyeing with mushrooms. Click here for that recipe.