Turkey Tail mushroom Pine needle tea soup for super immunity
Immune system strengthening delicious vegetable soup
When I first decided to become vegetarian in 2014, I honestly didn’t know it was possible to make a soup without using meat or at least a bone. Brought up in a Polish household, I was accustomed to meaty flavorful main courses, heavy side dishes and decadent soup appetizers.
Navigating large family gatherings became a challenge; there would be a hearty soup for everyone, and on the adjacent burner, a sad watery flavorless version for the small minority of vegetarians.
I was met with apologetic looks and unnecessary comments “oh, poor thing. You’re eating that?”
This only fueled my motivation and over the years I have learned a few tricks to making a great meat-less broth…
Using olive oil and bay leaves, making a broth from veggie compost scraps, using cashew cream, etc. By far my favorite method is using wild mushrooms, also known as “nature’s meat”. Wild oyster mushroom, Chanterelle, Hen of the woods, and many more add depth and nutrition to soups and stews. Growing up, I often had these around thanks to my family’s wild foraging hobby.
Fast forward to about a year ago, Nathan and I began to make pine needle tea and really enjoyed it blended into foods, drinks or simply by itself.
We would collect pine needles from the neighborhood trees, add a handful of needles to a 1 gallon slow cooker, fill it with spring water and cook on low for 12-24 hours. For those among us who want to drink pine needle tea yet don’t really like the taste, using it as a broth in a soup is a great solution. Salting the pine needle tea hides any of the bitterness and cooking vegetables in it completely changes the flavor.
Recently, I decided to start foraging again and in a great stroke of luck happened upon an enormous amount of Turkey Tail mushrooms.
We got to work making tea out of the turkey tail like crazy, and since the wildly nutritious slightly pungent flavor reminded us of pine needle tea- we made a pine, turkey tail fusion tea. It was wonderful on its own, but when poured over vegetables and fire cooked in the cast iron, a star was born.
If you are a meat eater, don’t feel left out. I’m sure the addition of meat would not hurt this recipe!
Before I get to the recipe, here’s some more details about Turkey Tail and Pine needles…
Benefits of pine needle tea:
In many cultures, pines are associated with immortality, steadiness and resilience due to their ability to endure extreme weather, drought and poor soil conditions. Most species of pine are fully edible, the inner bark of pine can be dried and ground into flour and added to breads. The sap, has antibacterial wound healing powers, good for eczema and other skin conditions and the needles are one of the highest natural source of vitamin C and vitamin A.
Pine needles are rich in antioxidants, shikimic acid, manganese, iron, zinc, and many trace minerals helping the body to fight cancer cells, improve blood circulation, boost immunity and many other benefits.
Consuming pine is not recommended for pregnant women.
Identifying and collecting pine needles:
The (in my opinion) best tasting tea is made of needles from the eastern white pine tree. It can be identified by its distinctive blue-green needles and graceful pyramid shape. Key features of white pine:
This is the only pine tree in the eastern US which grows 5 needles per bundle.
White pines have thinner, softer needles as compared to other pines. The needles sway in the breeze and have a blue-green color
When young, the bark is smooth gray-greenish color. Older tree bark is dark gray- brown with thick ridges.
Found throughout eastern North America
We have also used Loblolly pine to make tea, although the resultant tea is bitterer. Loblolly pines have thicker, longer needles and grow 3 needles per bundle.
Apparently, red pines, and other conifers such as hemlock and fir trees can also be used for tea, we haven’t yet used these before.
If you haven’t already, get to know what kinds of pines grow in your area. Stay away from Ponderosa pine and Yew pine which contain some toxic compounds and should not be consumed.
When harvesting needles, choose the youngest bright green needles growing on the tips of branches. You can collect needles anytime of the year however, needles contain their highest nutrient value in winter.
If you are not going to make tea immediately, leave the needles in good ventilation to dry or place in the freezer for future use.
Additional information for Pine:
What is turkey tail mushroom?
Turkey Tail mushroom is a type of polypore mushroom which grows in rows, clusters, or rosettes on dead logs and wood stumps. These mushrooms are quite beautiful to look at and very healthy too. They’re loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits.
Turkey tails grow in deciduous forests all over the world and are very abundant here in the eastern part of the US. This mushroom is a crucial decomposer, breaking down the dead wood and making the nutrients from the wood bioavailable.
How to identify and collect:
Here is a quick guide to identifying these mushrooms…
Turkey tails have distinctive color zones on their surface resembling a turkey’s tail. The colors vary but usually look mainly grey, brown, orange, reddish, or blue.
The underside of the mushrooms will be a smooth white pored surface. The white underside is a key identifier, false turkey tail look-alikes do not have white under.
The mushroom will be flexible, 1-3mm thick and feel velvety and smooth on both sides.
Found on dead decaying hardwood logs, fallen branches, stumps, or sticks
Can be found anytime May - December
Additional information for Turkey Tail:
A more detailed identification guide:
This video helps explain the turkey tail look alikes and benefits:
Disclaimer: In no way can the information provided in this article be construed as medical advice or diagnosing and treating any type of illness. Harvest wild food at your own risk. If you are new to foraging, use multiple sources, and common sense. If you are not sure, do not eat it.
And now for the recipe!
turkey tail mushrooms, about 1 cup
Pine needles, a small handful
Spring water, 1 gallon
Vegetables, about 4-6 cups chopped in small pieces. Any veggies you like will do. I recommend: onion, sweet potato, turnips, turnip greens, collard greens, and tomato
Salt, 1 Tbs
Additional optional spices
1 gallon capacity slow cooker
Cast iron dutch oven (or a 1 gallon sized stockpot)
Cutting board, large knife
½ gallon jar or container
Fire (or stove top)
Place the turkey tail, pine needles and 1 gallon water in the slow cooker on low for at least 12 hours. After 12 hours, turn off the slow cooker and allow the tea to cool. The tea can also be made in advance and stored in fridge for future use.
While the tea is cooling, chop your vegetables and add them to your dutch oven or pot.
Add the bay leaf, salt and any additional spices in with the vegetables.
Lastly, use your ladle to pour the tea over the vegetables until the dutch oven or pot is about ¾ full. This will take about half of the tea.
Store the remaining tea in the fridge for later use.
Fire method: Build a strong fire around your dutch oven, cook for about 15 mins, stirring periodically. You know it’s ready when your veggies are soft.
Stovetop method: Bring your soup to a rolling boil on med-high heat then reduce to simmer until the veggies are soft (20-30 mins).