Morel Mushrooms have an earthy flavor, a great texture and are a fantastic addition to any meal. They are a delicacy that can cost upwards of $50/lb. in the off season and can only be found by foraging for them in the Spring. This guide will help you have success in your hunting adventures.
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Morel mushrooms are great for the beginner interested in foraging for wild mushrooms. They easy to identify and flourish in the Spring for a few weeks every year, although the exact date varies significantly based on moisture and temperature levels. They also happen to be Minnesota’s state mushroom, which always gives me a proud moment.
The mushrooms shown above, with a distinctive conical shape and honeycomb texture are safe. They also have a shorter stem and are completely hollow on the inside. There are a few mildly toxic False Morels for which to watch out. The other morel types are the Half-Free Morel and Common False Morel which I consider poisonous and not recommend eating. They are not completely hollow all the way through the morel- the half morel’s stem and cap are both hollow, but where the stem and cap meet it is not. A great diagram of the three morels can be found here with photos of the morels cut in half for identification help.
Finding morels is not an exact science as they throw curve balls quite frequently, but over the years I’ve discovered a few tricks that get me started every season and then I just keep looking from there.
A trick I have learned is that if you carry along a mesh bag like this one when you’re out hunting it will allow the mushroom spores to fall back onto the soil as you hunt (and hopefully grow into next season’s morels!)
Disclaimer: It’s always good to start foraging with a trusted mushroom guide. There are a few variations of false morels that are mildly toxic. Plus there are a lot of poisonous mushrooms out there. If you have any doubt about a mushroom don’t keep it and definitely don’t eat it.
5 Tricks to Finding Morel Mushrooms
1. Get out and look often.
Morel season is very short, usually a span of 1 week, two weeks at most. You could miss out on the morels for the season if you’re not out there looking starting in late April (for Minnesota) and checking every few days.
Things to pay attention to are the amount of moisture in the area. The temperatures- if it’s been consistently warmer than 60 degrees for a week with lots of moisture in the soil then it’s time to start looking. They usually start to appear just as the blood-root flower starts to disappear.
2. Search in wooded areas with dead trees.
Morels tend to sprout off of the roots of dead and dying elm trees, although they will grow amongst other dead trees as well- as long as the nutrients are there. Elm tree roots can go far, so don’t forget to canvas an entire area for morels.
3. Check your southern exposure hillside slopes.
Morels tend to grow larger on the southern exposure slopes. They are usually anywhere from the top of the slope to about the middle, any further down and your chances of finding them diminishes- if you’re hunting early in the season.
Correction: While the above is still true I had an astute reader point out to me that this is also quite misleading. Morel mushrooms do grow everywhere and you will find them at the bottom of hills, on low, lands and every single side slope you can imagine!
Depending on the morel mushroom season you will find morels in different spots. As was commented below, the ground temperatures are going warm at different rates and that’ll greatly pay into where the mushrooms are. So key take-away is that it’s important to always keep your eyes open and watch your step!
4. Where there is one there are more.
You finally found a morel mushroom! Whoo hoo. At first glance it appears that there is only one there, but if you get down close to the ground you almost guarantee will find more. Some may be hidden beneath leaves or other plants, or they may be so small that you’ll want to come back for them in a day or two.
When you find a good spot with lots of morels it feels a little bit like hitting the jackpot- only more fulfilling!
5. Come prepared.
Dress appropriately for walking through the woods. Wear long pants- jeans are best and long sleeved shirts. They will prevent you from getting scratched up by weeds and branches. Spray your shoes and lower pants with lots of bug spray to prevent wood ticks- and tucking your pants into your socks does wonders to keep off extra deer and wood ticks. This time of year is when they are at their worst and with Lyme disease rates on the rise it’s important that you take every precaution to protect yourselves.
Bring Mesh Bags. The trick with bags is to bring ones that will hold the morels, but let the spores from the mushrooms fall out as you walk. Spores are how new morels get ‘planted’ so you definitely want to be dispersing them back into the world. A morel hunting bag would be perfect- like something you would take to the beach. Don’t use a plastic bag.
Mushroom knife of some sort so that you don’t risk pulling the “roots” of the mushroom out from the ground. Anything that might help them return the next year in the same spot is definitely in your best interest!
Note: there are false morel variations that are mildly toxic so always use an identification manual such as this one when not sure.
Bonus- Clean and Eat your Morels. Or Save them for another day by dehydrating them.
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